Diogenes the Cynic once said that neither in a rich city nor in a rich household can virtue make its dwelling. Virtue apparently also has a tough time living in a household built upon the doubtable foundations of debt and deceit with mere pretensions of riches. That’s the situation of the Rostov family and, as we can see, it leads them, or, at least, Count Rostov, to some fairly unethical and unvirtuous ends.
Tolstoy has hinted at the Rostov’s money problems ever since they hosted Natasha’s Name Day party way back at the beginning of the novel. From now on, however, the Rostov financial problems will no longer be just hints. They’ll be superabundant slaps to the face.
The first hurt laid upon them is that Count Rostov must, horror of horrors, take a job to generate some income. He accepts a position in Petersburg and brings his family there from their country estate at Otradnoe. But this is about the only sensible step Count Rostov takes to fix his financial position.
The true nature of his financial distress is brought into sharp relief after Berg proposes marriage to Vera. While this means that the Count will be responsible for one less mouth to feed it also means he’ll have to pay a dowry. He can’t pay a dowry.
We’re told that when his three daughters were born he, prudently, set aside three estates for each of their dowries. Less prudently, he proceeded over the years to sell them or mortgage them. Now he has no estates, no money, and no ability to provide his daughters with a dowry.
Berg isn’t too happy about this and informs the Count that unless he can provide Vera with her dowry he cannot in good faith enter into marriage with her.
Count Rostov finds himself in this position because he has continuously failed to live and plan consistently. He has also been dishonest and careless about his financial position. Instead of doing the right thing, like saving money and prudently managing his estates, he’s thrown wildly extravagant parties and paid for everyone and everything. Now those checks are coming due. If only he had been consistent in his living he would not be in this tough situation.
So is it possible to be altogether faultless? No, that is impracticable; but it is possible to strive continuously not to commit faults. For we shall have to be satisfied if, by never relaxing our attention, we shall escape at least a few faults.
Epictetus, The Discourses