But Then, Une Fine Mouche

Day 52 of A Year of War and Peace

If, as Feste the Fool would have it, foolery walks about the orb like the sun shining everywhere then the Rostov home is the bright center of this novel. We’ve already seen quite a bit of Rostov foolishness whether it be the squandering profligacy of the Count, the anger of Nikolai, or the Veraness of Vera. In today’s reading, then, the mere arrival of a letter from Nikolai sets off a series of senseless reactions from the good family.

First, there is Count Rostov. It is he who opens the letter and then he who decides, lost in sobs and chuckles, that he simply won’t be able to share the news found therein with his wife. Count Rostov defers this responsibility to Anna Mikhailovna. What a man! It should be an easy enough task for Count Rostov. Nikolai is fine, after all. He’s suffered an injury, but he’s recovering nicely and even managed to get promoted. What’s not to be happy about?

The Countess fares no better. Her emotional state is so fragile that Anna Mikhailovna deems it necessary to share news of Nikolai’s letter with her last. Of course, the Countess breaks down into tears upon learning of her son’s doings at the front.

Then there is Petya, the youngest sibling of the family. He struts about like a famous general dispensing with empty braggart boasts of how if he were at the front he would have already killed heaps of Frenchmen. As for Sonya, she remains lost in her tragic love for Nikolai and Vera lacks the cognitive abilities to discern why it is that her mother is crying.

Finally, Natasha. She may have had a few chapters dedicated to her Name Day earlier in the novel, but this is the chapter where her true brilliance begins to shine. Here we see her vivaciousness, her perspicuity, and her youthful moxie. She’s able, by mere silent observation, to figure out that Anna Mikhailovna and her father are keeping secrets. She’s able to inwardly evaluate and articulate her feelings about Boris. She’s able, where her father was not, to break the news of Nikolai’s letter, at least to her siblings. And while it’s true that her passionate impulsivity will get her into some trouble later in the novel, it remains that this aspect of her character makes her one of the most engrossing characters in the novel.


Natasha is a really smart girl. Maybe even wise. The wisdom of her mind, however, is not of the cerebral kind. It’s more of an acute emotional intelligence. Whatever the source of her intelligence, though, it remains that she carries in the pocketbook of her personality a wealth of cash and coin.

It is the mind that makes men rich.
Seneca, Consolation of Helvia

This is the fifty-second 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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