Musical counterpoint, think Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, is the relation of two or more harmonically interdependent voices that are independent in rhythm and pitch contour. I like to think of this chapter, the first chapter of Book Two, and yesterday’s reading, the closing chapter of Book One, as a type of literary counterpoint. Yesterday we died a little bit with Prince Andrei. Today we live, very much so, with the happy Rostov family reunited once again back home in Moscow. We’ll see, however, that though these chapters are independent in theme and tone, there is a certain interdependence to them and probably a reason why Tolstoy set them off against each other.
Their independence is manifest from the very beginning. We left Prince Andrei dying in a field alone contemplating the meaninglessness of existence. We pick up with Rostov, newly mustachioed, so very happy to be returning home to Moscow. His joy is nothing in comparison to that which he’s about to meet with from his family when they learn of his arrival.
That’s pretty much the whole of this chapter: Kisses. Kisses for Rostov. Kisses for Denisov. Kisses from Natasha. Kisses from Petya. Kisses even from old man Rostov. Kisses from everybody and kisses for everybody. Kisses all around.
Even when the deluge of kisses abates after a good night’s sleep the joy and exuberant happiness afforded by Nikolai’s return home continues. Rostov spends the morning in joyous talk with his sister Natasha about what he’s missed during his months away in service. He learns that Sonya and Natasha have decided that he is to be free of Sonya. That is, he should not feel obliged and trapped into marrying her as he said he would before he left. Sonya wants his decision to be made freely. And Natasha has already forgotten about her childish infatuation with Boris.
The upshot here, then, is the jubilation of a family united.
Counterpoint: Prince Andrei, it appears, is not coming home to his family. So while in Moscow the Rostov’s rejoice, in Bald Hills a despairing pallor has probably set over the Bolkonsky estate.
Attachment, most likely. After all, the common denominator here is the presence or absence of a loved one. Our loved ones play such an important role in our emotions and well-being. But maybe they shouldn’t. They don’t, after all, belong to us and their lives are not under our control.
When you become attached to something, let it not be as though it were to something that cannot be taken away, but rather, as though it were something like an earthenware pot or crystal goblet, so that if it happens to be broken, you may remember what kind of thing it was and not be distressed. So in this, too, when you kiss your child, or your brother, or your friend, never entirely give way to your imagination, nor allow your elation to progress as far as it will; but curb it in, restrain it, like those who stand behind generals when they ride in triumph and remind them that they are men. In a similar way, you too should remind yourself that what you love is mortal, that what you love is not your own. It is granted to you for the present while, and not irrevocably, nor for ever, but like a fig or a bunch of grapes in the appointed season; and if you long for it in the winter, you are a fool. So, if you long for your song or your friend when he is not granted to you, know that you are longing for a fig in winter. For as winter is to a fig, so is every state of affairs that arises from the order of things in relation to what is destroyed in accordance with that state of affairs. Henceforth, when you take delight in anything, bring to mind the contrary impression. What harm is there while you are kissing your child to say softly, “tomorrow you will die’; likewise to your friend, “Tomorrow either you or I will go away, and we shall see each other no more.’
Epictetus, The Discourses