Raging Bull in a China Shop
An investment in anger will put you in the red. Coriolanus’s stock still hasn’t improved since Plutarch compared him unfavorably to Alcibiades in terms of his control of that seething emotion. And even in Shakespeare’s play about the raging Roman general a character reflects that “anger’s my meat, I sup upon myself/ And so shall starve with feeding.”
Even so, Nikolai Rostov remains bullish about the market.
Today’s chapter starts innocently enough for our friend Rostov. We see that he’s settled in nicely to the war campaign as part of the Pavlograd hussars stationed just outside Braunau. He’s living with a man named Denisov and when he returns to their home early in the morning after a foraging expedition we see, in a worrisome parallel to his profligate father, that he’s a very liberal tipper. But, in terms of character traits, perhaps generosity isn’t so bad, especially in comparison with the anger that consumes him later in the chapter.
So what is the spark that ignites Rostov’s rage in this chapter? It all starts with Denisov’s purse. Denisov is a gambler on a losing streak. When he sees Telyanin, the squadron quartermaster, approaching Denisov gives his purse to Rostov. He asks Rostov to see how much money he has left in it and then to shove it under the pillow on the bed. Rostov complies.
Telyanin hangs out for a bit and proves himself to be a very disagreeable fellow. When he leaves Denisov asks for his purse back. It is nowhere to be found. Rostov realizes that Telyanin must have stolen it. This launches Rostov into an absolute rage. He cannot think. He can barely speak. Against the wishes of Denisov, he leaves immediately to track down Telyanin, a superior, and confront him about the missing purse.
Rostov locates Telyanin eating supper at a restaurant and, in a fit, accuses him of stealing the purse and demands it back.
Once again we find Rostov unable to resist the delirium of anger. And, once again, this anger causes him problems. He’d be much better served if, upon feeling the first fangs of anger’s bite, he were to slow down and reflect on the following:
[Anger is] is the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions. For the other emotions have in them some element of peace and calm, while this one is wholly violent and has its being in an onrush of resentment, raging with a most inhuman lust for weapons, blood, and punishment, giving no thought to itself if only it can hurt another, hurling itself upon the very point of the dagger, and eager for revenge though it may drag down the avenger with it.
Seneca, On Anger