And so we return to the aristocratic social circles of Russian high society, as we go back to revisit the now-fabulously-wealthy Pierre.
The interesting thing is that Pierre’s character is so naive that money seems to have done nothing to him. He’s still just as confused as ever – and kind of bumbling along from one thing to another. It should be mentioned at this point, that I don’t think this is just a random character attribute that Tolstoy gives him.
Pierre, in fact, seems to represent the very epitome of Tolstoy’s approach to history. We’ve already seen throughout Book 2, that Tolstoy downplays the role that “great men” have in making history. Generals may have made plans and given orders, but we’ve seen that it is the thousands of small decisions by individuals that actually change the course of a battle.
So the question is, then – if that’s the case, and you can’t really change the flow of history from the top down – is it better just to go along with the flow and let things happen? What do you think, thoughtful reader?
Tolstoy plays with this idea throughout the book – I can’t remember from last time I read it, whether he ever comes right out and says that it’s better to just let things happen around you – because that would be a bit stupid. But Tolstoy is fascinated with the idea that history just seems to happen, regardless of people’s own wishes or desires.
So he plays around with it in a way that only a novel-writer can: he creates a character like Pierre. Pierre, at least in everything we’ve seen him do so far (and in today’s chapter) just lets events carry him along. Okay, so Prince Vassily is cheating him out of his money? He’s not sure. He just lets it happen. His architect says he should do up his house? He’s not sure. He just lets it happen. Everyone drops hints that he should marry Helene Kuragin? He’s not sure. He – well, actually, he does fight this one a little bit. By the end of the chapter, he’s debating in his head whether that would be a good idea – the first time we’ve seen him stop and take a think about it.
But then again, as Tolstoy points out, with the incident of the snuffbox – Helene has cleavage.
Is that a dumb thing to base a marriage on? Common sense would say yes, but I’m sure we’ve all seen relationships (especially among young people) that have started on just that shallow a basis nowadays.
Anyway, the point of all that is that Pierre, because he is portrayed as naive, is happy to go along with the flow – and so Tolstoy can use this character as a kind of experiment. “What would happen,” he sorts of asks us, “if a man just let things happen to him, rather than vainly trying to change things?”
After all, Pierre did nothing in Book 1- and he made a major fortune out of it. Not bad for doing nothing, is it?
What do you think? Better to let life run its course? Or jump in and seriously grab history by the horns?
We shall return to this question throughout this year of War and Peace . . . Till tomorrow.