The Duel

Dolokhov, famed for tying a policeman to the back of a bear, and throwing them in the river- it was so funny, watching the policeman cry out as the bear swam- is the lover of Princess Elena, wife of Count Pyotr (or Pierre) Bezukhov. Anonymous correspondents, who only wish to do good, tell Pierre of his wife’s unfaithfulness, without denting his faith in her- for surely her adultery would be impossible? However when at a drunken dinner Dolokhov toasts “Beautiful women- and their lovers” Bezukhov challenges him to a duel.

They meet the next day. Bezukhov does not want to tell his second that he has never held a pistol before. Dolokhov despises those poor boys who write apologising to their mothers- they are dead already. In a duel, it is necessary to decide to kill the other man, with all the despatch possible. They start forty paces apart, and walk towards each other through the forest. Bezukhov shoots first, grievously wounding Dolokhov: he returns home, believing he may have killed him.

“How did I come to that?” “Because you married her, an inner voice answered. He knew he never loved her. He knew it was not right; but her father placed her close to him, and he was aware of her as an animal, rather than as a lady in a gown. Then her father, who looked at his children as a parent who had always treated them with affection would- because he has observed the manner of other parents, and mimicked it- places them together repeatedly, until it is known to all that they will marry. Pierre did not see how he could escape. Elena knew Pyotr had vast estates, with thousands of “souls”, that is, serfs.

He did not understand her, her eternal calm, contentment, and lack of any predilections and desires, and the whole answer was in this terrible word that she is a depraved woman…he recalled the clarity and coarseness of expression typical of her, despite her upbringing in high aristocratic circles.

He could not  remain under the same roof with her. He could not imagine how he was going to speak to her now.

The Countess herself, in a white satin dressing gown embroidered with silver, and with her hair done up simply (two enormous braids wound twice round her lovely head en diadème) came into the room calmly and majestically; only there was a wrinkle of wrath on her marble and slightly prominent forehead… Pierre glanced at her timidly.

“What is this? What have you done, I ask you?… You believe that Dolokhov is my lover,” she said with her coarse precision of speech, pronouncing the word lover like any other word. “You are a fool… groundlessly jealous of a man who is better than you in all respects…”

At this he seizes the marble slab from a table, and swung it at her. She shrieks, and he feels the enthusiasm and enchantment of rage. A week later he gives her power of attorney for the major part of his fortune, and leaves for Petersburg.

That clarity of thought and perception of Dolokhov and Hélène, which I have envied as freedom and even wisdom, comes from their depravity. I love Tolstoy’s sharpness, a sentence to define the Prince, another to make the duel more terrifying. War and Peace reads easily, and contains some fascinating stories.

Maria Anna Moser, Portrait of Victoria, Grafin Tannenberg

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