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Day 7 of A Year of War and Peace

Moscow, 19th Century (Fyodor Alexeyev, The Cathedral Square in the Moscow Kremlin)

Anna Mikhailovna, having secured her son a position through her connections in Petersburg, goes to Moscow. We go with her.

We go with her to the estate of one of the three great aristocratic families of the novel, the Rostovs. The Rostovs are celebrating St. Natalia’s Day, the name-day of two members of their home: Countess Natalia Rostova, the mother, and one of her daughters, the little countess Natalia Ilyinichna Rostova (Natasha). Name days are an important business in nineteenth-century Russia, right up there with the celebration of birthdays. To that end, Count and Countess Rostov keep themselves busy greeting their guests as they arrive for the evening’s festivities.

Count Rostov is fresh, cheerful, and lively. The Countess, on the other hand, is a bit more reserved and listless. That’s what giving birth to twelve children will do to you, I suppose. While their personalities may disagree, the focus of their conversation as they greet their guests is in total agreement: Everybody is talking about Pierre.

It turns out Pierre has been banished from Petersburg for tying a policeman to a bear and then throwing that bear into a canal. The things the kids these days get into, right?

Pierre’s behavior naturally leads the conversation to a discussion about his sick and dying father, Count Bezukhov. Count Bezukhov is one of Russia’s richest men. We learn that although Pierre is an illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov he is also his favorite. All things considered, being favored by one of Russia’s richest men is probably a pretty good position find oneself in.

And this is exactly what everyone wants to talk about: the ultimate fate of Count Bezukhov’s wealth. Will it go to Pierre or to Count Vasili, Bezukhov’s next heir through his wife? As it happens, Count Vasili is in town on some unrelated “inspection business.” Ah, the intrigue.

This gossip is terminated, however, when Count Rostov invites his guests to sit down to dinner.

DAILY MEDITATION

It’s still, kind of, the New Year. I’m sure we’re all struggling with keeping our resolutions. I know I am. This year I’ll keep Pierre in mind whenever I’m tempted to stray from my resolute path.

Recall from yesterday’s reading how Pierre promised Prince Andrei that he would no longer hang out with Anatole Kuragin. Pierre agreed to this resolution because he understood that if he did his chances of behaving poorly would increase. Well, Pierre broke this resolution and now he’s kicked out of Petersburg, in trouble with the law, and the subject of all manner of negative gossip.

Like Pierre, we often find ourselves behaving poorly. We just as often find ourselves blaming others for our poor behavior. The truth, as Epictetus says, is that our decision to behave poorly lies only within ourselves. This year let’s keep Epictetus and Pierre in mind as we internalize our failings rather than externalize them:

If you wish to be a man of honor and trust, who shall prevent you? If you wish not to be hindered or compelled, who shall compel you to desires and aversions contrary to your judgments?
-Epictetus, Discourses Book II, 2.2.4

This is the seventh 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 my introduction to the series here.