I haven’t seen a lot written on this topic, but I have observed on several occasions that impending weddings can really bring out the worst in parents. I’m not sure what it is, exactly – my theory is that it’s something to do with the fact that your “child” leaving home (which marriage would have been, back in Tolstoy’s day) is, for parents, the equivalent of a deadline on a tough assignment at uni or school. The deadline’s coming up, you’ve got to hand the paper in tomorrow – how do you feel about that assignment?
Well, it depends how well you’ve done, doesn’t it? If you’ve put a lot of effort into it, and you really know your stuff – you’d be proud to hand that paper in. You’ll be confident that you’ve done the best you can, and that it’s the right time to hand it over.
But what if you’ve done a lousy job on it? Perhaps you were too busy to work at the assignment properly. Perhaps you were too lazy. Perhaps you didn’t think it was that important, and you’ve left it to the last minute. But, for whatever reason, the deadline is tomorrow, you know you’ve done a lousy job, and when the deadline arrives and that paper gets handed in – it will be a lousy paper for the rest of eternity. You can’t reclaim lost time.
This is what I think weddings do to parents. If you’ve put a good job in with your kids, you’ve had quality time with them growing up, you’re proud of who they are – a wedding is an amazing celebration. Sure, there’s a little bit of sadness that they’re leaving – but there’s also an immense joy in watching your child step out into a new world of adult responsibility.
But for some parents, I think it’s the opposite. I think they know that they could have done better with parenting. As long as their teenager/young person was at home, they could always ignore it – because there’s always more time for things to get better – theoretically. But when that son or daughter is up the front of that church – that’s it – your parenting days are over. You will be remembered as either a good or bad parent – but you certainly can’t go back and undo what you’ve been doing while your child is growing up.
I think that haunts many parents who don’t feel that they’ve done a good job. At least, that’s my theory to explain why so many of them go absolutely insanely nasty around wedding time. Trying to micro-manage the details of the wedding. Getting upset with their kids for moving out of the house. Giving them long lists of jobs to do. Complaining about the person they’re marrying. Bagging out their choice of clothes, music, reception, etc. It can get really vicious sometimes . . .
When, really, what the parent is trying to say is, “I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t do better. I can’t undo what I’ve done. I’m really sorry to be losing you.”
Certainly, that’s the way Tolstoy portrays Old Count Bolkonsky and Marya in this chapter. He can’t really answer that question of what he would do without his daughter, so just decides to make unspeakably horrible comments about her hair and her clothes.
However, horrible as that is, the biggest disappointment – like somebody falling over and not noticing it until too late – is that Marya is starting to think that there’s a chance that Anatole might like her. Completely misreading the Anatole/Bourienne situation, she is setting herself up for a major heartache . . . I guess you’ll all be back tomorrow, then?