Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XXII - XXXIX

Battle. All battle.

I'm not doing a blow by blow of these last seventeen chapters, though like everything else they're brilliant. After setting up the waiting, and analyzing the historical analysis, Tolstoy begins with a small volley, followed by another, and the battle begins.

It's clear from this section with its philosophizing about military history that Tolstoy clearly believes that battles are not won or lost by generals or emperors, but are almost fated. Everyone plays the part they have to play. Napoleon is over-confident, and no match for the Russian spirit once it's engaged. Theories, or even numbers of men make no sense. Both lost many men in the battle of Borodino, and it was the first Napoleon had lost ever. It took away their confidence, and the Russians were willing to die.

Pierre moves around in this section, haplessly stumbling completely to the front lines. He's almost shot. He becomes an entertainment, and then a distraction to the men. It's clear he has no idea why he's there. He thinks at some point that people will realize what they've done and stop. He sees men die in front of him.

There is a great exchange with Kutuzov and a German general, in which Kutuzov tells him what he knows about the front and what is happening while the general assumes he is just sitting there lumpen and useless telling people what they'd like to hear. Kutuzov, as T has told us before, knows what his place is, and just what he can and can't effect. He is correct - the Russians will not lose or give up.

Andrei is striding in battle and gets hit in the hip - he muses while laying on the battlefield that he still doesn't understand life. He is brought into surgery, quickly because of his rank, occasioning a comment from one of the men that the masters will be treated better in heaven, too. Andrei is flowing in and out of consciousness, but near him in the tent is a man who he recognizes somewhat from the back of his head. The man is handed his leg after it is amputated, with it's bloody boot still on it, and sobs. Andrei realizes it's Kuragin, and has to remind himself of his old resentment. He is filled with pity for him, and compassion, for who they used to be. It's a beautiful moment. He sees what Marya has been talking about with God, forgiveness, and others.

He saves his vitriol for Napoleon, quoting a letter he wrote after about how he would have saved Europe and instilled a constitutional reign with his son. It's completely over the top, how he sees himself as savior, and T notes that he seemed to care only for what losses the French had; that the whole event was his will, and that his justification was that fewer French were lost than other soldiers who were fighting on their side.

The last chapter begins "Several tens of thousands of men lay dead in various positions". He goes on to describe how it almost looked as if either side made a little effort, they would have won. As it was, the Russians lost half their troops. The French lost their confidence, and the book ends withe the French having met "the hand of an adversary stronger in spirit."

There is a wonderful threading of nature in here - the horses and the other animals - birds circling with the smell of blood; the metallic smell of the gun powder and blood mixed together; the smoke that engulfs the battlefield. You get a great sense of how confusing it must have been. The uniforms were bright for a reason. The battlefield was generally covered in smoke. Cannonballs and bullets "whistled" by. There is a scene with Pierre where the men are in active battle and are joking as people get hit, and rallying each other. By the end, in the group Andrei is in, they are silenced and waiting to be hit. It's harrowing.

The writing in this whole battle is wonderful - Tolstoy showing of his knowledge of the battle, his military theory, and beautiful writing. He places his characters in the forefront and watches them witness history. All the while there is this great heart underneath. It's harrowing, sad, and disorienting, and beautifully written.

End of Book II, on to Book III

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XIX - XXI

This whole section is about the battle at Borodino outside of Moscow – I think until the end of the volume, and I’m about there. There’s so much great stuff, but I was kind of tempted to just sum up all the chapters in one entry. Instead, I’ll go ahead and write for a few – I’ve read ahead several chapters – I’m almost at the end of this part of the Volume. Really having my doubts about finishing in time. I haven’t done the chapter math, but I have 424 pages left to go in 58 days. That’s an average of over 7 pages a day to read, not including the writing. I need to get a move on. Oy. Durn job and social life!


This chapter is all military strategy and the battle of Borodino. It’s Tolstoy the narrator giving his view of events, and theory about battles – namely that the historians are wrong and the reasons that things went the way they did was completely reactionary in the moment. It’s about Napoleon choosing his position, and if he would have done something on the 25th instead of the 24th, and what the Russians would have done. According to Tolstoy, history has been rewritten to not compromise the glory of the Russian people, but the army was twice as weak as the French and in a surprised, accidental position.

There’s even a map. And I looked up the word “redoubt”, which is a fortification.


Pierre is driving out of Mozhaisk with a green coat and white hat. He really does seem a bit of a buffoon. It’s all troops marching, and Pierre caught in the middle, all unsure where they’re headed. There was a cart of wounded men, and singing of the cavalry men. It’s hot in the sun, but “where Pierre was standing, it was damp, bleak, and sad.” Ugh. Pierre keeps driving along looking for familiar faces, but is only met with shock at his size and outfit. He runs into a doctor he knows who tells him to go see Kutuzov so he would be safe during the battle.

He ruminates a little that these men were possibly going to die tomorrow, but they were surprised by his hat. Pierre goes on and sees muzhik militia men, enjoying what they were doing – building fortifications. “The sight of these bearded muzhiks working on the battlefield, with their strange, clumsy boots, and their sweaty necks, and some with their side-buttoned shirts open, revealing their sunburned collarbones, impressed Pierre more strongly than anything he had seen or heard so far about the solemnity and significance of the present moment.”

There’s a lot in this book about the peasants, and people’s reaction to them, though it’s telling we don’t really meet them. This is a story about the nobility for the most part. The peasants, as a group, are a symbol, reason for rumination, the future, etc., but not characters as far as I see.

Pierre is so lost in some ways – he keeps looking for an answer and for a way to be of use, but can’t help being a bit of a lummox.


Pierre arrives in Borodino, and keeps asking what the Russian position is (and we learned about it in XIX). He’s interrupted by peasants carrying the Mother of Smolensk icon. There’s a beautiful scene in which Pierre marvels at the solemnity and devotion of the muzhiks, and even of some of the Officers who were. The servers are weary, but even with their lazy singing “all the faces lit up again with the solemnity of the present moment that he had seen on the faces at the foot of the hill in Mozhaisk and had glimpsed on many, many faces he had met that morning: heads were bowed more frequently, hair was tossed, and sighs and thumps of crossings on breasts were heard."

Kutuzov arrives, and the men of lower rank continue praying, not really acknowledging him. “When the service was over, Kutuzov went up to the icon, knelt down heavily, bowed to the ground, and for a long time tried and was unable to standup because of his heaviness and weakness. His gray head twitched with the effort. Finally he stood up and, with a childlishly naïve puckering of the lips, kissed the icon and bowed again, touching the ground with his hand. The generals followed his example; then the officers, and after them, crushing each other, stamping, puffing and jostling, with excited faces, came the soldiers and militiamen.”

Just beautiful. The writing is cinematic before cinema. It’s another marvel of his writing - he deftly moves between the specific in scope (Kutuzov) to the general (the men rushing the icon). It’s such a beautiful scene, too, showing the politics of the military, the faith of the men, the physicality and age of the general. The arrival of the icon with the thumping of the breasts and tossing hair - it’s all you need to know.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XVI - XVIII


Sweet intimate moment between Andrei and Kutuzov. Andrei tells Kutuzov he would rather be with the men that have a position with him, which Kutuzov understands. Kutuzov is deeply moved, and his eyes glisten with tears as he says they'll make the French eat horseflesh. The serenity goes back to reading his book as Andrei leaves - a French book, of course.

Andrei realizes that Kutuzov is the best person to be in his position because he knows who he is and what life is. "He won't have anything of his own. He won't invent, won't undertake anything...but he'll listen to everything, remember everything, put everything in its place, won't hinder anything useful or allow anything harmful. He understands that there is something stronger and more significant than his will - the inevitable course of events - and he's able to see them, able to understand their significance, and, in view of that significance, is able to renounce participating in those events, renounce his personal will and direct it elsewhere. And the main reason one believes in that he's Russian; despite the Genlis novel and the French proverbs...."

It's intimate between the two men; Kutuzov has known Andrei since he was a boy and respects his need to be with the troops. This determined outcome is something T comes back to again and again - that the men are just pawns in an outcome that has to happen. What is that, Calvinist? I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it religious, but there's a feeling that history is written in hindsight, and the men who are acting are just fulfilling it without realizing. For sure, especially with communication as it must have been in 1812, one man's orders were only as good as the thousands carrying them out hearing from others. Craziness. Now it's all computers


Gossip in the circles. Back in Moscow. Everyone's deserting, and the government officers have left. There's a rumor that count Rastopchin is not allowing people to leave Moscow. There is gossip about Pierre, that the regiment was costing him much, but that he would ride in front of it and let people look at him without a charge. Julie Drubetskoy's circle made fun of him that way, and they were a circle that fined people for speaking in French. Pierre comes in and they speak of the Rostov's, who are unable to sell their house. Pierre says they're waiting for the younger son to return to leave. Then there is the revelation that Marie Bolkonsky is back in Moscow, and is said to be smitten with Nikolai after he saved her (word travels fast!). At the end, someone tells her she should pay a fine for speaking in French, and it ends with her saying 'But how do you say it in Russian...?'

Brilliant chapter. Not only does it sum up a lot of information, it does it while relating the out-of-touch quality of the nobility, and their inability to even speak their native language. It's wild to me how bound up the Russians were with the French at this point - as if the aristocracy didn't even speak the same language. And though this was written in 1865, 40 years before the 05 revolution, and 52 before the big one, you can feel it stirring. Tolstoy was an aristocrat himself, but it's clear he holds no absolute love. That's another treatise, though...


Pierre decides he must go into the army. He's met by his last remaining cousin, whom he has cared for since his father died. She's hysterical about leaving, and feels she must be taken to Petersburg to avoid Bonaparte's rule. He tells her the city is fine, and that's she's been misinformed. Pierre plays a game of patience and tells himself that if it comes out he'll join the army - he doesn't. He does, though, agree to sell an estate for a militia, as that's the only thing that can be done. He goes to a village to look at a hot-air balloon being launched to fight the enemy (we're way before planes, remember), and he sees the flogging of a Frenchman. He is beaten so badly that he begins to cry. Pierre is upset at the crowd's taunting the man, and gets angry. He leaves for the army immediately, and the further he goes toward the battle the lighter he feels. The chapter ends with this: "He now experienced a pleasant sense of awarneness that everything else that constitutes people's hapiness, the comforts of life, wealth, even life itself, is nonsense, which it is pleasant to throw away, in comparison with something...With what, Pierre could not account for himself, nor did he try to clarify to himself and for whom and for what he found it so particularly delightful to sacrifice everything. He was not concerned with what he wanted to sacrific it for, but the sacrificing itself constituted a new, joyful, feeling for him."

The brilliance of this book, one of the many, are characters coming upon life lessons - that's not original, but what is is the way they float in and out, changing. They are strong one moment, forgotten the next - elusive, and life changing at the same time. He also does those moments like the execution so well - crowd scenes, humanity, people displaying sometimes not their best selves. So great.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XIII-XV


Rostov and Ilyin, along with Lavrushka (the one who talked with Napoleon), go on a ride from their camp and end up in Bogucharavo, where they hope to find some pretty young women to flirt with.

They arrive just after Marya’s meeting with the peasants. Dunyasha goes out to ask their names, and Alpatych tells them the whole story: that the Princess is stuck there with all the bags packed as the peasants have threatened to unharness the horses and let them go. If she stays they will obey her, but if she tries to leave, they’ll stop her.
Nikolai meets her, and is struck immediately by her nobility and grace. There’s a great moment here about decorum – “With the respectfulness of his tone, Rostov seemed to be showing that, though he would consider himself fortunate to make her acquaintance, he did not want to use the occasion of her misfortune to become closer to her.
Princess Marya understood and appreciated that tone.”

More will be revealed, but I’m pretty certain of what it is. I do love imagining what’s not explicit here – the smell of the grain, the dark hallways of the house in summer with the dresses rustling against the wood floors; the rooms with the small, ornate furniture; the rush of Dunyasha bringing Nikolai into meet the princess.

This book is so great.


Rostov gives the muzhiks a piece of his mind. They’re quarreling among themselves about what just happened. Nikolai walks up and starts calling them traitors and asking for people to be bound. When he calls for Dron, two of the other peasants actually come up and hold his hands behind him. He tells them to get to their houses, and help load the carts, and within two hours everything’s ready. They’re even worried about damaging her nice things. I don’t know if it’s a lot to believe, or if it’s just not something I have experience in, but he does make the peasants seem simple-ish. I guess they would be used to a male authority figure, and any rebellion would obviously not be organized or able to stand up to the existing hierarchy. Certainly this one folded quickly.

Rostov doesn’t see the princess in her house, but does ride with her to an inn along the way and allows himself to kiss her hand when he leaves. She is smitten, and realizes she may be falling in love. He feels the same, but gets angry thinking about her wealth and being teased, let alone the promise he made to Sonya. It would, though, solve his family’s problems, as well as make both him and Marya happy (if not Sonya). It seems pretty clear he feels it, too, though. Ah, romance.


Andrei goes to Tsarevo – Zaimishche to see Kutuzov. I love that town name – probably because it ends in ish-che, which just sounds really Russian to me. Everyone calls Kutuzov “his serenity”. That’s a great detail.

And guess what? Denisov’s back! He’s there to talk to Kutuzov about a battle plan. He makes Andrei think of that long ago time with Natasha, and how Denisov was in love with her.

Kutuzov arrives, and takes Andrei and Denisov with him. He tiredly listens to Denisov’s plan:

Everything Denisov has said was practical and intelligent. What the general on duty was saying was still more practical and intelligent, but it was obvious that Kutuzov depsied both knowledge and intelligence, and knew something else that was to decide the matter – something that did not depend on intelligence and knowledge…it was obvious that Kutuzov despised the intelligence, knowledge, and even the patriotic feelings shown by Denisov, but he despised them not with his intelligence, feelings, or knowledge (for he did not even try to show any), he despised them with something else. He despised them with his old age, with his experience of life.

He tells the general that he can’t do anything about looting, since if you allow it or not it doesn’t matter. “Oh, German scrupulosity!” he says. Supposedly the Russians called all foreigners “Germans”. But either way, Kuzutov is old enough to know what he can and can’t do.

Interesting chapter. Glad to see Denisov is back and afire again. He’s one of my favorites, and I love his speech impediment thing. Yay.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters X - XII


Marya is sitting around, locked in her room, lying on a couch, thinking about her “inner loathsomeness” for thinking as she did about her father and the possibility of his dying before he died. She’s interrupted by Mlle Bourienne, who gives her a leaflet from the French they’ve been dropping in the village asking the villagers to cooperate. Suddenly, hit with a bout of nationalism she runs up to Andrei’s study and calls for help. She asks Dunyasha to tell Bourienne to not come near her, and to leave quickly. She’s horrified at the thought of the French coming into their house, being treated well by Bourienne, and possibly taking liberties with her as well.
She calls Alpatych to see Dron, who finally comes to her. He explains that there are no horses for her to leave, and that there has been no food for them to eat.
She is shocked and says they can have the master’s grain, and anything they have is for the muzhiks. Dron once again asked to be relieved of his keys and his duty, which confuses her.

I don’t think it’s this chapter, but I can’t remember if I mentioned that the peasants were talking about setting the horses free rather than permit her to leave. I think they think it would be more dangerous if they were left alone, but also know that if she leaves they have no protector, either. So they’re forcing her to stay.


The muzhiks gather to talk to her. She addresses them, telling them that she is giving them all their grain, and whatever they’d like, and begs them to come with her to the Moscow estate where they will be taken care of.
They react badly, all talking about going into servitude, and being in bondage to her. They tell her to go by herself.
Strangely, none of them will look her in the eye. She leaves, asking Dron to have the horses ready for departure, and to be alone with her thoughts.

At this point, I was slightly confused, but it makes some sense – they don’t know what they’re being asked to do except abandon their lives and everything they’ve known to follow this woman. She doesn’t seem all that powerful or knowing, really. Just sad. So I’m sure it’s thinking she’s a clueless noble who wants to do good but doesn’t think about anyone else in it. Either way, I think it’s interesting no one will look her in the eye


Marya is obsessing about her father’s death, namely that she didn’t go to him when she felt that she should have, for fear of upsetting him, and all the while he wanted to see her. It seems like they had a reconciliation, but she feels she could have been there more for him.
She then remembers him in the coffin, and freaks herself out, basically.

She’s a fragile flower, that Marya. One has a to be a little careful with her, I think. She does love hating herself a lot. I guess you gotta have a hobby, right?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters VII - IX


This is an interesting chapter. It’s based on a French history of Napoleon by Thiers. It’s an account of Napoleon meeting with a peasant, who doesn’t know who he is and speaks frankly with him about the war. He says, in the end, that Napoleon may have beaten everyone else, but the Russians are different. When he finds out that he’s speaking with Napoleon, he rolls his eyes, freaks out, and is silent – according to Thiers: “All of his loquacity suddenly stopped, to give place to a feeling of naïve and silent admiration. Napoleon, after rewarding him, set him free, like a bird that one sets back to the fields where it was born.”

Well, that’s some prose for one, and I’m glad I don’t have to read an entire book of that. The interesting thing about this chapter is that T makes that peasant Lavrushka, who is Denisov’s serf from earlier in the book. So in Tolstoy’s mind, Lavrushka knows who Napoleon is the entire time, and doesn’t let on. He acts the fool, but is aware the whole time. It certainly credits him with a lot, but even better takes another one of the novel’s characters and puts him in an historical episode and changing the entire effect of it. It’s certainly nationalistic of Tolstoy to do this, believing the Russians, and especially the Russian peasants, to be smarter than everyone else when they need to be. Or at least resourceful. It’s a great insertion of fiction in the history.

Lavrushka meets up with Rostov at the end of the chapter, as Napoleon rides of self-satisified, and rides off with he and Ilyin to explore the villages.


Alpatych came back from Smolensk. The old Prince ordered the militia up, got dressed, and went off to go see the commander. Moments later, he’s brought back up the walk, wheezing, and nearly lifeless. He had a stroke.

They move to Boucharavo, which is the house Andrei was working on and living in earlier. For three weeks his condition doesn’t change. They can’t move him further, to Moscow, but it’s becoming more dangerous to stay. Marya permits herself to think perhaps it would be better if he did die. And, emboldened by this, “all her personal desires and hopes, forgotten and dormant in her, had reawakened.” Of course, since it’s Marya, she feels awful, believes it’s the devil, and beats herself up and tries to pray.

Since it’s more and more dangerous to stay, she decides to leave on the 15th.

There is a beautiful death scene, in which he tells her he loves her and asks for forgiveness – he’s difficult to understand from his stroke, but she can decipher, and then he manages to get out some words. It’s highly melodramatic, but certainly effective.

Of course, she immediately berates herself that she has been wishing that he would die, that she wished for it. She’s finally stopped from coming back in, then called to his body. She’s horrified by it, as she’s immediately aware that whatever was of him is now missing.

There’s a beautiful bit about the dressing and the coffin, the floor “strewn with juniper boughs” while the people crowd shyly around and kiss his hand. You can imagine the midnight darkness, candle light, wood and white linen.

Okay, he’s gone, and now Marya’s alone. I wonder how long before she will start blaming herself. Will it now be freedom, or lifelong mourning?


Alpatych and Dronushka (Dron) the head muszhik in the town. We learn that these peasants are headstrong, and have been known always to do what they want. They’re great workers, and strong, but smart and willful as well. Alpatych is trying to get them to furnish carts and horses for the Princess to leave to Moscow, but it’s apparent that they will not help. Dron says they have no horses and no carts. Alpatych knows this is incorrect, but doesn’t push, although he does tell Dron that he sees “seven feet under you!” which is a skill ascribed to sorcerers. Dron keeps wanting to back out, but Alpatych will not let him. “He had been managing peasants for long time and knew that the main means of getting people to obey consisted in not showing them any suspicion that they might not obey.” Whatever sense that makes.

Either way, they don’t, and Alpatych has to give up his own cart and horses.

It’s apparent Dron doesn’t want to be in the position, but none of the muzhiks are okay with helping the princess leave.

It’s an interesting chapter, as there aren’t nobles in it for the first time. Or soldiers. It’s a discussion between peasants, where we can see how the workings and negotiations are between them. Once again, these people are property, and that’s apparent. It seems it’s true that it requires a good manager. Alpatych might be okay, but it’s sure the old Prince and Andrei who they respect. And neither are here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters IV - VI

These chapters are so rich that they’re deserving of more than I’m giving them here, but for the sake of expediency –


Alpatych goes to Smolensk, which is promptly attacked. Even while it’s being attacked, the man whose inn Alpatych is staying in, Ferapontov, refuses to leave believing that everyone is over-reacting. There is a letter saying that Smolensk will not be attacked from Barclay de Tolly, since it is being defended by two valiant armies. The letter, obviously, is wrong. Tolstoy has not much use for bureaucrats.
Alpatych tries to escape, but is stopped by the fire. He runs into Andrei, who gives him a letter to his father and his sister to evacuate. Berg show up again, self-satisfied, trying to ask why Andrei is standing doing nothing with buildings burning. He realizes who Andrei is, and backtracks.
The chapter ends with Andrei spurring his horse away as the villagers ooh and aah at houses burning and their stores of grain going up in flames.
This chapter is just beautifully written – so much about what people will not give up and their reactions to disaster. There are great images, and it feels lived, actually. I don’t know if it was, or T just read many accounts, but it feels experienced. The characters, as usual, are rich and full even if only seen for a moment. It’s a great chapter.


Andrei visits Bald Hills, which is deserted. It’s only 3 days after the old Prince, Marya, etc, have moved on and evacuated, but in that time it seems like the place is a shambles – fences torn, grain taken, things broken. It looks like troops came, looted, and moved on. It’s all very sad. The garden is even overgrown (which probably took longer than 3 days, but whatever). Andrei passes one old, deaf peasant sitting by himself. And then Alpatych, who has stayed and taken names. It’s been three weeks of heat with no rain.
Andrei seems a little careless about Alpatych, and tells him to tell the people to go to another of their estates – I suppose since they are property they have nowhere else to go and no one to support them.
Andrei passes two little girls who are taking green plums and frightens them without meaning to. He hides and spies on them as they laugh and in their bare feet run off with the plums. There is a pond on the way in, but it’s been sapped dry. He comes across a pond on the way out and wants to swim in it, and then sees his men, all dirty and swimming in it. They offer to get out for him, but he’s disgusted by the sight of all this naked flesh in the pond.
The chapter ends with a letter from Arakcheev about how the army is suspicious of Wolzogen, and that they never should have lost Smolensk.

It’s a bit of a departure, that letter, from the rest of the chapter, but interesting in the aftermath of the loss of the town. The whole chapter is elegiac, sad. I find his reaction to the bodies in the pond. They call him “our prince” and try to evacuate the pond to give him room, but he “shuddered, not so much from the cold as from revulsion and horror, incomprehensible to himself, at the sight of this enormous number of bodies splashing about in the dirty pond.” I suppose it just seems sad, and odd to him, especially considering it was his estate. Sad.


Clever, funny chapter all about Prince Vassily vacillating while running between Helene (pro-French) and Anna Pavlovna's (pro-Russian) salon. Since vacillate means "to sway to and fro", I wonder if that's the inspiration for Vassily's name in this. He has to remember what he says at one, and who he supports and doesn't (in this chapter mostly about the merits of Kutuzov). He's actually called short by someone about his changing opinions, but sloughs it off. There is a young man - l'homme de beaucoup de merite is how he's called - who challenges Vassily a bit - including the above remark about having had a problem with Kuzutov before. In the end, based on saying something tactless, Vassily and Anna sigh and his naivete. It's a bunch of snakes in this chapter, and T is quick to let us know how fickle they are, but especially Vassily.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters I-III


Much discussion of strategy and the outcome of the war. It's an interesting discussion boiling down to the argument that all the strategy and decisions made, the battles lost, actually had the function of pulling Napoleon deeper into Russia, which was his undoing. No one would have thought that, and no one would have advised that, but it was ultimately what won the war for the Russians. Once again little decisions and unforeseen ones decide the fate of all.


Not sure of Russian geography, but the troops are closer than ever to Bald Hills. It's clear the old prince is not in his right mind. He received a letter from Andrei, reads it, but still is in denial. The rest of the household is ignorant of anything. The letter is read aloud, and Marya is confused about the geography, so doesn't know the French have passed the river her father says they'll never pass. He's also raving about Poland, which was the battle in 1807. The old prince is frustrated, and no one wants to stand up to him, even though it's clear they're in danger. They explain it away by saying he is preoccupied with new building, but it's clear he's getting more senile. They are sending Alpatych to Smolensk to check things out.


Old Prince Andrei sends Alpatych to Smolensk, after two hours of instruction. He's confused, and trying to remember something. After Alpatych leaves, he picks up the letter from Andrei and only fully at that moment grasps the meaning that the French are a four day march from Smolensk. He immediately starts thinking about that past, and wishes for it all to be over.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XXII & XXIII


During a large gathering of nobility, a manifesto was read by the sovereign which “evoked raptures”. " soon as things touched on the war and what the nobility had assembled for, the talk became indecisive and indefinite".

A naval officer speaks, and the translators made a great choice giving him a Southern American dialect. It works for the “especially resounding, melodious nobleman’s baritone, pleasantly swallowing his r’s and dropping consonants, that voice in which one calls out ‘Youtheah, a pipe!’ and the like.” Love that. He speaks against a militia and for conscription. He calls the sovereign ‘the sovn’.

Pierre takes a moment to say it would be better if the nobility knew what troops were already deployed, and how many, and then could better know what to do if they were given an idea from the Emperor what he needed. He is resoundingly attacked from all sides. He’s told that it’s not their place to do that, and no one can know that information, anyway. These are the moments when you see how much of a monarchy this world exists in. It’s so much like our own, and then the king-idea comes in, and servitude, and the actual world view brims forth. It’s amazing to think what a revolution a revolution was out of this frame of mind. It’s like revolting against god, and people who thought they were. Always amazing to me.

Someone calls Pierre the enemy of mankind. And there’s much shouting amidst the people who are pretending they don’t care.


Here’s where the real monarchy comes in. The sovereign enters and asks the men to raise a militia. The Moscow nobility ‘donates’ ten men per thousand with full equipment. Pierre is swept up, seeing tears in the sovereign’s eyes (having just given a speech to the merchants), and in his zeal donates a thousand men.

“Pierre had no other feeling in that moment except the desire to show that it was nothing at all to him, and he was ready to sacrifice anything….
Old Rostov could not tell his wife what had happened without tears, and at once agreed to Petya’s demand, and went to sign himself up.
The sovereign left the next day. All the assembled noblemen took of their uniforms, planted themselves at home or in the clubs again, and, groaning, gave their stewards orders about the militia, astonished at what they had done.”

Mob patriotism fever. This isn’t to say that some nobles weren’t fighting, but when they talk of donating men, it’s once again clear that they are property-owners, and their property is the serfs. Wow.

End of Book I

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XIX - XXI


This is all about Pierre. He feels something is coming, something that will involve him. A friend introduces him to the prophecy in the Apocolypse of St. John, that Napoleon is the Anti Christ – by putting “L’empereur Napoleon” next to corresponding values of the Hebrew alphabet, the numbers add up to 666. Pierre desperately wants to have this happen for him, since he feels so bad about himself, that he bastardizes his name to “l’Russe Besuhof” after trying several spellings of his name, and ends up with 666 (the e in “le” would’ve made is 671, so he drops it). So it’s in this ecstatic, magical thinking he’s trying to find a solution:

His love for Miss Rostov, the Anitchrist, Napoleon’s invasion, the comet, 666, l’empereur Napoleon and l’russe Besuhof – all that together must ripen, burst, and lead him out of that spellbound, worthless world of Moscow habits in which he felt himself imprisoned, and bring him to a great deed and great happiness.

Pierre intercepts a letter to the Rostovs with news of Nikolai’s decoration and also of Andrei’s promotion. He would have liked to have been a soldier, but he couldn’t for being a mason, and also for now being numbered by the beast – “he was therefore not to undertake anything, but to wait for what was to happen.”


Pierre visits the Rostovs. Much dinner conversation. Petya wants to enlist. Much patriotism. Pierre is confused – “Natasha’s unusually brilliant and animated eyes, constantly turning to him with more than affection, had brought him to that state.”

He leaves, upsetting Natasha, but telling her he cannot visit her as often. He gives no more reason than things to do, but he’s in love with her.


This is a grand, sweeping description of Petya going to attempt to enlist. He is going to try and speak to the sovereign directly, but gets caught up in the throngs of people to see him. He is almost trampled. He is swept up in the excitement. Near the end of the chapter, the sovereign walks out on to a balcony and drops a bit of a biscuit, which is picked up by a cabby. People throng to him. The sovereign asks for a plate of biscuits to throw into the crowd. Petya rushes forward trying to get a biscuit (Interestingly, as historically accurate as a lot of this novel is, this scene is made up completely – there is no biscuit dropping mentioned anywhere in the history of this time). Petya knocks an old woman out of the way, and then stops her arm with his knee to get a biscuit.

You really get an idea of how frenzied people were for their Tsar. It’s wild. The writing is exciting, of course, and you’re swept up in it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XVI-XVIII


Natasha's sick. Really sick. Tolstoy doesn't have much use for doctors

Natasha's getting better, but still doesn't like to do anything but spend a little time with her brother. She takes communion, liking that and the preparation.

Natasha goes to church. Prays, is struck by the prayer. She herself prays for all and for herself peace and happiness in life and feels that god hears her.

She's healed!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Daily practice

I didn't realize how far off I've gotten on daily practice. It's been nearly two months!!  That's way too long.

So now I have 172 chapters in 90 days.  I want to do a few a day until I get caught up - that may be a while.  Wow. It's amazing how quickly a short break turns into a very long one. 

No reader clamoring - lol. But still, it's wild how fast time passes.  Glad to be back with the advent of Autumn.

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XIII-XV

I’m so behind on the blogging!  I’m going to be doing chunks of chapters so I can catch up.

Chapter XIII

Rostov and Ilyin go to a little abandoned tavern and join the other men, flirting with a doctor’s wife while her husband tries to sleep in the next room. He has no sense of humour, and the men like that so much they keep flirting with her and playing cards, which she laughs at. Once the rain stops, they leave to go back to their “kibitka”, and the men sleep under their “wet greatcoats” laughing about the night’s distractions and keeping each other up. It’s beautifully written.

Chapter XIV

The men are called up past two in the morning to begin the march again. They’re still talking about the doctor’s wife.  More beautiful nature writing about the grass, the sky, and the light.  Rostov is no longer afraid going into battle, but has compassion for Ilyin, who is.  They go into battle close to sunrise. The descriptions are great, and it must have been intensely colorful; with the “orange uhlans on chestnut horses, and behind them, in a large mass, the blue French dragoons on gray horses” with “ragged, bluish-purple clouds, turning red in the east.” It has a “joyful and rousing effect” on Nikolai.

Chapter XV

This is an important chapter.  Nikolai is chasing the battle, and there is a blow by blow account.  In the excitement, he tangles with a French officer racing toward the battle “with the feeling with which he raced to intercept a wolf” – his horse hitting the other horse’s rump with its chest.  “ the same moment, not knowing why himself, raised his saber and struck the Frenchman with it.
            The moment he did this, all Rostove’s animation suddenly vanished.  The officer fell, not so much from the stroke of thr sword, which only cut his arm slightly above the elvbow, as from the jolt to his horse and from fear.  Reining in his horse, Rostov, sought his enemy with his eyes,to see whom he had vanquished. The French dragoon officer was hoppin on the ground with one foor, the other being caught in the stirrup.  Narrowing his eyes fearfully, as if especting a new blow andy second, he winced, glancing up at Rostov from below with an expression of terror.  His face, pale and mud-splattered, fair-haired, young with a dimple on the chin and light blue eyes, was not at all for the battlefield, not an enemy’s face, but a most simple, homelike face.  Before Rostov decided what to with him, the officer cried out: ‘Je me rends!’ [“I surrender” – I guess here could be part of the French reputation]. He hurriedly tried to but was unable to disentangle his foot from the stirrup, and his frightened, light blue eyes were fixed on Rostov.  Some hussars galloped up to him, freed his foot, and sat him in the saddle.”

This is just so immediate and heartbreaking to me.  There are others around fighting as well, and hussars trying to get a dragoon to surrender a horse, or get back on one, while Rostovgalloped away with the others, experiencing some unpleasant feeling, which wrung his heart. Something unclear, confused, something he was unable to explain to himself, had been revealed to him in the capture of this officer and the blow he had given him.” Tolstoy focuses and slows time for us.  It’s filmic in a way – through the noise and clatter around we see this moment that surprises both men. It seems clumsy and awkward – Nikolia whacking the dragoon with his sword; the dragoon shocked, and caught with one foot in his saddle, having to be helped back on to his horse.  And what about that gesture?  After being defeated he’s helped by the opposition to gain his dignity back.  Imagine this in cold, wet mud at dawn.  It’s sad, and pathetic, and Tolstoy manages to show the humanity and the unexpected sadness that accompanies it.

Nikolai is given a St. George cross for his heroism.  So they’re even more afraid than we are!”, he thought. “So that’s all there is to so-called heroism? And did I really do it for the fatherland?  And what harm had he done, with his dimple and light blue eyes?  But how frightened he was! He thought I’d kill him.  Why should I kill him? My hand faltered. And they gave me the St. George Cross. I understand nothing, nothing!”   He gets promoted, his own battalion, and any mission that called for bravery.

Tolstoy makes the wolf hunting much more noble.  Amazing chapter.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter XII

This is getting complicated. Slogging Nikolai, getting a letter that Natasha is ill, and writing to Sonya that he would come and marry her if he could, but this was their last separation, and he had to fight for the fatherland. He does fantasize about country life - hunting, houses, dogs (where he’ll get the money for it, who knows, but he isn’t aware of that).
Nikolai was given his old squadron, pay doubled, and they moved into Poland.It’s the 12th of June, and a thunderstorm - a wild one. Action is to begin on the 13th. There is a new young officer, Ilyin, all of sixteen, who reminds Andrei of himself at that age to Denisov., he “tried to imitate Rostov and was in love with him like a woman.”
They are wet and cold, and Ilyin finds a tavern that some of their men are already at, as is Marya Genrikhovna, the wife of a regimental doctor.  
The nature descriptions are wonderful, water dripping everywhere. You can feel the discomfort. His writing is so beautiful, and in the midst of it always this little doubt from the soldiers, wondering what it’s all for, but in it anyway.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter XI

This is the chapter during which Andrei becomes disillusioned with the military.  There are men speaking in different languages, lost trying to communicate with each other in French, German, Russian.

And in the midst of it, Andrei surprisingly feels most for Pfuel  - “He alone of all the persons there obviously desired nothing for himself, felt no enmity against anyone, and desired only one thing: the putting into action of a plan worked out according to a theory arrived at through years of labor.”

Here’s a thing I love about Tolstoy - he was speaking, in his own narrator’s voice, about the difficulty with Germans, and his dislike for them. And now, in this chapter, Andrei is finding he has the most human sympathy for this man who is just trying so hard and is nothing but frustrated. It’s the brilliance for me of him - the fluidity of the emotions and opinions of his characters. Andrei is by no means fickle, but we see how quickly things can change.  Love it.

The big news is actually that Andrei becomes disillusioned - “What science can there be in a matter in which, as in any practical matter, nothing can be determined and everything depends on countless circumstances, the significance of which is determined at a certain moment, and no one knows when that moment will come?..A good commander not only does not need genius or any special qualities, but, on the contrary, he needs the absence of the best and highest human qualities - love, poetry, tenderness, as searching philosophical doubt. He should be limited, firmly convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he would not have patience enough), and only then will he be a brave commander.”  Witness General McChrystal who was fired last year forsaying incendiary things in a magazine.  He sounds like he fits the bill. Andrei believes in the end it’s all about the men who are on the field, and not these people in this room.

And Andrei asks, after seeing this, to be assigned to the Army, “forever lost to the world of the court.”  Not a bad thing.  He came once again to his senses, but who knows - I think this happened before, right?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter X

Whew. I’m back. This novel spans several years. One needs a break every once in a while I guess. Rearranged the furniture to include a beautiful red leather chair perfect for reading, today it’s misting outside, and I’m ready to jump back in time.

Andrei is told to go to Benningsen’s house by the sovereign, so he goes. Mostly this chapter is a description of Pfuel as a theorist. I’ll comment here that I love the compassion and care T gives to the description of the characters, even I think to the character themselves, whether or not he likes them. I don’t think he likes Pfuel all that much, though may have respect for him as a tactician. It certainly gives him time to take a swipe at Germans.

Pfuel is an a “poorly cut Russian general’s uniform, which sat on him awkwardly like a mummer’s costume.” He is impatient, angry, and this because he wants to get inside and start arguing. He even insults the Turkish action Andrei has returned from. “He grumbled something to himself in a tough bass voice, the way self-assured Germans speak…Clearly, Pfuel, always ready for ironic irritation anyway [ha-love that], was especially upset that day that they had dared to inspect and criticize his camp without him.

This does give T some time to wax on national character – “Pfuel was one of those hopelessly, permanently, painfully sefl-assured men as only Germans can be, and precisely because only Germans can be self-assured on the basis of an abstract idea – science, that is, an imaginary knowledge of the perfect truth.” [Let’s for a moment remember that in 1865 science was not to the point it was today, though I don’t know if that would change Tolstoy’s view of it. Certainly people still have this argument today.]

He goes on to say that a Frenchman is self-assured because he “considers himself personally, in mind as well as body, irresistibly enchanting to men as well as women”; an Englishman that he is a “citizen of the best-organized state in the world…he always knows what he must do, and knows that everything he does as an Englishman is unquestionably good”; an Italian “because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others”; a Russian because “he does not know anything and does not want to know anything, because he does not believe it is possible to know anything fully” [read:wise, if he does say so himself – ha]. “A German is self-assured worst of all, and most firmly of all, and most disgustingly of all, because he imagines that he knows the truth, science, which he has invented himself, but which for him is the absolute truth.”

Sounds a little like Ann Coulter.

But I digress. I think it’s safe to say T is not a fan of the Germans, or perhaps just dislikes their self-assuredness. But since this is who he says Pfuel is specifically, he has a person to universalize with. And, in this light, and the battles we’ve seen so far in the book, “military science” seems a sad, misguided oxymoron at best.

Tolstoy points out that Pfuel was an architect of a failed war in 1806, which he only uses to back up his theory – as it was his prediction it wouldn’t work since people departed from his theory. “…in his love for theory, he hated everything practical and did not want to know about it. He was even glad of failure, because failure, proceeding from departures of his theory, only proved to him the correctness of his theory.”

Gotta love that. How can that not be comedy?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm Late

I just did the math.

Oy. As the Russians might say.

I have 177 chapters left to read, 178 with the appendix.

There are 119 days between today and January 26th, which is the day I started.

So, that means I am 59 chapters behind, or 30 days in which I would have to post on two chapters a day.  I also am calculating this from the chapters I've read, which is up to XX, but I've only posted to IX, so that's another 11. If I did two every weekend day until January, that would cut it.

I have my work cut out for me. Sigh.

Monday, September 27, 2010


It's official. I have a block.

I'm still reading. Nikolai is still at the front. Natasha and Pierre are getting closer, which is surprising. Andrei's still Andrei.  And the war is being fought.

The daily writing, however, has gone the way of the empire waist.  It will continue, I know, and I'll finish within my year, but for some reason I just can't sit down and do it.  I don't even know that I have readers, and I think I don't, but that's not even the point.  So why mention it?

Still a wonderful book, and that's the point.  And I'm finishing it.  So, more soon.  And probably a couple a day for a while.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Well, I guess I'm taking a break for the high holidays. I was out of town for the last few days, and now I'm just beat.  Still reading, though, and will take the time to blog. I know I'm the only one who's reading this, but I'm not going to let it go. Spread a little thin, and reading some other things, too, but I will finish this by January having written about the whole thing.  Promising myself.  So watch this space. Virtually.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter IX

I’ll spare you most of this, though like all of this book, it’s a great read. Tolstoy breaks down the factions of the army Andrei is entering into:

Pfuel faction – military theorists, believing there is a theory and practice to war – includes the German princes, and others, “predominately Germans”.

Opposite of Pfuel faction – bold action interested Russian nationalists. Want an advance into Poland and all new plands

Third party – sovereign and all his most trusted, who made deals between the two above parties – mostly non-military like Arakcheev

Grand Duke party – heir to the throne, wounded by Austerlitz, and afraid of Napoleon

Barclay de Tolly party – want Barclay de Tolly in power since Benningsen messed it up in 1807

Benningsenists – Benningsen is the best and he proved it in 1807

Sovereign lovers – basically people who adore the emperor and wish he would just abandon his “excessive distrust of himself” take command of the military

Then there’s this great nugget – “The eighth and largest group of people, which was so enormous it outnumbered the other ninety-nine to one, consisted of people who desired neither peace nor war, neither an offensive movement nor a defensive camp in Drissa, or wherever if might be, neither Barcaly not he sovereign, neither Pfuel nor Bennignsen, but who desired only one thing, that that most essential: the greatest benefit and pleasure for themselves.”

So, when Andrei is arriving a new party is forming, one that believes that having the sovereign around is a bad idea, since everyone is worried more about how they can help him and pleasing him than winning the war. So they convince him, under the guise of “inspiring the people”, to go back to Mosow. And he leaves, not in charge of the army (which Napoleon mentioned was a bad idea earlier anyhow).

This chapter is great illustrating how the distance of history can make things so much clearer. I’m sure in 1812 this wasn’t as clear, but Tolstoy has cut through it. There’s a little comedy from distance so far, and the tone definitely points out the ridiculous in it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter VIII

Andrei is looking for Kuragin to avenge Natasha. He follows him to Petersburg, then finds he is in Turkey so gets posted there. Once he gets there, Kuragin has gone back to Russia. His life gets a little easier, but the betrayal by Natasha “struck him the more strongly the more he tried to conceal its effect on him from everyone.” The sky is low and clear to him again, as opposed to how it was on the field when he almost died. He annoys his General with his constant activity (he’s industrious), so he’s granted a transfer back to the Western Army.
Andrei goes back to visit Bald Hills, colored by his recent experience with Natasha. He doesn’t feel at home. His father is crankier than ever, and more mistrustful of the world. Andrei, at his father’s goading, tells him what he thinks of Mlle Bourienne, and that his father is being unnecessarily harsh to Marya. His father calls him out for “judging”, which is true irony, being who he is, and throws him out. Marya convinces him to stay one more day, during which she asks him to forgive his father. He cannot, he says, as that’s a woman’s place, but realizes if she is begging for forgiveness for him, he should have punished him long ago – and that leads him to his hatred of Kuragin, whom he vows once again to find. He feels like his son will grow into these people - “the deceived or the deceiver”. He says to himself , “I’m going to the army – why? I don’t know myself, and I wish to meet a man whom I despise, in order to give him an occasion to kill me and laugh at me!” All that seemed coherent seems ridiculous and incoherent to him now.

This is a bleak chapter. It’s brilliant how Tolstoy conveys Andrei’s sense of distance from his family. He’s at a bit of a remove to start with, but you can feel how his heart has been broken. It was broken before, with Liza, but this has a different quality to it. Contrasting him with Rostov and Nikolai’s love for Sonya, Andrei feels more aware of his responsibility, and also to honor and morality. He’s not completely in it for himself, but from his coldness you might think so. His abandonment of his son in this chapter is off-putting. He just stops in the middle of a story that he’s telling his son and leaves the room, realizing he feels nothing for him – he has no tenderness, and his son only reminds him of when he was happy. Poor kid. It’s kind of a shocking moment. Andrei does seem a little self-obsessed here, but somehow it feels like he’s on his way to something. Shocking moment with the son, though.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


So, I'm still reading daily. I'm up to chapter 11, but I'm just not figuring out how to write about it. The writing might be a little anemic through here.  There's a lot of war stuff and strategy - here's where a good knowledge of history of the war would help. I suppose this is how I'm getting it.  In any case, I'll be back, but I'm not feeling incredibly motivated.  I'm sure I'll end up writing something today, if only to get to T's diatribe on the character of the Germans.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter VII

Balashov, after that encounter with Napoleon, is invited to dinner with him. Napoleon of course spends the entire time trying to get a rise out of him by saying things about Russia, finally pulling his ear (literally) and asking him why Balashov didn’t say anything in response to Napoleon’s saying that Alexander shouldn’t try to take charge of an army and should just stay in his business ruling.

It turns out having your ear pulled “Avoir l’oreille tirée avec l’Emperueur” by the Emperor is a great honor.

Napoleon lets go, asked if the horses are ready for Balashov to go, and then tells him to take his, since he’ll have a long way to go.

“All the details of the conversation were conveyed to the Russian emperor, and the war began.”

It’s clear from this chapter what a hothead Napoleon is. He’s been equated with that for most of the time since. His tirade in this chapter about throwing the Germans out is almost ecstatic in its anger – he blows up for no reason. So Tolstoy is definitely painting him as an ego out of control. Makes sense – there seemed to be no limit to his ambition. You have to wonder about when these people get into power, and be thankful that most despots stop at their own country. When they are outsize like Napoleon, or Hitler, you have to be thankful they are defeated, as once they have what they want you can’t help but think they’d then start destroying what they have. That kind of ego is never satisfied.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter VI

This is a great chapter. Tired of me saying that yet?

Anyhow, Balashov is introduced to Napoleon, who T tells us is fat, in about 5 different ways – fat and short – “round stomach…fat haunches of his short legs….plump white neck…full, youthful face with its protruding chin…stout, short figure, with its broad, fat shoulders and involuntarily thrust out stomach and chest.” And Balashov notes, that the court is lavish and elegant beyond any he’s seen. And this is in the house Alexander just abandoned.

He’s all self-importance and impatience from the get-go. He’s also incredibly self-interested – “It was clear that only what went on in his soul was of interest to him. Everything that was outside him had no meaning for him, because everything in the world, as it seemed to him, depended only upon his will.”

During the interview, in which he “the more he spoke, the less able he was to control his speech” he convinces himself more and more of his rightness. It’s quite a performance. His leg begins to tremble, his right calf specifically, and he stops only to take snuff. So it kind of feels like an addled coke addict talking a mile a minute. Balashov tries to cut in, but has no luck. Napoleon is convinced of his own opinion, and convinced Balashov is as well. There’s a lot of political background, but trust me, it’s great – and a little all over the place in an very entertaining way – “’I know everything,’ Napoleon says at one point, discounting all of Russia’s allies (he’s decided the Russians are allied with the English, though Balashov has said that they are not) ‘..The Swedes, their destiny is to be ruled by mad kings. Their king was insane, they changed him and took another, Bernadotte, who promptly went out of his mind – because no Swede who wasn’t a madman would conclude alliances with Russia.’ Napoleon grinned spitefully and again put his snuffbox to his nose.”

Balashov tries to interject, but to no avail, and believes that he’ll be ashamed of his words once he gets past this angry rant. So, he “stood, his eyes lowered, looking at the movements of Napoleon’s fat legs, and tried to avoid his gaze.”

Kind of a 19th century Mel Brooks here – get ‘em with comedy. Napoleon keeps saying what a fine reign Balashov’s master might have had if he had only been intelligent with his alliances. He keeps saying that over and over, and taking more and more snuff. He finally exits saying that he is devoted to Alexander and that he would have had such a fine reign. He leaves, and everyone rushes to the door to follow him down the stairs.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Volume III, Part I, Chapter V

This description of Davout is just wonderful (after we're told he's just a mean person, the likes of which are inexplicably near power but necessary in the state mechanism)-

It would have been possible to find a better location, but Marshal Davout was one of those people who deliverately set themselves up in the most gloony conditions of life, so as to have the right to be gloomy.  Fo the same reson they are always in a hurry and stubbornly busy. "How can I think you about the happy side of human life, when, as you see, I'm sitting in a dirty shed and working," said the expression of his face.  The chief pleasure and need of these people, on meeting life's animation, consists in throwing their glomy, stubborn activity into the eyes of that animation.

Davout is short and rude to Balashov, and takes the package from him and reads it.  He orders Balashov to stay, and he ends up riding with them for four days. Finally, it looks like he'll meet Napoleon.  "Four days earlier, the sentinels of the Preobrazhensky regiment were standing by the house to which Balashov was brought....Napoleon was to recieve Balashov in the same house in Vilno from which Alexander had sent him off."

Wow - that's ballsy.  I think beyond that, even.  He's marched around for four days, to end up in the same place he left from, but this time as a prisoner, ostensibly. If Napoleon wanted to show power, this is certainly a way.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter IV

There's a great little character detail to start the chapter with the Tsar, and something that made me laugh. The sovereign doesn't include his (T tells us) famousphrase about not surrendering while there is an armed man in Russia in the note to Napoleon as he feels "it would be inappropriate to convey these works when a last attemot at reconciliation was being make; but he told Balashov to convey them without fail to Napoleon in person."

It's two in the morning on the 14th of June, but the sovereign sends Balashov out with the note. He reaches the French at dawn.  No one really wants to take him seriously, and he's taken to a colonel to take him to a commander to take him to his destination. At this point he runs into Murat, who is known as the King of Naples, and brother-in-law to Napoleon. He has much plumage, having a reputation for just dressing as gaudily as possible and riding through the streets.  He assures Balashov that Napoleon has no wish for war, but was offended by the request to withdraw his troops from Prussia.  So, Murat considered Alexander the instigator.

This line of conversation Murat broke off "in the tone of a conversation between servants who wish to remain good friends despite a quarrel between their masters."  Balashov thinks he'll now meet Napoleon, but instead is sent to Davout.  Hmmmm.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter III

Meanwhile, back in Poland, waiting for things to happen, the sovereign is being feted by Count Benningsen in the Vilna province. He's been in Poland for a while.  Funny that the last soldiers who through themselves in the river for Napoleon were Polish, too.  Hmmm.

Anyhow, here we are at a ball in Vilna.  Boris shows up, without his wife, and dances with Helene, who naturally is there - all the aristocrats follow the tsar. Boris is up to his old tricks - he has money now because of his wife but still wants to be in the right circles.

The sovereign is pulled over by Balashev, who whispers something in his ear. Alexander grabs his shoulder and walks quickly across the room. Boris is nearby, and overhears him say that he will not make peace as long as there is one armed Frenchman in his country.  He's not happy to have had Boris overhear that Russia has been invaded without the declaration of war that they've all been waiting for, but Boris sure is. He has special information now that will make people think he's privy to things he's actually not. 

The sovereign writes Napoleon a letter apologizing for some incident about passports (I'm so much more interested in the people I just glide over some of these things),  but does not mention the phrase he came up with about not having peace while there is a single armed man on Russian soil.

I read a little on Wikipedia the economic reasons which aren't mentioned in the novel so far, either because in 1865 they weren't as clear, or because this novel is inherently on Russia's side (which makes sense), but it's interesting to note that Russia had annexed Poland, and France's invasion was ostensibly to free Poland, but Russia depended on France for manufacturing, since it was rich in natural resources, but not factories.  I'm not reading much on the history, only because I don't want to know what happens, and this book is mentioned everywhere with this war, so spoilers abound.  Anyhow, interesting actual historical context.

I aslo love Boris in there, in that actual historical event, like a cartoon character against a film.   It's brilliant how Tolstoy creates these characters and has them witness historical events. Not only do we see the Tsar's reaction to the invasion as its happening, but get this great sense of Boris' sliminess at the same time.  It's brilliant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter II

We knew the last chapter was setting us up for war, and indeed....

Napoleon invades Russia. Tolstoy is great in illustrating the ridiculous frenzy inspired by his presence, and his complete lack of interest in anything other than himself or his ambition.

There is an anecdote of a Polish officer, a colonel of the uhlans (Polish for soldier?), who wants to cross over the river Niemen without looking for a ford as requested by Napoleon, since he's so excited to be asked to do anything in front of the emperor. Napoleon had given the orders after looking through a field glass placed "on the back of a happy page who ran over" - great detail of a despot. Who knows if it happened, but great detail. So, the adjutant says that Napoleon would "not be displeased by such zeal" and lets the colonel cross. There's a horrible scene of men and horses drowning. Napoleon is not even caring or noticing - "They tried to swim forward to the other side, and, though there was a ford a quarter of a mile away, they were proud to swim and drown in this river before the eyes of a man who sat on a log and was not even looking at what they were doing....For him it was no new conviction that his presence at all ends of the world, from Africa to the Steppes of Muscovy, struck people in the same way and threw them into the madness of self-oblivion. He ordered his horse brought and rode to his camp."

Forty men drowned in the river, and I'm sure this was an historical event. They still, in wet clothes, yelled "vivat" to him as he passed, even with bodies needlessly gathering on the river.

Napoleon gives an order about "enrolling the Polish colonel who had needlessly thrown himself into the river in the Legion d'honneur, of which Napoleon himself was the head."

Tolstoy ends with a Latin phrase along the lines of "who the gods would kill they drive crazy first." It's perfect to end this chapter, as we see how little life means to the French emperor at all. Tolstoy picks the perfect event to illustrate it. The mass frenzy, too, is an entire paragraph of French snippets of men excited to be back in battle and near Napoleon. I think it's important to remember that this was still a time that most people believed their leaders were monarchs - gods or close to them. To the monarchy Napoleon might have been something of a usurper, but to the people his godlike status was unquestioned - at least to his people. Tolstoy mentions Napoleon's second wife, after anulling his marriage to Josephine, and sets us up for what his idea of his self is. The invasion into Russia is framed as just something done without much thought - that it was deserved and his land anyway.

We know how this plays out historically, but Tolstoy is making it about fascinating personalities.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Out of town

Out of town this weekend, and took today as a vacation day. Not that many people (if any) are reading this, but I'm trying to keep this to exactly a year. So, tomorrow, another one or two. Ah, back to 1812.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter I

Ah, Volume III. Halfway through - ppg 603-606 of 1215 (not including the 5 page appendix). War. 1812. I at least know how this one turns out. Waterloo.

This chapter is philosophizing about the nature of large historical events, and the inability we have to actually pinpoint their causes:

"Fatalism in history is inevitable for the explanation of senseless phenomena (that is, those whose sense we don't understand). The more we try to explain sensibly these phenomena of history, the more senseless and incomprehensible they become for us."

"History, that is, the unconscious, swarmlike life of mankind, uses every moment of a king's life as an instrument for its purposes."

The argument is that kings are connected to more people, so more easily their actions are traceable or affecting to others, but they are still at the mercy of history, of millions of little decisions, and the larger human hive-mind that seems govern large events. They are avoidable, Tolstoy intimates, but only if other decisions had been made. Each soldier deciding to fight, the historical events that precede it, etc, cause it to come into being.

“The deeper we go into search of causes, the more of them we find, and each cause taken singly or whole series of causes present themselves to us as equally correct in themselves, and equally false in their insignificance in comparison with the enormity of the event, and equally false in their incapacity (without the participation of all other coinciding causes) to produce the event that took place.”

In other words, who knows? But this book is in some ways coming to look at those millions of causes. I was struck the other day with the Dangerous Liaisons section that those 12 chapters could easily have been (and have been) entire novels. It’s one episode among many. I’m still amazed at the breadth and I’m only halfway through.

There is a great point at the end about no one thing being the sole cause – that when an apple ripens and falls there is more than one reason it does so, but to the child beneath the tree it’s because he was hungry and to the botanist it’s because the fruit is rotting – and they’re both correct-

“As he who says that Napoleon went to Moscow because he wanted to, and perished because Alexander wanted him to perish, will be both right and wrong, so he will be right and wrong who says that an undermined hill weighing a million pounds collapsed because the last worker struck it a last time with his pick.”

There is predestination about it – in fact he comes out in the last sentence and says at much that it’s all been willed before all ages. It’s an interesting argument, and a philosophical one at that – whether we have free will. I don’t know much about Calvinism, but that’s what I think of – it’s intertwined with religiosity for me (as is the language a bit).

I did hear an interesting Radiolab program about decision making, though, that there have been brain scans done about this, and they all show that when we think we’re making the decision, the part of our brain responsible for the decision actually activates after the action. In the experiment, when subjects were told to just raise their finger at random, the decision was actually made after the impulse to move the finger. That’s fascinating. This reminds me of this chapter, and though that is evidence against the idea of free will, it’s challenging to feel that nothing you do is actually your decision. That’s where the fatalism comes in, but I think it can easily be an excuse for inaction. Though that's not the case with these people.

Tolstoy even says, if any of the causes were correct, none of them explains why men when out and killed each other by the millions. His dispassionate language on this is perfect - it mirrors the senselessness of war itself. The language is simple and points out the ridiculousness of the action - "For us, it is not understandable that millions of Christians killed and tortured each other because Napoleon was a lover of power, Alexander was firm, English policy cunning, and the duke of Oldenburg offended."

It's tempting though, to look at this as some part of the wave of blood and revolution that was sweeping across the world at that point - the American and French revolutions both happened within the last several years before this, and were not settled yet - still Napoleon was a result of the bloodshed before him, and the War of 1812 was happening in the States. It's hard not to feel like it was destined with all that happening at the same time. Tolstoy, from the opening paragraph where he recounts the horrible deeds that men did to each other but did not call crimes at this moment, feels against war. And I also can't help but wonder how "millions" read in 1865. We can comprehend that now with New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Paris, Tokyo, any number of even larger cities in the world. In 1865, to say millions murdered each other and committed crimes against each other in the name of war would have felt like describing infinity perhaps. I'm a little off track here, but I remember going to New York for the first time and shutting down from all the people. When speed is 12 miles an hour, how must that phrase of "millions" rung to a nineteenth century reader. It must have been awesome.

We’ll see what develops, though we know the outcome (in the book at least since it's written already) is predestined.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapters X-XXII

This is going to be a big summation. I've been saying I'm about twenty chapters behind, so I just whipped through 12, which is actually fitting for this group of chapters. It ends the volume. Lots of plot. Many tears. I love people again and hate others still more. And can't figure Andrei or the Bolkonsky's out. It's fitting to group these chapters together under the heading "The Anatole Affair".  Hopefully we're done with him after this.

So, after the opera, there are a couple of heated meetings in which Natasha loses her head to Anatole. Helene, who really is evil, visits Natasha and compliments her, calling her "deliciuex" (delightful, though I love the diminutive sense of delicious in it).  On behalf of her brother, she thinks it would be fun to humor him and to ruin her  - on some level she knows this must be true. She does know about her engagement to Andrei, but I don't think she knows her brother is already married - secretly, to a Polish farmgirl who he was forced to marry by her father. That sounds like an opening to a joke, doesn't it?

Anyhow, the Rostovs go to a party, and Natasha completely falls under Anatole's spell. He, for his part, is passionate about her.  They exchange letters, and decide to elope. Sonya, proving her loyalty to the Rostovs, eventually capitulates and spills the beans to Marya, who they're staying with. Marya (Dmitrievna, not the Princess) has already gone to meet the old Prince Bolkonsky, and was met with rudeness and shouting. She shouted right back.  She breaks the elopement, and tries to silence everyone, but there are whispers. Dolokhov arranges the whole thing, so you know he can't be silent.  And Anatole gets over it quickly. 

Natasha is not so lucky.  She breaks off the engagement with Andrei through a letter to Princess Marya, and really believes she's in love with Anatole, though Sonya tries to talk some sense into her.  She even thinks that Pierre must be okay with it, through a faulty logic that Pierre must know what's going on.  He doesn't, and is horrified when told of what happened. He takes it as more evidence of the inconstancy of women.  His wife, who is involved, he is rude to when he sees her, even insulting her to her face that whereever she is there is "depravity and evil".  Ouch.   He tells Anatole to leave after threatening him, and then apologizing and giving him money.  Poor Pierre.

Natasha, after finding out from Pierre that Anatole is still married, tries to poison herself. She hasn't been crying, but has "parched lips" (there's that mouth thing again) and a set face.  She takes ill, and then tries to swallow arsenic, though does tell Sonya when she's scared for what she's done.

Pierre, meanwhile, talks to Andrei who is back now.  Andrei just returns her letters, is very business-like, says he cannot forgive, and asks Pierre to never speak of it again. Marya, Pierre notes, is secretly quite happy at the broken engagement, even though she'd written a letter to Natasha telling her that she loved her (false). Pierre goes back to Natasha, who feels awful and is "tormented" by the wrong she's done him.  She asks Pierre to ask Andrei to forgive her, and begins to shake. Pierre agrees, and asked if she loved "the bad man".  She doesn't know, but feels that she is ruined forever. Pierre is touched and tells her if he were free,  and"the handsomest, brightest, and best man in the world" he would ask for her hand.  He wipes away tears. Something happens between them.

Pierre leaves, and there's a comet in the sky that people have presaged meant the end of the earth.  Pierre, his eyes wet with tears, gazed joyfully at this bright star, which, having flown with inexpressible speed though immeasurable space on its parabolic course, suddenly, like an arrow piercing the earth, seemed to have struck here its one chosen spot in the black sky and stopped, its tail raised energetically, its white light shining and playing among the countless other shimmering stars. It seemed to Pierre that this star answered bully to what was in his softened and encouraged could, not blossoming into new life.

Wow - that's quite a way to end a volume. I like that this whole section is behind us, and ends hopefully. I really hope Natasha is not a fallen woman, and can be saved. Kuragin is awful, as is Dolokhov, which is apparent. There's a great paragraph describing the coachmen who runs them around - having driven horses to their death, run over peasants, and sped along at 12 miles an hour - that's the breakneck speed in 1812.  Helene and Anatole's escapade reminds me of Les Liaisons Dangereuses", in which two nobles plot to ruin a young girl, who is easily corrupted. That was published in 1799, I think, or thereabouts, so it would be possible that Tolstoy would have read it. I don't think he based Helene and Dolokhov on the Marquess and the Viscount in that book, but this little escapade reminded me of it.
I'm so glad this is behind us. I feel awful for Natasha, but hopefully not all is lost. She is terribly shaken, even ill, and I can't imagine this is good for the family, but I'm crossing my fingers for goodness.

Beautifully written, as always.  It just speeds along - I couldn't wait to read the next chapter.  Hence, all 12.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter IX

Ah, the theater.

The lights go down and Natasha is confused by the artifice of the opera.  People are singing and the sets are cardboard and it seems ridiculous. She's intoxicated by it all, though, and all the people.  Anatole Kuragin, Helene's brother comes in, impossibly handsome and notices her. He asks his sister who she is, and says "how charming", which she notices.  She's excited by it all. 
During the first intermission, Pierre comes over to talk, and Anatole sits in his sister's box.  Any time Natasha looks over he's looking at her.  Finally Helene asks for an introduction.  She says she's charmed by Natasha and how can she have been hidden in the country. Countess Bezukhov was entitled to her reputation as an enchanting woman.  She was able to say what she did not think, and especially to flatter, with perfect simplicity and naturalness.
By the end of the second act, when everyone is applauding for a dancer - she describes everyone as having bare legs on stage, and the countess herself being entirely exposed - she says he's wonderful along with everyone else. 
Helene indicates that she knows of Natasha and Andrei's relationship, so her brother must, too, but that doesn't stop him from pouring on the charm.  Hopefully Natasha will not be so bowled over by this whole world as to jeopardize her relationship with Andrei.  It's clear, from the stars in her eyes, she might if she's not careful. 
I love the description of theater in this chapter - a fat woman waves her arms and sings, and other people all sing at each other while backed by cardboard.  At one point, the woman on stage is abducted, but not before everyone sings about it first. It's all action, and completely incomprehensible to her - another thing for Tolstoy about corrupt and fake society, I think.  We'll see how it shakes out.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter VIII

We're off the opera with the Rostovs.  Natasha didn't want to go, but it was a kind gesture from Marya (I love those little details), so she gets dressed up, and sees in the mirror that she is pretty, very pretty, she felt still more sad; but this was a sweet and amorous sadness."

We are in deep romanticism here, folks. Natasha is just daydreaming of Andrei and how she would hold him and love him, embrace him and speak words of love.  She's preoccupied.  She and Sonya, both pretty, get to the opera and sit down in their box. For a long time she had not experienced that feeling, both pleasant and unpleasant, of hundreds of eyes looking at her bare arms and neck, which suddenly seized her now, calling up a whole swarm of memories, desires, and emotions corresponding to that feeling.

Natasha sees Boris and Julie with the Karagins, Julie,.. with pearls on her fat, red neck (which Natasha knew was daubed with powder).  Not so attractive, and she knows Boris is talking about her and Andrei. And behind [Julie and Boris] in a green toque, with a happy festive face, given over to the will do God, sat Anna Mikhailovna.  Given over to the will of God - such a great phrase for her pompousness and machinations  - that in her eyes it's the will of God since it's in her favor.  Love it.

Dolokhov is even there, in Persian dress, with a bunch of his followers.  Small town, must be.  Back from Persia where he became a minister for killing a shah's brother.  Nice guy.  Natasha notices a beautiful lady in the next box over - Helene, Pierre's wife.  Her father says something to her about the opera, and she studies Natasha, who is bowled over by her beauty.

And then the opera starts.

I love how Tolstoy always puts the right people in the right places. It's always tantalizing, as you're just unsure what's going to happen between them.  It's amazing, with the relationship that Natasha has with Pierre, that she's never met Helene.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter VII

So, at Marya’s advice, Natasha and the count go to meet Marya and the old Prince. 
He, of course, won’t receive them. Ilya Andreich (count Rostov) is flustered, which surprises Natasha.  Mlle Bourienne meets them, then Princess Marya.  Marya is covered in blotches from being flustered - not only does she already want to hate Natasha, her father yelled at her that he would not receive them. 
Count Rostov takes this moment to excuse himself, on the pretext of running an errand, to leave Marya and Natasha alone.  The writing is great in the layers of discomfort and embarassment.  Natasha blushes for her father’s fear and anxiety, and then is angry at herself for blushing.

It’s clear that Marya would like to speak to Natasha alone, but Bourienne will not leave them room. She chats on about nothing, causing Natasha to be forcedly casual in a way that only annoys Marya further. 

On top of this, the old Prince walks in, saying over and over that he did not mean to come in in his dressing gown, had no idea she’d be there, as God as his witness. He leaves, and as Bourienne talks about his ill health Natasha and Princess Marya silently looked at each other, and the onlger they looked at each other silently, without saying what they needed to say, the more ill-willed their thoughts about each other.
Finally, as they are leaving, Marya goes up to Natasha to tell her that she’s glad her brother has found happiness. She stops, as she’s not speaking the truth.  Natasha senses this and cuts her off, telling her it’s not the right time. 

She goes back to Marya Dmitrievna’s and sobs.  Marya Dmitrievna knows what happened, but at dinner speaks as if it didn’t. 
You can just feel Natasha’s pain at having to meet this strange, awkward group without Andrei. T even describes their house as gloomy. Andrei’s beginning to feel like an apparition, even to me at this point. You can’t help but wonder where he is, if he’s even still alive. That thought, that something bad happened, is starting to occur to me. 
And what’s happened to his son?  He must be around, but he’s 6 years old at this point, we’re told. You’d think that he’d be a little more present.  It’s 1811, I guess, then, if he’s six.  Time still a little unclear to me in this. I’d find a timeline on-line, but it would ruin the plot things I don’t know.  I want to keep it a mystery.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter VI

Back to business.  The count, with Natasha and Sonya, arrives in Moscow. They stay with Marya Dmitrievna.  (Remember her?  She was the ball-busting powerful lady from the first part who terrified everyone but Natasha, who was just as forceful at 13- - she’s charmed and Natasha’s her goddaughter).
She knows the score, and bosses everyone around. She takes Natasha to get dresses made, and she intimidates the dressmaker to her own financial advantage.  Rostov is checking on selling the Moscow estate. 

Marya gives Natasha some advice about how to make Princess Marya and the old Prince like her, but Natasha is silent.  Marya takes it as acquiescence, but in reality Natasha disliked any interference in the matter of her love for Prince Andrei, wich appeared to her so set apart from all human affairs that no one, to her mind, could understand it.
Marya says it’s better if she would try to be friends with them, and easier if they like her.
It would be, but they’re a challenging lot. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter V

This is all Julie and Boris’ entrapment, uh, I mean engagement. 
Boris is interested in Julie, but as a rich bride. He’s drawn to Marya, but doesn’t know how to talk to her, and she’s completely ignorant.  Julie, meanwhile, is wealthy and prone to melancholy.  Boris thinks it may be all show, but they both bond over the sadness of the world and how difficult everything is, ending in death. 
Julie has an album (I guess in the 18th and 19th century young women would have albums in which they would keep keepsakes and mementos, and friends would draw in them) in which Boris draws trees and writes (in French) “Rustic tress, your gloomy branches shake darkness and melancholy down on me”.  Charmer! And at one point a tombstone which reads:
(translation from the French here - it’s in French) “Death is helpful and death is peaceful/ Ah! Against sorrows there is no other refuge.”
Of course, Anna Mikhailovna is all over this, and tells her son who close she’s becoming to Julie, and mentioned her enormous estates.  Boris gets her “simple-hearted slyness”, but still listens to her.
Meanwhile, Boris can’t propose because “some secret feeling of aversion for her, for her passionate desire to get married, for her unnaturalness, and a feeling of horror at renouncing the possibility of true love, still stopped [him].

She’s also described as being too plump, and covering herself with powder.  Sounds attractive, right?
Boris finally proposes, mostly because he’s horrified at the thought of having spent all this time in Moscow for nothing.  Excellent. I hope they’re really happy.
Of course, as Boris predicted, all showers of melancholy disappeared once the wedding was announced.  Surprise!!