Riches and Rightness
The Rostovs, despite some debt problems, are an awfully wealthy family. Throughout the novel we’ve been exposed to their great wealth: multiple estates, great food and drink, luxury objects galore, plenty of money to spend on frivolities. And what exactly has this great wealth done for them? The Count is a joke. The Countess is an emotional wreck. Nikolai, though improving, is a wild, raging young man. Natasha, likewise improving, has just spent the last few months in utter dejection and depression over her inability to control her emotions. Petya is a petulant child intent on disobeying his parents. Today’s chapter, then, captures perfectly the power their wealth exercises over them.
When the Rostovs learn that the people of Moscow have started looting the entire house scrambles to get their precious possessions ready for evacuation. That is to say, concern for their riches takes precedent over all else. The Count loses his mind shouting confused instructions. Sonya cracks up trying to follow his orders. The Countess passes out in exhaustion. Natasha seems to be the most sane of the bunch. When Natasha is the exemplar of mental stability it’s probably time to reevaluate things.
Persian carpets. Gobelin tapestries. China. These are not the important things in life. They do not offer sustained happiness. Throughout the novel, however, the Rostovs have focused their attention on such things. Perhaps it’s time to shift their focus in a more virtuous direction. Maybe on nursing the wounded man just brought into their home.
Anyone who thinks that wealth is the greatest consolation for old people and that those who have it live without regret is mistaken. Wealth lets people enjoy food, drink, sex, and other pleasures, but wealth would never bring contentment to a wealthy person nor banish his grief.
Musonius Rufus, Lectures