War and Peace Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 10 Summary
Pierre goes off to his estates near Kiev and meets with the stewards (like the business managers – the guys who are actually running the place).
Pierre gives a long speech all about how he wants to be nice to the serfs who work there.
OK, a little Shmoop lesson about how giant estates worked. Back in the day, Russia was a feudal society. That means that there were a few superrich nobles – all the guys with titles like Prince and Count in front of their names – who owned huge pieces of land. In order to make money off the land, they divided it up into sections that were farmed by serfs, who were a kind of a mix between slaves and tenant farmers. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, it’s less a difference in kind and more in degree. Serfs had their own little pieces of land that they could do their own farming on, but in practice their “rent” to the landowner was so high that they were pretty much always in debt and so were just as tied to the estate as slaves. But still, they weren’t really owned, and they were less likely to be killed by their masters – although being beaten and raped was OK – and could usually only be sold as a package deal with the land they were on.
Back to the story. Pierre wants reforms for his serfs. No more labor for women with small kids, no more corporal punishment (meaning just yell at the serfs, don’t beat them), school and hospitals for everyone – and, eventually, freedom.
All the stewards are like, um, OK.... But the main steward immediately understands how to deal with Pierre so that everything will stay pretty much the same.
Pierre doesn’t understand business, so he can’t figure out the accounting books that the steward shows him. He can’t follow the budget for how the estate spends money. And even if he could, he couldn’t investigate every fire or storm or bad harvest or whatever that the steward writes him letters about and that constantly needs more money poured into it.
In the meantime, all his friends and acquaintances come out of the woodwork, and Pierre starts living the party life again. Really, Pierre? We thought you were all about the straight and narrow now?
In the spring, Pierre decides to check out how the peasants are doing with all his new reforms. He tours his estates, and the steward sets everything up for a believable show. The peasants seem happy and thankful, and Pierre feels like an awesome guy. Too bad that in reality no one is staffing the hospitals or schools, so the serfs don’t actually use them. Too bad that in reality women with kids are now doing crazy hard work on their tiny tenant farms. Too bad that the steward set it up so that funding for the schools and hospitals came out of the serfs’ rent, so they are farther away from being free than ever.
Meanwhile, the steward tells Pierre that there’s not really any need to free anyone – because look how happy they are. And Pierre is all, huh, I guess you’re right. I can’t possibly think of how any of these people could be any happier, and I am a super-awesome swell guy. Excellent.