Consider Also That You Do Many Things Wrong
Marriage may make a couple one flesh but they’ll still be of two minds. And though the lovers’ passion may chill, their two minds will always find an opportunity to engage in matrimony’s most cherished sport: argument.
There are various degrees of argument, of course. Marital disputes may lead to merely a simple cycle of misunderstanding and easy forgiveness on the one hand or, in the more Bezukhovian instances, a competitive market in divorce lawyering on the other.
In today’s chapter we see the state of two marriages. One of the marriages has aged a bit and the other is brand new. The older of the marriages, Pierre’s, we know to be irreparably broken. This is further confirmed by Pierre’s disgust with Helene’s refusal to attend a party hosted by the newlyweds, Berg and Vera, because she considers that couple to be beneath her.
Pierre makes a point, then, to not only attend the party but, contrary to his usual commitment to tardiness, to arrive early.
It’s a standard party. The most interesting aspect of it, however, is the dynamics of the newlyweds. This is truly one of the more humorous parts of the novel. It all starts with Berg, the husband, asking his wife, Vera, to please not interrupt him when he is entertaining the guests. He speaks to her “with a sense of his own superiority over a weak woman.” Vera, in turn, smiles “with a sense of superiority over her good, conscientious husband, who all the same understood life wrongly as, according to Vera, all men did.” This dynamic is a recipe for hilarity. The comedy ensues when the first guest, Pierre, arrives:
Vera, having decided in her own mind that Pierre ought to be entertained with conversation about the French embassy, began speaking to him about that subject. Berg, having decided that masculine conversation was required, interrupted his wife’s remarks and touched on the question of the war with Austria, and unconsciously jumped from general subject to personal considerations as to the proposals made him to take part in the Austrian campaign, and the reasons why he had declined them. Though the conversation was very incoherent and Vera was angry at the intrusion of the masculine element, both husband and wife felt with satisfaction that, even if only one guest was present, their evening had begun very well and was as like two peas to every other evening party with its talk, tea, and lighted candles.
Argument and disagreement is just the way it goes between people with one flesh and two minds. The key for the Bergs, for all married couples, is to avoid allowing simple disagreement to fall into the discord of constant recrimination and frustration like the Bezukhovs have done.
To forgive and to understand, then, should be right up there with to have and to hold in terms of wedding vows.
Consider that you also do many things wrong, and that you are a man like others; and even if you do abstain from certain faults, still you have the disposition to commit them, though either through cowardice, or concern about reputation, or some such mean motive, you abstain from such faults. Consider [also] that you do not even understand whether men are doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a certain reference to circumstances. And in short, a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct judgment on another’s man’s acts.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations