In War and Peace – “the greatest of all novels” – Tolstoy “shows us how our minds work even though memory omits what makes no sense.” Gary Saul Morson explains:
When Prince Andrei’s wife is dying in labor, he waits in the next room listening to her pitiful, animal screams. He feels unendurable guilt as she suffers. At last he hears the shriek of an infant, and his first thought is “why have they taken a baby in there?” He is so focused on his wife’s suffering that he forgets—only for a split second, of course—why she is suffering. He will never remember this absurd first reaction, immediately corrected; once again, only Tolstoy would notice it.