Hail War And Peace

War And Peace is my favorite novel ever. In contrast to the modern style of appearing only to describe events and leaving interpretations to the reader, Tolstoy interprets openly and heavily. And oh what wonderfully insightful interpreting! He usually describe several levels, including what people say, what they think, and what they are doing without realizing. I see homo hypocritus played out in great detail. Here is a section on agency failures in charity:

[Count] Pierre … sent for all his stewards to the head office and .. told them that steps would be taken immediately to free his serfs- and that till then they were not to be overburdened with labor, women while nursing their babies were not to be sent to work, assistance was to be given to the serfs, punishments were to be admonitory and not corporal, and hospitals, asylums, and schools were to be established on all the estates. Some of the stewards … listened with alarm, supposing these words to mean that the young count was displeased with their management and embezzlement of money …

He discussed estate affairs every day with his chief steward. But he felt that this did not forward matters at all. … Pierre had none of the practical persistence that would have enabled him to attend to the business himself and so he disliked it and only tried to pretend to the steward that he was attending to it. The steward for his part tried to pretend to the count that he considered these consultations very valuable for the proprietor and troublesome to himself. …

The chief steward, who considered the young count’s attempts almost insane – unprofitable to himself, to the count, and to the serfs – made some concessions. Continuing to represent the liberation of the serfs as impracticable, he arranged for the erection of large buildings- schools, hospitals, and asylums- on all the estates before the master arrived. …

On all his estates Pierre saw with his own eyes brick buildings erected or in course of erection, all on one plan, for hospitals, schools, and almshouses, which were soon to be opened. Everywhere he saw the stewards’ accounts, according to which the serfs’ manorial labor had been diminished, and heard the touching thanks of deputations of serfs in their full-skirted blue coats.

What Pierre did not know was … that since the nursing mothers were no longer sent to work on his land, they did still harder work on their own land. He did not know that the priest who met him with the cross oppressed the peasants by his exactions, and that the pupils’ parents wept at having to let him take their children and secured their release by heavy payments. He did not know that the brick buildings, built to plan, were being built by serfs whose manorial labor was thus increased, though lessened on paper. He did not know that where the steward had shown him in the accounts that the serfs’ payments had been diminished by a third, their obligatory manorial work had been increased by a half. And so Pierre was delighted with his visit to his estates and quite recovered the philanthropic mood in which he had left Petersburg. …

The steward promised to do all in his power to carry out the count’s wishes, seeing clearly that not only would the count never be able to find out whether all measures had been taken, … but would probably never even inquire and would never know that the newly erected buildings were standing empty and that the serfs continued to give in money and work all that other people’s serfs gave – that is to say, all that could be got out of them. (more)

Note that even in such a different world (1806 Russia), the three classic “good deeds” were medicine, education, and poverty assistance. This suggests modern liberal obsessions with such areas are not a local historical accident.

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