Enter Prince Andrei Bolkonsky

Day 3 of A Year of War and Peace

The party is on and has divided itself into three distinct groups. The first group, composed chiefly of men, gathers around abbé Morio. Another group, mostly young people, centers around the two beautiful young women of the party, Hélène and the princess Bolkonskaya. Lastly, there is the group gathered around vicomte Mortemart and Anna Pavlovna. Anna Pavlovna quickly invites Hélène over to listen to Mortemart’s intriguing story about Napoleon, the Duc d’Enghien, and Mademoiselle Georges. Hélène complies and princess Bolkonskaya follows. Anna Pavlova is pleased with their amenability but she can’t get too comfortable yet because across the room she notices that the troublesome Pierre is now involved in a heated discussion with abbé Morio.

Andrei and Pierre from the 2016 BBC television production.

The topic of their discussion is the European balance of power. Aware of Pierre’s divisive political opinions, Anna Pavlovna, to the obvious displeasure of the abbé, changes the topic of conversation to the weather. Then she invites them into the larger conversation headed by Mortemart.

At this point the second of our five major characters (initially my favorite character in the novel by the way) enters Anna Pavlovna’s drawing room. This is Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, husband of the princess Bolkonskaya. Incidentally, if you need an explanation of why their surnames are spelled differently please read this.

At any rate, our first impression of the young Prince Bolkonsky is not a positive one. He’s a bit nasty. He acts bored, weary, and irritated that he must attend parties like this. In fact, only two things seem to give him any pleasure whatsoever. The first is that he’ll soon be leaving this wretched society and going off to the war, serving as an aide-de-camp to General Kutuzov. The second is his friend Pierre who he invites to supper with him later in the evening.

DAILY MEDITATION

Compare and contrast the Bolkonskys. The wife, princess Elizavéta (Lise), is warm and kind. She takes an active interest in the party and models her behavior on her host so as not to upset anyone. Her husband, Prince Andrei, however, is the complete opposite. It’s obvious he disdains having to interact with the people of Petersburg society. Clearly, it makes him unhappy that he must engage in these social necessities.

I think that’s something we all experience. We often find ourselves in unavoidable and intolerable situations. What is to be done? The great Roman Seneca offers something to meditate on:

All life is servitude. So you have got to get used to your circumstances, complain about them as little as possible, and grasp whatever advantage they have to offer: no condition is so bitter that a stable mind cannot find some consolation in it. Often small areas can be skillfully divided up to allow room for many uses and arrangement can make a narrow piece of ground inhabitable. Think your way through difficulties: harsh conditions can be softened, restricted ones can be widened, and heavy ones can weigh less on those who know how to bear them.
-Seneca, On Tranquility of Mind

This is the third 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.

Reposez en paix Duc d’Enghien