Vasili the Unvirtuous

Day 18 of A Year of War and Peace

hile the Rostovs and their guests party Count Bezukhov is stroking out across town.

Many have gathered at his estate. Doctors, the Military Governor of Moscow, aides-de-camp, members of the clergy, undertakers. It’s a different kind of party. Among this gathering sits a wearied and worried Prince Vasili. He is much thinner and paler than the last time we’ve seen him. It must be exhausting trying to cheat someone out of their inheritance.

As soon as Vasili learns that the Count will not survive the night, however, he hops back up and darts right back off to work. His target now is one of the Count’s nieces, Pierre’s cousin, Katerina Semyonovna (AKA Catiche).

Which way goes Vasili?

The two have a long and difficult conversation about the Count’s will. The villainous intentions of Prince Vasili are now impossible to hide. It’s a truly disgraceful conversation. Their family member lies dying nearby and these two debate how best to benefit from this death. Vasili knows that the Count has a will. He also knows that the Count has petitioned the Emperor, a great friend, to legitimize Pierre as his rightful heir. Though this petition will surely be granted, it hasn’t yet been delivered to the Emperor. It remains sealed in a portfolio in the Count’s room. If only Prince Vasili and Catiche can somehow get their hands on the petition they stand, as the closest family members, to inherit one of the largest fortunes in all of Russia.


We return to the concept of duty. Prince Vasili invokes the notion himself when he says to Catiche, in reference to their scheme to thwart the Count’s intentions, that it is “Our duty, my dear, to rectify his mistake, to ease his last moments by not letting him commit this injustice.”

Vasili has the temerity to say this even with the knowledge that the Count has just asked to see Pierre. The Count’s love of Pierre is clear. Yet Vasili and Catiche seek to dishonor their own family member’s intention. This is not a virtuous performance of the role of family member.

Look for and come to understand your connections to other people. We properly locate ourselves within the cosmic scheme by recognizing our natural relations to one another and thereby identifying our duties. Our duties naturally emerge from such fundamental relations as our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, our state or nation. Makes it your regular habit to consider your roles — parent, child, neighbor, citizen, leader — and the natural duties that arise from them. Once you know who you are and to whom you are linked, you will know what to do.

Epictetus, The Art of Living

This is the eighteenth 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.

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

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