For Anna Mikhailovna and Prince Vassily, the count has become his own estate while he is still living and even conscious. The question of how long the count will live is of professional interest to the physicians (and at a lower level the undertakers). The servants and one of the Mamontov princesses attend to his comforts. But it seems chiefly the priests, who offer him a “Blank Confession”, communion, and Extreme Unction, who regard him at least hypothetically as a moral agent and that too may be a professional trait; Tolstoy gives us no insight into what any priest is thinking, except that one cleric in the salon does a little shop talk.
Anna Mikhailovna Drubetskoy gives an early example of relating an event not as it happened but as it should have happened according to the conventions, when she tells the Rostovs and her other friends of the count’s death. Her role in saving, and according to the older princess influencing, the will is curious. One has to regard her as an agent of justice when she prevents the fraud Prince Vassily has in mind. But is the eldest princess correct in saying that she had previously induced the count to write a new will and request permission to adopt Pierre? If so, are we to understand that she acted for abstract justice or because she regarded Pierre as an easier touch than the other prospective heirs?
I wonder, as Charles does, what Prince Vassily means by “I’m over fifty”? The first time, spoken to the princess, he says “I know how hard it is for you to speak and think about these things [the inheritance]. It’s no easier for me; but I’m over fifty, my friend, I must be ready for anything.” This seems to refer to death and inheritance. Yet in a world nominally Christian, should the awareness of age and the approach of death encourage what the law would regard as fraud, and what the prince himself must perceive as wrong, given his discomfort? It makes more sense to consider it as conversational device to justify the discussion. When after the count’s death, he says to Pierre “I’m over fifty, my friend . . . I’ll . . . Everything ends in death, everything. Death is terrible.”, then he does seem to feel the approach of death morally.
In rereading the pages to try to understand this, I became distracted by the number of times Prince Vassily pulled down this or that person’s hand. He is not described as short, so a downward pull on a woman’s hand, or on Pierre’s while Pierre is sitting hands on knees, would require a bow, which I think would bring his face uncomfortably close to the other party’s. In the first chapter we seem him kiss Anna Pavlovna’s hand and present her with his bald shining pate; but where is the bald pate or flat face when he is pulling down her hand or Pierre’s or the eldest princess’s?