The last time we met with Pierre he was making big changes in his life. He had converted to Freemasonry and he had separated from his toxic wife, Helene. Most importantly he had taken some time alone with his books to study his newly adopted philosophy. This is all very well and good for, as Tyrion Lannister reminds us, “a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge.” Fair point. But a sword can be as sharp as H.L. Mencken’s wit and it’s not going to cut anyone down if the swordsman doesn’t practice swinging it.
Pierre Bezukhov isn’t a practiced swordsman.
He enters today’s chapter high on his ideals. He’s going to free his serfs, build them schools, and, as he promised his new brothers during his initiation into their order, avoid the society of women. By the end of the chapter his serfs are even more overworked and still unfree. The structures he envisioned being built to educate and care for them remain empty if even erected at all. And, as for women, nineteenth century prose prudery precludes Tolstoy from indulging us nothing more than a report that the female temptations were “so strong that he could not resist them.” Though, come on, given Pierre’s appetites and predilections I’m pretty sure he tore through that Russian countryside in an orgiastic romp of unadulterated sultanesque debauchery. And if these Republicans hadn’t just undone major federal online privacy protections I’d be scouring Google right now to confirm Rule 34 on the matter.
Pierre could blame others for his inability to convert theory into practice. His head steward, for instance, really takes advantage of him in this chapter. But in the end Pierre remains accountable only to himself. He’s got to work harder on making these changes he wants to see in himself.
Tolstoy, twice in just barely four pages, writes that Pierre has no aptitude for practical business. It’s time for him to get practical. He should take a page out of one of Tolstoy’s other great books, Anna Karenina, and be more like Levin. He needs to get his nose out of his books, get his hands on a scythe and just get down to work mowing some grass or something. That will get him out of the slump he’s in.
For this reason philosophers exhort us not to be contented with mere learning, but to add practice also, and then training.
Epictetus, The Discourses