Princess Marya Bolkonsky, Stoic Sage?

Day 51 of A Year of War and Peace

ou’ll be hardpressed to find a more virtuous response to adversity in War and Peace than you do from Marya in this chapter. Here she is ill-treated by the two most important people in her life. And, yet, she responds with dignity and magnanimity to both of them.

We’re talking, of course, about her father, old Prince Bolkonsky, and her companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne. Her father is the first to offend her. He calls her into his study to talk about the proposal of marriage. It shouldn’t be surprising, given what we know of the old prince, that his quick irritability leads him to insult his daughter. This insult reduces her to tears.

Meanwhile, in the conservatory, Mademoiselle Bourienne and Anatole have hooked-up. Princess Marya, leaving her father, happens upon them in a sensual embrace. Keep in mind that this is all within just a few hours of the end of the last chapter wherein Marya lulled herself to sleep with reveries of a loving marriage to Anatole. So it’s not like catching him with her best friend doesn’t sting.

But how does Princess Marya respond?

Is it with vindictiveness? Does she add to the quantum of suffering in the household by lashing out at her father and Mademoiselle Bourienne? No. She reassures her father that he is the center of her life and that she remains devoted to him. And then it’s actually Marya who comforts Mademoiselle Bourienne. She strokes her hair and consoles her. She refuses Anatole’s proposal of marriage with calmness. She also tells Mademoiselle Bourienne that she will do everything in her power to arrange a marriage between her and Anatole if that’s what Mademoiselle Bourienne desires.


As those who try to stand in your way when you are proceeding according to right reason will not be able to turn you aside from your proper action, so neither let them drive you from your benevolent feeling towards them, but be on your guard equally in both matters, not only in the matter of steady judgment and action, but also in the matter of gentleness toward those who try to hinder or otherwise trouble you. For this is also weakness, to be vexed at them, as well as to be diverted from your course of action and to give way through fear; for both are equally deserters from their post, the man who does it through fear, and the man who is alienated from him who is by nature kinsman and a friend.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This is the fifty-first installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

I’m also very interested in hearing what you have to say about the novel. So leave a comment and let me know.

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

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