Maybe The Flu

Day 109 of A Year of War and Peace

Personal change is easy to describe and hard to effect. It’s also often a long, slow process. Clarissa Harlowe, in a letter to her friend Miss Howe about the prospects of rehabilitating her reputation in society — a high reputation Robert Lovelace has so cruelly corrupted — writes that “reformation cannot be a sudden work.” This sentiment is echoed much later in War and Peace when Kutuzov, on the eve of the battle of Borodino, tells Prince Andrei that, “The strongest of all warriors are these two — time and patience.” It’s Pierre Bezukhov’s childish impulsivity, inability to focus, and the absence of Kutuzov’s two warriors in his personal arsenal, at this point in the novel at least, that precludes him from making any progress in his quest for self-improvement.

Right from the start we find that not much has changed in Pierre’s life since we last met with him. We’re told that he “involuntarily” finds himself in a position of leadership among the Petersburg Freemasons. I can’t think of anything in nature that has made such great progress involuntarily — except for maybe the flu — as has Pierre Bezukhov. He involuntarily inherited his riches. He involuntarily got married. And now, he’s involuntarily a leader of Freemasonry in Petersburg. Perhaps not deservedly so though. His mouth may speak of reform but his body practices “the same infatuations and dissipations.”

We’ve previously discussed Pierre’s inability to integrate his learning into practice. Perhaps this problem is what makes him feel as if his work with the Freemasons is bogging him down. Perhaps this is why he feels stuck. Irritated by this he goes abroad to learn the higher secrets of the Order. But the only thing he learns is that he cannot run away from his problems. When he returns he encounters the same, frustrating issues. He gives a speech to his brothers and proposes reforms to the Order. When these are rejected he feels dejected and returns home.

So we see that Pierre struggles to put his theory into practice, lacking the discipline and patience needed to effect true change.


The truest form of wisdom is to make a wide and long inspection, to put self in subjection, and then to move forward slowly and in a set direction.

Seneca, On Anger I

For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

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