Saturday, May 1, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter X

Speaking of serfs, Pierre visits his land in Kiev.

He is trying, according to the Masonic plan, to work on his virtues. He wants to emancipate the peasants, so he gathers all his stewards and gives them new rules, about not punishing the peasants, not having women with children work, etc.

Meanwhile, he is feted the same as in Petersburg, so he doesn’t get to change much. He does not have a head for business, and his head steward, a “very stupid but cunning man” manages to make it look like he’s making changes, but it’s all cosmetic. Pierre makes nearly 500,000 a year, but almost all of it goes, and he has to borrow. The countess alone is 150,000. It’s amazing.

Tolstoy is great in this chapter illustrating how complicated these affairs are, and also Pierre’s fecklessness in carrying them out. He wants to feel good about doing good deeds, but he doesn’t have the stomach to learn what’s going on and make changes. His steward suggests, and he agrees, not knowing that the steward is not at all on his side. He’s easily duped. The steward convinces him the serfs are happy, but all he’s seen is a show, masking the abuse, people who’ve had to sell their children, the constant work, labor, and no reward. It’s sad.

Pierre truly has no clue. He comes off as simple, with a good intention, but no idea of the scope of what he owns, or what he’s up against.

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