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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Prince Vasily Kuragin

In War and Peace, Tolstoy has, at lengths, described and mocked people's changing attitudes for Pierre after he inherits a large fortune, but here in volume I part III chapter 1, I find an interesting passage:
"Prince Vasili was not a man who deliberately thought out his plans. Still less did he think of injuring anyone for his own advantage. He was merely a man of the world who had got on and to whom getting on had become a habit. Schemes and devices for which he never rightly accounted to himself, but which formed the whole interest of his life, were constantly shaping themselves in his mind, arising from the circumstances and persons he met. Of these plans he had not merely one or two in his head but dozens, some only beginning to form themselves, some approaching achievement, and some in course of disintegration. He did not, for instance, say to himself: "This man now has influence, I must gain his confidence and friendship and through him obtain a special grant." Nor did he say to himself: "Pierre is a rich man, I must entice him to marry my daughter and lend me the forty thousand rubles I need." But when he came across a man of position his instinct immediately told him that this man could be useful, and without any premeditation Prince Vasili took the first opportunity to gain his confidence, flatter him, become intimate with him, and finally make his request.
He had Pierre at hand in Moscow and procured for him an appointment as Gentleman of the Bedchamber, which at that time conferred the status of Councilor of State, and insisted on the young man accompanying him to Petersburg and staying at his house. With apparent absent-mindedness, yet with unhesitating assurance that he was doing the right thing, Prince Vasili did everything to get Pierre to marry his daughter. Had he thought out his plans beforehand he could not have been so natural and shown such unaffected familiarity in intercourse with everybody both above and below him in social standing. Something always drew him toward those richer and more powerful than himself and he had rare skill in seizing the most opportune moment for making use of people..."
(from Gutenberg, trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)


I detest hypocrites, flatterers, manipulative, scheming people, who take advantage of others; Prince Vasily is such a person, and yet, as Tolstoy comes closer to his character, I'm no longer looking at this man in a distance and what he does somehow appears acceptable, unsurprising, natural, even like a matter of course. 
There's something magical in the way Tolstoy presents and depicts his characters fully without judging, condemning them. 
(A confession: I even liked Oblonsky in Anna Karenina at 1st).

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