Of the Rostov children and their friends only Nikolai, Sonya, and Vera remain in the drawing-room. Sonya is Nikolai’s cousin and, as Anna Mikhailovna and Countess Rostova lament later in the chapter, the two are cousin-crushing on each other pretty hard. Vera is Nikolai’s older sister. Nobody in the novel really pays attention to Vera though so you probably don’t have to either.
Count Rostov takes this opportunity to jovially jibe Nikolai a bit about Nikolai’s decision to join the hussars like his friend Boris. This is a sore topic for Nikolai. He instantly flares up in frustration and defends his decision. He only calms down when his father assures him that he’s only joking, and then he relaxes further when Julie Karagina, a young pretty guest at the party, flirts with him a little. He returns this flirtation. It’s now Sonya’s turn to be upset. She rushes from the room but only after stabbing Nikolai with an angry look communicating both her jealousy and her disregard for the potential genetic disorders arising from consanguineous union.
So all things considered it’s been a pretty good party!
If you’re someone who is easily upset and prone to frustration and anger then you want to pay close attention to Nikolai Rostov. His arc may help you learn to better manage your emotions.
As you’ll see as we progress this year, Nikolai is a young man who just can’t help himself. The smallest slight sets him off. Even, as in this chapter, when that slight is just his father fucking around with him a bit. This is an unwise way to live. For, as Seneca writes, if you allow yourself to become upset at every injustice you encounter your life will be one unending torrent of vexation.
But if the wise man is to be angered by base deeds, if he is to be perturbed and saddened by crimes, surely nothing is more woeful than the wise man’s lot; his whole life will be passed in anger and in grief. For what moment will there be when he will not see something to disapprove of? Every time he leaves his house, he will have to walk among criminals and misers and spendthrifts and profligates — men who are happy in being such. Nowhere will he turn his eyes without finding something to move them to indignation. He will give out if he forces himself to be angry every time occasion requires.
Seneca, On Anger (Book II)