Petya Rostov and the Fairyland Fugue

Day 304 of A Year of War and Peace

Yesterday we learned about Petya Rostov’s difficulties in regulating emotion. Today we see, yet again, that the reason he finds this project so difficult is that he refuses to pay due attention to the present at the rich expense of consideration offered to an unapproachable past and a nonexistent future.

Right away he falls into this trap. When he returns to camp Denisov greets him with God thanking relief to see him alive. Denisov sensibly suggests that Petya take the present time to get some rest. Petya refuses. Instead he “joyfully” recounts the details of his adventure with Dolokhov. We’re not told explicitly what thoughts Petya’s young mind entertains here but, in their tickled tincture, it’s as if he’s drowned all memory of the terror he felt in a pool of oblivion only to resurrect an erroneous recollection of amusing, heroic adventure.

His thinking about the future fares just as poorly. There is none of the wise pessimism or thoughtful premeditatio malorum we’ve discussed before. Instead he imagines an event as grand as his false memory of the French camp.

This obliviousness of the past and illegitimate contemplation of the future produces a disordered and distracting experience of the present. Petya literally loses himself in a fantasy. First he imagines himself to be in a magical fairyland. Then, once he falls asleep, he becomes the conductor of a beautiful fugue piece.

This unmindful disposition is troubling and leaves him ill prepared for tomorrow’s battle.


But those who are oblivious to the past, negligent of the present, fearful of the future, life is very short and troubled.

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

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

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