Day 139 of A Year of War and Peace

What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Yesterday we considered the transition from childhood to adulthood. Today we consider one of the most important and consequential decisions of adulthood: who we marry.

We’ve been aware of Nikolai and Sonya’s relationship since the beginning of the novel. We’ve watched it progress all the way from a case of kissing cousins to a confused and uncertain half-engagement. In today’s chapter, the heat is turned back up in their relationship. And, really, who can blame them? The setting is perfect for a rekindling of passion: a fresh winter’s snow has fallen, a bright moon shines down upon them like the world’s most romantic candlelight, and, the secret ingredient to any amorous assignation, the two lovers are dressed in drag.

It appears Nikolai and Sonya’s engagement is back on in earnest. While it’s always nice to see two young people in love there are certain complications in this particular relationship. First of all, they’re cousins. Secondly, Nikolai’s parents, as we learned recently, are firmly against this pairing.

This chapter, therefore, presents us with another opportunity to think about our duties and roles in life. This question of duty and role-playing is, after all, one of the most important questions we encounter in life. Sometimes these roles, as they are today, come into conflict. On the one hand, Nikolai and Sonya have a duty to be true to themselves. On the other hand, they also have familial duties that, in this case at least, preclude them from being true to themselves.

What do you think? Should Nikolai and Sonya follow their hearts or the wishes of their family? What is the right thing to do here?


All that’s honourable in life comes from observing duty, and all that’s shameful from neglecting it.
Cicero, On Duties, or Life in Accordance with Human Nature

This is the one hundred and thirty-ninth 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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