NATASHA was married in the early spring of 1813, and by 1820 she had three daughters and a son. The latter had been eagerly desired, and she was now nursing him herself. She had grown stouter and broader, so that it was hard to recognise in the robust-looking young mother the slim, mobile Natasha of old days. Her features had become more defined, and wore an expression of calm softness and serenity. Her face had no longer that ever-glowing fire of eagerness that had once constituted her chief charm. Now, often her face and body were all that was to be seen, and the soul was not visible at all. All there was to be seen in her was a vigorous, handsome, and fruitful mother. Only on rare occasions now the old fire glowed in her again. That happened only when, as now, her husband returned after absence, when a sick child recovered, or when she spoke to Countess Marya of Prince Andrey (to her husband she never spoke of Prince Andrey, fancying he might be jealous of her love for him), or on the rare occasions when something happened to attract her to her singing, which she had entirely laid aside since her marriage. And at those rare moments, when the old fire glowed again, she was more attractive, with her handsome, fully-developed figure, than she had ever been in the past.
Since her marriage Natasha and her husband had lived in Moscow, in Petersburg, on their estate near Moscow, and at her mother's; that is to say, at Nikolay's. The young Countess Bezuhov was little seen in society, and those who had seen her there were not greatly pleased with her. She was neither charming nor amiable. It was not that Natasha was fond of solitude (she could not have said whether she liked it or not; she rather supposed indeed that she did not); but as she was bearing and nursing children, and taking interest in every minute of her husband's life, she could not meet all these demands on her except by renouncing society. Every one who had known Natasha before her marriage marvelled at the change that had taken place in her, as though it were something extraordinary. Only the old countess, with her mother's insight, had seen that what was at the root of all Natasha's wild outbursts of feeling was simply the need of children and a husband of her own, as she often used to declare, more in earnest than in joke, at Otradnoe. The mother was surprised at the wonder of people who did not understand Natasha, and repeated that she had always known that she would make an exemplary wife and mother.
“Only she does carry her devotion to her husband and children to an extreme,” the countess would say; “so much so, that it's positively foolish.”
Natasha did not follow the golden rule preached by so many prudent persons, especially by the French, that recommends that a girl on marrying should not neglect herself, should not give up her accomplishments, should think even more of her appearance than when a young girl, and should try to fascinate her husband as she had fascinated him before he was her husband. Natasha, on the contrary, had at once abandoned all her accomplishments, of which the greatest was her singing. She gave that up just because it was such a great attraction. Natasha troubled herself little about manners or delicacy of speech; nor did she think of showing herself to her husband in the most becoming attitudes and costumes, nor strive to avoid worrying him by being over-exacting. She acted in direct contravention of all those rules. She felt that the arts of attraction that instinct had taught her to use before would now have seemed only ludicrous to her husband, to whom she had from the first moment given herself up entirely, that is with her whole soul, not keeping a single corner of it hidden from him. She felt that the tie that bound her to her husband did not rest on those romantic feelings which had attracted him to her, but rested on something else undefined, but as strong as the tie that bound her soul to her body.
To curl her hair, put on a crinoline, and sing songs to attract her husband would have seemed to her as strange as to deck herself up so as to please herself. To adorn herself to please others might perhaps have been agreeable to her—she did not know—but she had absolutely no time for it. The chief reason why she could not attend to her singing, nor to her dress, nor to the careful choice of her words was that she simply had no time to think of those things.
It is well known that man has the faculty of entire absorption in one subject, however trivial that subject may appear to be. And it is well known that there is no subject so trivial that it will not grow to indefinite proportions if concentrated attention be devoted to it.
The subject in which Natasha was completely absorbed was her family, that is, her husband, whom she kept such a hold on so that he should belong entirely to her, to his home and her children, whom she had to carry, to bear, to nurse and to bring up.
And the more she put, not her mind only, but her whole soul, her whole being, into the subject that absorbed her, the more that subject seemed to enlarge under her eyes, and the feebler and the more inadequate her own powers seemed for coping with it, so that she concentrated them all on that one subject, and still had not time to do all that seemed to her necessary.
There were in those days, just as now, arguments and discussions on the rights of women, on the relations of husband and wife, and on freedom and rights in marriage, though they were not then, as now, called questions. But these questions had no interest for Natasha, in fact she had absolutely no comprehension of them.
Those questions, then as now, existed only for those persons who see in marriage only the satisfaction the married receive from one another, that is, only the first beginnings of marriage and not all its significance, which lies in the family.
Such discussions and the questions of to-day, like the question how to get the utmost possible gratification out of one's dinner, then, as now, did not exist for persons for whom the object of dinner is nourishment, and the object of wedlock is the family.
If the end of dinner is the nourishment of the body, the man who eats two dinners obtains possibly a greater amount of pleasure, but he does not attain the object of it, since two dinners cannot be digested by the stomach.
If the end of marriage is the family, the person who prefers to have several wives and several husbands may possibly derive a great deal of satisfaction therefrom, but will not in any case have a family. If the end of dinner is nourishment and the end of marriage is the family, the whole question is only solved by not eating more than the stomach can digest and not having more husbands or wives than as many as are needed for the family, that is, one wife and one husband. Natasha needed a husband. A husband was given her; and her husband gave her a family. And she saw no need of another better husband, and indeed, as all her spiritual energies were devoted to serving that husband and his children, she could not picture, and found no interest in trying to picture, what would have happened had things been different.
Natasha did not care for society in general, but she greatly prized the society of her kinsfolk—of Countess Marya, her brother, her mother, and Sonya. She cared for the society of those persons to whom she could rush in from the nursery in a dressing-gown with her hair down; to whom she could, with a joyful face, show a baby's napkin stained yellow instead of green, and to receive their comforting assurances that that proved that baby was now really better.
Natasha neglected herself to such a degree that her dresses, her untidy hair, her inappropriately blurted-out words, and her jealousy— she was jealous of Sonya, of the governess, of every woman, pretty and ugly—were a continual subject of jests among her friends. The general opinion was that Pierre was tied to his wife's apron strings, and it really was so. From the earliest days of their marriage Natasha had made plain her claims. Pierre had been greatly surprised at his wife's view—to him a completely novel idea—that every minute of his life belonged to her and their home. He was surprised at his wife's demands, but he was flattered by them, and he acquiesced in them.
Pierre was so far under petticoat government that he did not dare to be attentive, or even to speak with a smile, to any other woman; did not dare go to dine at the club, without good reason, simply for entertainment; did not dare spent money on idle whims, and did not dare to be away from home for any long time together, except on business, in which his wife included his scientific pursuits. Though she understood nothing of the latter, she attached great consequence to them. To make up for all this Pierre had complete power in his own house to dispose of the whole household, as well as of himself, as he chose. In their own home Natasha made herself a slave to her husband; and the whole household had to go on tiptoe if the master were busy reading or writing in his study. Pierre had only to show the slightest preference, for what he desired to be at once carried out. He had but to express a wish and Natasha jumped up at once and ran for what he wanted.
The whole household was ruled by the supposed directions of the master, that is, by the wishes of Pierre, which Natasha tried to guess. Their manner of life and place of residence, their acquaintances and ties, Natasha's pursuits, and the bringing up of the children—all followed, not only Pierre's expressed wishes, but even the deductions Natasha strove to draw from the ideas he explained in conversation with her. And she guessed very correctly what was the essential point of Pierre's wishes, and having once guessed it she was steadfast in adhering to it: even when Pierre himself would have veered round she opposed him with his own weapons.
In the troubled days that Pierre could never forget, after the birth of their first child, they had tried three wet nurses, one after another, for the delicate baby, and Natasha had fallen ill with anxiety. At the time Pierre had explained to her Rousseau's views on the unnaturalness and harmfulness of a child being suckled by any woman but its own mother and told her he fully agreed with those views. When the next baby was born, in spite of the opposition of her mother, the doctors, and even of her husband himself, who had looked on it as something unheard of, and injurious, she insisted on having her own way, and from that day had nursed all her children herself. It happened very often in moments of irritability that the husband and wife quarrelled; but long after their dispute Pierre had, to his own delight and surprise, found in his wife's actions, as well as words, that very idea of his with which she had quarrelled. And he not only found his own idea, but found it purified of all that was superfluous, and had been evoked by the heat of argument in his own expression of the idea.
After seven years of married life, Pierre had a firm and joyful consciousness that he was not a bad fellow, and he felt this because he saw himself reflected in his wife. In himself he felt all the good and bad mingled together, and obscuring one another. But in his wife he saw reflected only what was really good; everything not quite good was left out. And this result was not reached by the way of logical thought, but by way of a mysterious, direct reflection of himself.