These New Eyes and What They See

Day 121 of A Year of War and Peace

Today Prince Andrei continues to look at the world with his new eyes. His new, Natasha-improved eyes that is. He even decides, just like we counselled yesterday, to become a little more social. He achieves this by visiting some Petersburg houses he hasn’t yet called upon. Naturally, no coincidence I’m sure, one of the stops he makes is at the Rostov house.

His new eyes afford him an entirely new vision of that family. Whereas before he found them unbearable they are now quite “excellent, simple, and kindly people.” Where everyone else sees a credit risk, Prince Andrei finds great hospitality and a good nature in Count Rostov. Everything goes so well that he readily accepts a dinner invitation from the family.

This leads directly to his most emotional moment in the novel so far. After a thoroughly enjoyable dinner the family and their guest retire to a room where, at Andrei’s request, Natasha plays the clavichord and sings for everyone. There is a certain passage in the music, I really wish Tolstoy would share what it was, that chokes poor Prince Andrei up in tears. These are tears of joy and sadness. As he attempts to hold these tears back he tries to articulate their meaning. He can’t tell exactly. “The chief reason,” Tolstoy writes, “was a sudden, vivid sense of the terrible contrast between something infinitely great and illimitable within him, and that limited and material something that he, and even she, was. This contrast weighed on and yet cheered him when he sang.”

This is emotion as revelation. He returns home that night determined to change his life. His main decision is that, finding inspiration in something his friend Pierre once told him, he wants to finally be happy. He makes a list of things he can do to achieve that goal. He’ll get his son a proper tutor. He’ll go abroad. He’ll stop dwelling upon the loss of his wife. He’ll make any number of changes necessary to find that ever elusive thing called happiness.

Maybe, though, these aren’t the right changes. Most of them, after all, only alter the external. Prince Andrei can change everything he sees all he wants but he probably won’t be happy until he changes how he looks at them first.

DAILY MEDITATION

Do not ask things to happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go smoothly.
Epictetus, Enchiridion

This is the one hundred and twenty-first 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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