The first epilogue of War and Peace is itself a long section of narrative, but one that most all other stories lack: what happens after “happily ever after?” Our heroes Pierre and Natasha have survived Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and finally, after over 1000 pages, have married.
But then Tolstoy gives us 16 more chapters about their early years of family life together (along with the lives of their friends and their marriages). In these chapters, Tolstoy unabashedly preaches what he thinks an ideal home life should be. The degree of anti-political correctness here makes me wonder that no sensitive snowflakes have demanded it banned.
Here’s the most instructive of those chapters, chapter 10, with ten headings I’ve added to illustrate Tolstoy’s points, and some highlighting of especially radical (read: old fashioned) ideas.
IN PRAISE OF THE PHYSICAL CHANGES IN YOUNG MOTHERS
Natasha had married in the early spring of 1813, and in 1820 already had three daughters besides a son for whom she had longed and whom she was now nursing. She had grown stouter and broader, so that it was difficult to recognize in this robust, motherly woman the slim, lively Natasha of former days. Her features were more defined and had a calm, soft, and serene expression. In her face there was none of the ever-glowing animation that had formerly burned there and constituted its charm. Now her face and body were of all that one saw, and her soul was not visible at all. All that struck the eye was a strong, handsome, and fertile woman. The old fire very rarely kindled in her face now. That happened only when, as was the case that day, her husband returned home, or a sick child was convalescent, or when she and Countess Mary spoke of Prince Andrew (she never mentioned him to her husband, who she imagined was jealous of Prince Andrew’s memory), or on the rare occasions when something happened to induce her to sing, a practice she had quite abandoned since her marriage. At the rare moments when the old fire did kindle in her handsome, fully developed body she was even more attractive than in former days.
THE CHOICES YOUNG MOTHERS MAKE WITH THEIR TIME
Since their marriage Natasha and her husband had lived in Moscow, in Petersburg, on their estate near Moscow, or with her mother, that is to say, in Nicholas’ house. The young Countess Bezukhova was not often seen in society, and those who met her there were not pleased with her and found her neither attractive nor amiable. Not that Natasha liked solitude- she did not know whether she liked it or not, she even thought that she did not- but with her pregnancies, her confinements, the nursing of her children, and sharing every moment of her husband’s life, she had demands on her time which could be satisfied only by renouncing society. All who had known Natasha before her marriage wondered at the change in her as at something extraordinary. Only the old countess with her maternal instinct had realized that all Natasha’s outbursts had been due to her need of children and a husband- as she herself had once exclaimed at Otradnoe not so much in fun as in earnest- and her mother was now surprised at the surprise expressed by those who had never understood Natasha, and she kept saying that she had always known that Natasha would make an exemplary wife and mother.
“Only she lets her love of her husband and children overflow all bounds,” said the countess, “so that it even becomes absurd.”
THE PRIORITIES OF YOUNG MOTHERS
Natasha did not follow the golden rule advocated by clever folk, especially by the French, which says that a girl should not let herself go when she marries, should not neglect her accomplishments, should be even more careful of her appearance than when she was unmarried, and should fascinate her husband as much as she did before he became her husband. Natasha on the contrary had at once abandoned all her witchery, of which her singing had been an unusually powerful part. She gave it up just because it was so powerfully seductive. She took no pains with her manners or with of speech, or with her toilet, or to show herself to her husband in her most becoming attitudes, or to avoid inconveniencing him by being too exacting. She acted in contradiction to all those rules.
She felt that the allurements instinct had formerly taught her to use would now be merely ridiculous in the eyes of her husband, to whom she had from the first moment given herself up entirely- that is, with her whole soul, leaving no corner of it hidden from him. She felt that her unity with her husband was not maintained by the poetic feelings that had attracted him to her, but by something else- indefinite but firm as the bond between her own body and soul.
To fluff out her curls, put on fashionable dresses, and sing romantic songs to fascinate her husband would have seemed as strange as to adorn herself to attract herself. To adorn herself for others might perhaps have been agreeable- she did not know- but she had no time at all for it. The chief reason for devoting no time either to singing, to dress, or to choosing her words was that she really had no time to spare for these things.
THE PARADOXICAL POSITION OF YOUNG MOTHERS
The subject which wholly engrossed Natasha’s attention was her family: that is, her husband whom she had to keep so that he should belong entirely to her and to the home, and the children whom she had to bear, bring into the world, nurse, and bring up.
And the deeper she penetrated, not with her mind only but with her whole soul, her whole being, into the subject that absorbed her, the larger did that subject grow and the weaker and more inadequate did her powers appear, so that she concentrated them wholly on that one thing and yet was unable to accomplish all that she considered necessary.
THE TRUE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE
There were then as now conversations and discussions about women’s rights, the relations of husband and wife and their freedom and rights, though these themes were not yet termed questions as they are now; but these topics were not merely uninteresting to Natasha, she positively did not understand them.
These questions, then as now, existed only for those who see nothing in marriage but the pleasure married people get from one another, that is, only the beginnings of marriage and not its whole significance, which lies in the family.
Discussions and questions of that kind, which are like the question of how to get the greatest gratification from one’s dinner, did not then and do not now exist for those for whom the purpose of a dinner is the nourishment it affords; and the purpose of marriage is the family.
If the purpose of dinner is to nourish the body, a man who eats two dinners at once may perhaps get more enjoyment but will not attain his purpose, for his stomach will not digest the two dinners.
If the purpose of marriage is the family, the person who wishes to have many wives or husbands may perhaps obtain much pleasure, but in that case will not have a family.
If the purpose of food is nourishment and the purpose of marriage is the family, the whole question resolves itself into not eating more than one can digest, and not having more wives or husbands than are needed for the family- that is, one wife or one husband.
Natasha needed a husband. A husband was given her and he gave her a family. And she not only saw no need of any other or better husband, but as all the powers of her soul were intent on serving that husband and family, she could not imagine and saw no interest in imagining how it would be if things were different.
A YOUNG MOTHER’S FRIENDS
Natasha did not care for society in general, but prized the more the society of her relatives- Countess Mary, and her brother, her mother, and Sonya. She valued the company of those to whom she could come striding disheveled from the nursery in her dressing gown, and with joyful face show a yellow instead of a green stain on baby’s napkin, and from whom she could hear reassuring words to the effect that baby was much better.
THE DEVOTION OF YOUNG HUSBANDS AND WIVES TO EACH OTHER AT HOME
The Husband’s Devotion
To such an extent had Natasha let herself go that the way she dressed and did her hair, her ill-chosen words, and her jealousy- she was jealous of Sonya, of the governess, and of every woman, pretty or plain- were habitual subjects of jest to those about her. The general opinion was that Pierre was under his wife’s thumb, which was really true. From the very first days of their married life Natasha had announced her demands. Pierre was greatly surprised by his wife’s view, to him a perfectly novel one, that every moment of his life belonged to her and to the family. His wife’s demands astonished him, but they also flattered him, and he submitted to them.
Pierre’s subjection consisted in the fact that he not only dared not flirt with, but dared not even speak smilingly to, any other woman; did not dare dine at the Club as a pastime, did not dare spend money a whim, and did not dare absent himself for any length of time, except on business- in which his wife included his intellectual pursuits, which she did not in the least understand but to which she attributed great importance.
The Wife’s Devotion
To make up for this, at home Pierre had the right to regulate his life and that of the whole family exactly as he chose. At home Natasha placed herself in the position of a slave to her husband, and the whole household went on tiptoe when he was occupied- that is, was reading or writing in his study. Pierre had but to show a partiality for anything to get just what he liked done always. He had only to express a wish and Natasha would jump up and run to fulfill it.
The entire household was governed according to Pierre’s supposed orders, that is, by his wishes which Natasha tried to guess. Their way of life and place of residence, their acquaintances and ties, Natasha’s occupations, the children’s upbringing, were all selected not merely with regard to Pierre’s expressed wishes, but to what Natasha from the thoughts he expressed in conversation supposed his wishes to be. And she deduced the essentials of his wishes quite correctly, and having once arrived at them clung to them tenaciously. When Pierre himself wanted to change his mind she would fight him with his own weapons.
THE BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING
Thus in a time of trouble ever memorable to him after the birth of their first child who was delicate, when they had to change the wet nurse three times and Natasha fell ill from despair, Pierre one day told her of Rousseau’s view, with which he quite agreed, that to have a wet nurse is unnatural and harmful. When her next baby was born, despite the opposition of her mother, the doctors, and even of her husband himself- who were all vigorously opposed to her nursing her baby herself, a thing then unheard of and considered injurious- she insisted on having her own way, and after that nursed all her babies herself.
THE ARGUMENTS OF YOUNG COUPLES
It very often happened that in a moment of irritation husband and wife would have a dispute, but long afterwards Pierre to his surprise and delight would find in his wife’s ideas and actions the very thought against which she had argued, but divested of everything superfluous that in the excitement of the dispute he had added when expressing his opinion.
HOW MARRIAGE CHANGES PEOPLE
After seven years of marriage Pierre had the joyous and firm consciousness that he was not a bad man, and he felt this because he saw himself reflected in his wife. He felt the good and bad within himself inextricably mingled and overlapping. But only what was really good in him was reflected in his wife, all that was not quite good was rejected. And this was not the result of logical reasoning but was a direct and mysterious reflection.