Man of Action, Man of Mind
Nikolai Rostov has long been a man of action. He asserted himself to his father early in the novel. He joined the army to fight Napoleon. He confronted Telyanin when that man stole Denisov’s purse. He likes to hunt.
Something Nikolai has never been, up until today’s chapter at least, is a man of the mind. Think back on our time with Nikolai so far. Has he ever said or thought anything original or insightful? Not really. He’s totally conventional and unimaginative. Today, even while he himself engages in some contemplation, he contemptuously dismisses the reflective life as “philosophy and dreaminess.”
Yet today he does reflect and his contemplation yields some truth: Love and duty require that he marry Princess Marya Bolkonsky. In addition, his contemplation boasts some secondary effects. Whereas his previous life of action regularly placed him in a position of anger, his new life of reflection seems to have calmed him down a bit. We see this in his reaction to news of Borodino and the abandonment of Moscow. Before he most certainly would have reacted with great vengeance and furious anger. Not so today. Today he takes the news with a level of tranquility and acceptance totally alien to his former self. Perhaps one reason why is that, by means of self-reflection and contemplation, he’s getting to know and understand that self better.
These are the properties of the rational soul: it sees itself, analyses itself, and makes itself such as it chooses.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations