Early in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights Mr. Lockwood visits the estate of Thrushcross Grange, meets the landlord Heathcliff there, and is invited to stay the night because a snowstorm is raging outside. Later that evening, alone in his room, Lockwood is confronted by a ghostly female apparition identifying herself by the name of Catherine. Naturally, Lockwood shouts for help only to be accosted by his host Heathcliff whose company, Lockwood learns quickly enough, is to be avoided at all costs because he has the hygiene of a sewer rat and the emotional comprehensibility of an Varèse orchestral work. Still, Lockwood is intrigued about Thrushcross Grange so when he returns to his lodging the next day he asks the landlord there, Mrs. Dean, if she knows anything about Heathcliff and Catherine. Mrs. Dean, it turns out, knows the tragedy of Heathcliff and Catherine only too well. She shares their tragic story with Lockwood. In short, Heathcliff fell madly in love with Catherine and became enraged that she should love someone else, someone Heathcliff considered to be beneath him. And then everything fell apart. “Proud people,” Mrs. Dean foreshadowingly warned Heathcliff at the time, “breed sad sorrows for themselves.”
If only poor Nikolai Rostov could internalize this sage advice. It would save him from a lot of mental anguish, particularly in today’s reading. You’ll recall that yesterday Rostov, channelling his inner Sonny Corleone, rushed off in a fit of anger to confront Telyanin, the man who stole Denisov’s purse. Apparently he also complained to his colonel. This complaint took place in front of many of the other squadron officers. So Rostov has now brought shame upon the entire regiment and his pride won’t allow him to apologize.
Almost the entirety of today’s chapter is a heated discussion between the squadron officers and Rostov. The squadron officers want Rostov to apologize. Rostov, red with rage, cannot allow this. He cannot abide being called a liar. The squadron officers simply don’t want their name dragged through the mud, as it will if the story gets out that Telyanin did indeed steal Denisov’s purse. They ask Rostov to swallow his pride for the regiment. Though Rostov softens his position a bit, he loves the regiment and does not wish to see dishonor brought down upon it, his pride keeps him from making this simple apology.
All is forgotten quickly enough, however, when Zherkov shows up with news of Mack’s defeat and reports that they’ll be advancing to battle the next morning. This is greeted with cheers all around. Apparently, they’d rather fight a war than sit around discussing the finer points of moral philosophy.
This is not the first, nor is it the last time Rostov will allow himself to get worked up over the misbehavior of someone else. He’d do well to relax a bit. Maybe meditate. Maybe even start to practice a daily meditation on the following:
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in their ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative or hate him.
Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations