Natasha and the Infinite Mirrors
Heathcliff, that lumpen Liverpudlian, really could have used a Yoda. Never was his mind on where he was or what he was doing. Instead he relied on his unmindful passions to guide him. In his former days he followed his future plans to marry Catherine Earnshaw. This lead him to doom and despair when she married someone else and then, later, died. For the rest of his life, then, mired in misanthropy born of his disappointment, he looked back in longing about what may have been. This lack of mindfulness bred constant misery for him. Though his misery offers us one of the great novels of world literature, it also culminates in Heathcliff’s great lament, familiar to anyone acquainted with depression or, worse, a United States presidential election cycle: “O, God! It is a long fight, I wish it were over!”
In today’s reading a similar, though less acute, torment plagues Natasha as she dwells on her inalterable past and uncertain future. By the chapter’s end she’s entirely disconsolate and miserable.
She doesn’t have to be though. The night is actually pretty nice. It begins with a beautiful, moon-glistening ride back home through the Russian countryside. In addition, she’s returning from a fun night of Christmas mummery. Finally, important for anyone who values family happiness, her brother and her cousin are quite blissfully in love with each other. In short, it’s the perfect setting for a nice, content, and comfortable night’s sleep.
Things quickly go south when she returns home and decides to play a game with Sonya. It’s some sort of fortune-telling game. The idea is to place two mirrors in front of each other with a candle nearby. The candle supposedly lights the way down an ever-reflecting line of sight eventually leading to an image of the future.
It doesn’t work for Natasha but Sonya claims to see “him.” Natasha, of course, immediately thinks that “him” refers to Andrei. Sensing this, and wishing to encourage Natasha, Sonya says that she sees Andrei lying down happily.
Unfortunately, Sonya’s ploy doesn’t work. Instead of heartening her friend, it only serves to plunge Natasha into thoughts about the future and the sad uncertainty of when Andrei will return to her. Preparing now for a thought-crazed and sleepless night, Natasha goes to her bed and stares out the frosty window at her moon.
It’s fitting that the window is frosted over, obscuring her view of the moon. The moon, after all, on the night she first met Prince Andrei, represented hope and optimism. Now, given her despair at their separation, the moon is much harder to see just like the phantom vision at the end of her infinite mirrors.
Natasha and Heathcliff, each anguished lovers, attempt to summon their beloved, and therefore their happiness, by means of some ridiculous supernatural contrivance. Heathcliff looks to his past, reaching desperately out from a bedroom window — Come in! come in! he sobbed — for an apparition of his lost love. Natasha, attempting to divine her future, peers into an empty hall of mirrors searching for her own lost apparition. This only leads to suffering for them as the future is vapor that cannot be grasped and the past is a letter that cannot be unsent.
Do not disturb yourself by thinking of the whole of your life. Do not let your thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles that you may expect to befall you: but on every occasion ask yourself, What is there in this that is intolerable and past bearing? For you will be ashamed to confess. In the next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains you, but only the present. But this is reduced to a very little, if you only circumscribe it and chide your mind, if it is unable to hold out against even this.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations