The Lock In The Wax That Floats
No sooner does Prince Andrei return home, lifting our spirits, than Princess Lise dies from complications arising from childbirth, deflating our spirits once again. But then: a baby boy is born. So in just two short pages we do not merely run but, rather, sprint the gamut from birth through life and death with the Bolkonskys. Poor family. For the last few chapters at least it seems as if the they’re caught in a Dr. Jekyllian world where “the doom and burthen of our life is bound forever on man’s shoulders; and when the attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns upon us with more unfamiliar and awful pressure.”
How are they handling it?
As it turns out, not so great.
While it’d be easy to place the blame for the Bolkonsky’s emotional instability on this mingled yarn of fate, their experience is really no different from anyone else’s. In life there are tragedies and triumphs and after laughter comes tears. The Bolkonskys are not undergoing anything others haven’t gone through before. So far, however, they’re failing, Marya excepted, the test that is life.
In fact, this chapter stands as a rebuke to the family. This rebuke is located in Princess Lise’s expression that accuses the family throughout the chapter. When Prince Andrei first approaches her she is not happy to see him alive. Instead, her eyes indict him. “I expected help from you,” they say, “and I get none, none from you either!” And even after her death she stands as judge, her eyes crying out, “I love you all, and have done no harm to anyone; and what have you done for me?”
But — dum spiro spero — the seeds of change just may be taking root in Prince Andrei’s heart. For the first time in the novel we see him expressing his love for his wife. “My darling,” he greets her, using a tender expression he has never used with her before. Further, in a sign of good luck, during the baptism of the new Bolkonsky boy the hair that the priest cuts from the baby’s head and wraps in taper wax floats in the baptismal font.
Things could be looking up.
Difficulties are the things that show what men are. Henceforth, when some difficulty befalls you, remember that god, like a wrestling-master, has matched you with a rough young man. For what end? That you may become an Olympic victor, and that cannot be done without sweat.
Epictetus, The Discourses