Good Grief, Part 3
Day 25 of A Year of War and Peace
So we reach the conclusion of Book One, Part One only to find the Bolkonsky house in an absolute mess of emotions over Andrei’s approaching departure for the war.
Andrei, alone in his room, prepares for the journey in a highly regimented, organized way. Having completed this task he reflects on his journey and in doing so indulges his emotions a little bit. He’s feeling something. But he cannot discern whether it is fear of the journey he is experiencing or sadness over having to leave his wife. When he hears approaching footsteps, however, he assumes his usual stolid veneer because, as his namesake will later sing, the only thing cooler than being cool is ice cold.
The footsteps belong to Princess Marya. She has come to talk to her brother about two things. First, she tries to get him to be a little softer and considerate towards his wife. After all, Marya says, Lize is a society girl. She has no business out in the country at Bald Hills. Imagine, Marya pleads, how such a drastic change must feel for someone like her. And with this we get the first true glimpse of Marya’s heart. She’s a very considerate and thoughtful woman, one of the true hearts of the novel. Her compassion is further displayed when she arrives at her next objective. Here she offers him a family heirloom icon. She tells Andrei that it’s an icon their grandfather wore during all of his wars. Her idea is that the icon will help her brother survive his war just as it has previous Bolkonsky generations. Andrei accepts the icon even though he does not share his sister’s superstitions.
Next Prince Andrei goes to visit his father. This is a tough scene for discerning readers because even though the two men shield their hearts with skin and soul of stone it’s very clear this is an emotionally wrenching occasion for the both of them. The father offers his son a letter of introduction to a military man of rank, shows Andrei his papers filled with useful advice and reflections, and instructs him to set up payment for any scholar who produces a study of Suvorov’s wars. Andrei, in turn, asks that if he is killed, can his father please raise his child? The old Prince accepts, jokingly, but his hard exterior is breached and he lets loose an uncharacteristically emotional exclamation that if someone kills Andrei he will be very sad.
Leaving his father’s study, Prince Andrei meets with his wife. He greets her coldly. She falls over and fates in hysterics. He moves on. The old Prince emerges from his study moments later. He sees that his son has gone. He sees his daughter-in-law passed out in an easy chair. He can summon nothing more helpful than screaming “Good!” to no one in particular. Then he slams the door shut.
We’ve taken the opportunity of the past two chapters to think a little about grief. Two days ago we suggested one approach towards living with grief is to reflect realistically on the vicissitudes of life. Yesterday we reminded ourselves that when confronted with the emotion of grief we should examine our feelings and separate our impressions of the event causing the grief from the event itself. Today we’ll be a little more proactive. Today we’ll try anticipating grief, just like the Bolkonskys should be doing. This way they’ll be prepared for any tragedy that might befall Andrei while he is away at war. Doing so just might help them act better than they do in this chapter.
Fortune’s assault is formidable only when it comes as a surprise; it is sustained with ease if one is always on the alert for it. Even an enemy onset confounds only those it takes unexpectedly; those who are prepared for war before it strikes, ready and marshalled and armed, can easily parry the initial charge, which is the most violent.
Seneca, Consolation of Helvia