Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pierre Bezukhov (Part II)

Pierre, once the illegitimate son of a rakish nobleman, is now the legitimized inheritor to a vast fortune, married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and occupying a high place in society. And yet he is unhappy, especially since his wife has compromised her virtue with another man, namely Dolokhov, one of his former drinking buddies. Dolokhov was in fact living at his house and even borrowed money from him.

The breaking point came at a dinner in honor of General Bagration, one of the heroes of the Battle of Austerlitz. That very morning, Pierre had received an anonymous letter making fun of him, saying that “he saw poorly through his spectacles and that his wife’s liaison with Dolokhov was a secret to no one but him.” At the dinner Dolokhov mocks him with a toast: “To the health of beautiful women, Petrusha, and of their lovers.” Pierre soon challenges him to a duel, and the next morning, the two meet at the Sokolniki woods with their seconds and begin the duel. As it is his first duel, Pierre’s second Nesvitsky has to show him how to hold the pistol and shoot it.

On the count of three, the two adversaries approach each other. Pierre fires first. Bang! In his childishness, he “smiled at his own impression and stood still.” When the smoke clears, Dolokhov still keeps going, but he was shot in the side, and soon collapses. He aims and fires, but misses due to Pierre’s ridiculous luck.

Coming to his senses, Pierre realizes that he could become a murderer, and runs through the snow yelling out “stupid…stupid! Death…lies…” Everything becomes topsy-turvy and meaningless to him. The society which mocked him for being a cuckold now mocks him for dueling, because of the apparently scanty evidence of infidelity. Hélène herself bitterly reproaches him, and Pierre, losing it, nearly kills her with a giant marble slab. They separate, and Pierre goes to Petersburg; Hélène retains control of much of Pierre’s fortune.

In St. Petersburg, Pierre gets introduced into Freemasonry, with his mentor being Osip Bazdeev, who is sort of like an Obi-Wan figure to him. Pierre is inducted in a secret ceremony (natch) and throws himself wholeheartedly into Masonic activity and beliefs. This starts an obsession with mysticism, esotericism and the like, which for Pierre helped him answer the aching questions that he had about the meaning of life. He even has the gumption to kick out Prince Vassily when he comes to ask Pierre to reunite with Hélène.

However, Pierre’s enthusiasm for Freemasonry does not pan out well. On the basis of his new creed he attempts to reform his estates in Southern Russia, but due to his lack of practicality and the wiliness of the chief steward his reforms don’t work out. Moreover, he realizes that his brother Masons aren’t as charitable and focused on brotherhood as he once thought, and that for many (such as Princess Drubetskoy’s son Boris) joining the Masons is basically just another way to step up the social ladder.

Yet the beliefs which Pierre adopted—which happen to be not too far from Christianity—make an impact on his friend Prince Andrei. After the Battle of Austerlitz, a wounded Prince Andrei returned as if from the grave to his family estate near Smolensk. There, he saw his wife die in childbirth, which throws him into a deep depression. Pierre says to him, “If there is a God and if there is a future life, then there is truth, there is virtue; and man’s highest happiness consists in striving to attain them. We must life, we must love, we must believe…that we do not live only on this scrap of earth…” Andrei is reminded by this of the time, when he fell on the field of battle, that he saw the infinite sky above. And he starts to live again.

Soon, Pierre introduces Andrei to a family friend, Natasha Rostov, a young girl of sixteen who is just entering society at the New Year’s Ball. They dance splendidly, and something awakens in both Andrei and Natasha. Pierre, having unhappily reunited with his wife, is sullen because (despite her stupidity) she gained a rather high reputation. From there, Pierre, Andrei, and Natasha’s lives will be irrevocably intertwined.

To be continued…

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