It wouldn’t be a Tolstoy talk if we didn’t get into some serious sexual moralizing so that’s exactly what we’re going to do today. Nikolai Rostov and his happy gang of army officers offers us the perfect opportunity to do so when they gather at a tavern in today’s chapter to gawk, gape, and goggle over Marya Gendrikovna, the young and plump blond German wife of a local doctor. Throughout the chapter the gathered gaggle flirts with Gendrikovna and Gendrikovna flirts right back. She doesn’t seem to mind this impropriety. Her husband, however, does seems to mind.
We’ve discussed how Nikolai Rostov, learning from experience, is changing and maturing. He’s still not quite where we’d like him to be. As he joins his officer brothers in the shameless flirting with Gendrikovna he fails to consider how bad this must make the poor doctor feel. Nikolai must be aware of the pain this causes doctor. The doctor, after all, does not look comfortable at all with this business. It’s a cruel game the officers play.
Luckily for all concerned the chapter ends mirthfully with “unreasoning, merry, childlike laughter” and not, say, with everyone’s candles of life being extinguished forever under the avenging rail wheels of a train at Obiralovka Station.
Man is born for fidelity and whoever subverts this subverts the distinctive quality of man. […] Then, be an adulterer and faithless; and, instead of a man, be a wolf or an ape.
Epictetus, The Discourses