War And Peace

CHAPTER IX

Chinese

AT THAT TIME, as always indeed, the exalted society that met at court and at the great balls was split up into several circles, each of which had its special tone. The largest among them was the French circle—supporting the Napoleonic alliance—the circle of Count Rumyantsev and Caulaincourt. In this circle Ellen took a leading position, as soon as she had established herself in her husband's house in Petersburg. She received the members of the French embassy, and a great number of people, noted for their wit and their politeness, and belonging to that political section.

Ellen had been at Erfurt at the time of the famous meeting of the Emperors; and had there formed close ties with all the notable figures in Europe belonging to the Napoleonic circle. In Erfurt she had been brilliantly successful. Napoleon himself, seeing her at the theatre, had asked who she was, and admired her beauty. Her triumphs in the character of a beautiful and elegant woman did not surprise Pierre, for with years she had become even more beautiful than before. But what did surprise him was that during the last two years his wife had succeeded in gaining a reputation as “a charming woman, as witty as she is beautiful,” as was said of her. The distinguished Prince de Ligne wrote her letters of eight pages. Bilibin treasured up his mots to utter them for the first time before Countess Bezuhov. To be received in Countess Bezuhov's salon was looked upon as a certificate of intellect. Young men read up subjects before one of Ellen's soirées, so as to be able to talk of something in her salon, and secretaries of the embassy, and even ambassadors, confided diplomatic secrets to her, so that Ellen was in a way a power. It was with a strange feeling of perplexity and alarm that Pierre, who knew she was very stupid, sometimes at her dinners and soirées, listened to conversation about politics, poetry, and philosophy. At these soirées he experienced a sensation such as a conjuror must feel who expects every moment that his trick will be discovered. But either because stupidity was just what was needed for the successful management of such a salon, or because those who were deceived took pleasure in the deception, the cheat was not discovered, and the reputation of “a charming woman” clung so persistently to Elena Vassilyevna Bezuhov, that she could utter the vulgarest and stupidest speeches, and every one was just as enthusiastic over every word, and eagerly found in it a profound meaning of which she did not dream herself.

Pierre was exactly the husband needed by this brilliant society woman. He was that absent-minded, eccentric, grand seigneur of a husband, who got in nobody's way and far from spoiling the general impression of the highest tone in her drawing-room, formed by his contrast with his wife's elegance and tact an advantageous foil to her. Pierre's continual concentration on immaterial interests during the last two years, and his genuine contempt for everything else, gave him in his wife's circle, which did not interest him, that tone of unconcern, indifference, and benevolence towards all alike, which cannot be acquired artificially, and for that reason commands involuntary respect. He entered his wife's drawing-room as though it were a theatre, was acquainted with every one, equally affable to all, and to all equally indifferent. Sometimes he took part in conversation on some subject that interested him, and then, without any consideration whether the “gentlemen of the embassy” were present or not, he mumbled out his opinions, which were by no means always in harmony with the received catch-words of the time. But the public estimate of the eccentric husband of “the most distinguished woman in Petersburg” was now so well established that no one took his sallies seriously.

Among the numerous young men, who were daily to be seen in Ellen's house, Boris Drubetskoy, who had by now achieved marked success in the service, was, after Ellen's return from Erfurt, the most intimate friend of the Bezuhov household. Ellen used to call him “mon page,” and treated him like a child. Her smile for him was the same smile she bestowed on all, but it was sometimes distasteful to Pierre to see that smile. Boris behaved to Pierre with a marked, dignified, and mournful respectfulness. This shade of respectfulness too disturbed Pierre. He had suffered so much three years before from the mortification caused him by his wife, that now he secured himself from all possibility of similar mortification; in the first place, by being his wife's husband only in name, and secondly, by not allowing himself to suspect anything. “No, now she has become a blue-stocking, she has renounced for ever her former errors,” he said to himself. “There has never been an instance of a blue-stocking giving way to tender passions,” he repeated to himself; a maxim he had picked up somewhere and implicitly believed. But, strange to say, the presence of Boris in his wife's drawing-room (and he was almost always there) had a physical effect on Pierre; it seemed to make all his limbs contract, and destroyed the unconsciousness and freedom of his movement.

“Such a strange antipathy,” thought Pierre; “and at one time I really liked him very much.”

In the eyes of the world, Pierre was a great lord, the rather blind and absurd husband of a distinguished wife; a clever eccentric, who did nothing but who was no trouble to any one, a good-natured, capital fellow. In Pierre's soul all this while a complex and laborious process of inner development was going on that revealed much to him and led him to many spiritual doubts and joys.

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