Le Sourire de la Mélancolie!
It’s 1811 in Moscow at Julie Karagina’s house and there won’t be as much melancholy and disillusionment expressed in French until Jean-Paul Sartre temporarily misplaces his Gauloises at a Left Bank café in 1947.
Seriously, though: This is probably the funniest chapter in the novel. Or at least one of them. It’s about Boris Drubetskoy’s successful courtship of Julie Karagina and the curious route through youthful angst it takes to get there.
We start with Julie herself. She’s upset. She’s twenty-seven-years-old and unmarried. At least her brothers have all died and she’s rich now. So she’s got that going for her. It helps too as, miraculously, all the young men of Moscow suddenly seem interested in getting to know here better. One of these young men is our old friend Boris Drubetskoy.
Boris, keen social climber, notices Julie has taken an interest in things melancholy after she shows him her albums full of mournful sketches, maxims, and verses. He, too, adopts this disillusioned and melancholy manner. He adds verses of his own to her album. He adorns them with a drawing of a tomb and such words of gloom doleful enough to secure a trip to the psychoanalyst from his mother or a high-five from his The Cure listening friends at school.
When he isn’t Arthur Rimbauding his way into Julie’s good graces, Boris is with his mother discussing all potential apportionments of Julie’s estates. Everything is looking good for him in that department. He’ll be a rich man if he marries her. But there’s still something wrong. He doesn’t love her. There is a part of him that doesn’t want to sacrifice real love for simple material gain.
There is a bigger part of him, however, that wants to do exactly that. So when he learns that the rake Anatole Kuragin is currently sniffing around the Karagina estate in search of an estate or two to accept as dowry Boris, hesitant to waste so many nights of melancholy musings, marches right over to her house and proposes marriage.
Like I said, this chapter is very fun to read. But Julie and Boris and everyone else should be careful about how much thought they give to melancholy.
Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations