It Raineth Every Day
King Lear took an odd approach to estate planning. He was more desirous of hearing his name praised than of adequately managing the disposition of his lands so he decided to bequeath the largest portions of his kingdom to whomever of his three daughters most effusively declared their love for him. Unfortunately, obsequious deceit is more endearing than candid honesty and anger born of disappointment breeds tragedy. That’s the lesson of Lear who disowns his most favored daughter, Cordelia, when she fails to acceptably praise him. Instead he gives his lands to his two unscrupulous daughters and before the end of the play almost everyone is dead because of it.
There is only the slimmest of chances that Nikolai Rostov’s decision in this chapter will lead to either a crisis of British royal succession or a great Shakespearean tragedy, but the young man will, as he has so many times before now, face the trial of responding reasonably to a desire denied. In today’s chapter that desire is the capture of a wolf on the hunt.
Nikolai doesn’t want to be like his father. He doesn’t want to be a failure. He wants to prove himself. In this chapter he needs, more than anything, to catch a wolf to do so. He prays for it. He dreads failure and dwells on his unlucky past. Attentive readers, familiar with his character, can already sense the anger brewing inside of him.
When a wolf finally appears, however, it seems as if his luck is changing. The wolf heads right for him. He sets his borzoi upon it.
But the wolf escapes and Rostov despairs, though not for long. Danilo, one of the Rostov’s huntsmen, ends up trapping the wolf. He and Nikolai then bring the bound and gagged animal before the rest of the party for examination.
Things don’t end so badly for Nikolai today. He does catch the wolf, albeit with the assistance of his huntsman, Danilo. Still, one can easily imagine a poor response to failure on his part. We’ve seen Rostov, time and again, lose his patience and explode in anger when he doesn’t get what he wants. There is, however, a slight change in his character in today’s chapter. It’s subtle but it’s there.
We see it when the wolf appears to have escaped him. His response isn’t one of anger but, rather, despair. That may not seem like much of a change — despair is still a negative emotion — but he does appear to respond less intensely than usual to his disappointment. It’s important that Rostov continue to moderate his response to disappointment for, as Lear’s Fool puts it:
He that has and a little tiny wit,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
Though the rain it raineth every day.
Take away your opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations