At Home in a Spirit of Love with a Head Full of Heat
The body matures much faster than the mind. That is why Mother Russia can rely on Nikolai Rostov to defend her borders but mother Rostov is just going to have to wait a few more years before her son is able to defend against his feelings.
This is the key problem in today’s chapter: Nikolai’s relationship with Sonya, his emotional response to it, and its consequence for the Rostov home in general and his well-being in particular.
At the Rostov home it’s the holiday season and all is merry. “Never,” we’re told, “had love been so much in the air, and never had the amorous atmosphere made itself to strongly felt in the Rostov’s house as at this holiday time.” Things are so well, in fact, that Nikolai has, despite his commitment to avoiding his family in recent days, decided to dine at home. Which is great because the dinner that evening is actually a farewell dinner for himself and Denisov, both of whom will soon be leaving to rejoin their regiment after Epiphany.
As soon as Rostov enters the house he feels that something is off. There is a feeling of embarrassment and disturbance in the family. Particularly from Sonya, the countess, and Dolokhov. He decides to ignore it during dinner but Natasha confronts him after the meal.
She tells him that she was right: Dolokhov is in love with Sonya. So much so, in fact, that he has proposed to her this very evening. Sonya, in turn, has denied him. Nikolai’s first feeling, as we’ve come to expect, is one of anger. He can’t believe she would refuse him because he’s such a brilliant match for her.
This is only Nikolai’s first confusion.
When he speaks to Sonya about it he gets even more mixed up. At first he attempts to explain to her that Dolokhov is a perfect match for her: he’s a good guy, he’s an officer, and, really, she’s just a poor orphan girl. What more could she want? Well, it’s clear that what she wants is Nikolai. And Nikolai probably still wants her because soon enough he’s changing his tune. Instead of advocating for his friend, he tells Sonya that he, Nikolai, loves her. He loves her perhaps “more than anyone else.” But then he reverses and begs Sonya once again to reconsider Dolokhov’s proposal.
Once again we see that Rostov’s turbulent emotions disallow him the pleasures of the simple, contented life. Today he is surrounded by happiness and, yet, his own disposition is one of turmoil so he cannot enjoy it. It’s true that Nikolai has grown up since we first met him but he still has much work to do.
The principal element in a man’s well-being — indeed, in the whole tenor of his existence, — is what he is made of, his inner constitution. For this is the immediate source of that inward satisfaction or dissatisfaction resulting from the sum total of his sensations, desires and thoughts; whilst his surroundings, on the other hand, exert only a mediate or indirect influence upon him. This is why the same external events or circumstances affect no two people alike; even with perfectly similar surroundings everyone lives in a world of his own. For a man has immediate apprehension only of his own ideas, feelings and volitions; the outer world can influence him only in so far as it brings these to life.
Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life