“War and Peace” Book Note (continued)

Tolstoy agonized about the human condition and the universal prospect of mortality as obsessively as anyone. Pierre Bezuhov, a principal character in War and Peace, may be the author’s avatar in that respect. A physically massive, naive, impulsive, good-hearted,, unpretentious young fellow who inherited a great deal of money, Pierre goes through stages of trying to figure out how to deal with life: seeking release from anxiety in “philanthropy, dissipation, freemasonry, heroic feats of self-sacrifice, romantic love, and the ‘path of thought.’” It takes being captured by the French, incarcerated in miserable circumstances, witnessing an execution and almost being executed himself for Pierre to appreciate the empowering benefit of simple goodness, though that alone doesn’t quite do it. In his last appearance in the book, he is trying to organize societies or movements that seem to be more than anything else a continuing quest for psychic self-satisfaction.

Tolstoy’s search for a way of dealing with the human condition is also instantiated in the life and death of another major character, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who cares little about personal or societal benefits and tends toward cynicism, only breaking out of this shell when he is dying, whereupon he transcends his egoism by embracing a doctrine of universal love.

to be continued toomorrow