Still Petersburg. Still 1805. Still Anna Pavlovna's salon.
Guests are entering. We get a few names, and then light on the young Princess Bolkonskaya, the “most seductive woman in Petersburg”, who is knocked up. Newlywed. She can’t show her pregnant self at the “high society” parties (italics sic), but can go to smaller soirees like this one. She charms everyone there, and Tolstoy describes her as having a faint moustache, and not enough upper lip to cover her teeth. It is the way of the most beautiful women that it’s precisely these flaws that make her so irresistible. She makes all the men feel better about themselves by her mere presence, and takes a moment to sit by the piano and tell everyone that she’s brought her needlework. She comes off as a little insipid to me, but it’s early. I actually thought of this painting, of the Countess Daru by Jacques-Louis David, from the Frick, which a woman I knew who is a PhD from NYU in art history called lovingly “Countess Goober”, since she looks a little goober-y.
There certainly are a lot of Countess paintings at the Frick. I like this Ingres the best (Portrait of Countess D'Haussonville. 1845).
Maybe I can picture some of these people in it.
Here’s one of Tsar Nicholas. Just to get something Russian in my head.
As a kid I used to wish my last name was Romanov. And Nicholas. But without being a hemophiliac. It’s true.
Actually, I’ve been trying to imaginarily cast in my head, which always helps reading. Anna P, I’m thinking, is someone like Sophie Thompson in Persuasion. I’m thinking busybody and a bit of a hypochondriac. Harriet Walters, maybe or Miranda Richardson.
Mon dieu, they speak a lot of French in this. I took about 6 years of it, and I’m actually surprised how much I understand. “Woohoo!” I keep saying to myself when the footnotes confirm I’m understanding. Also, reading it in French and English really changes the way I’m hearing the conversation. I love it. I guess, from a friend’s facebook posting, that Russian nobles of this period all spoke French. And hated Napoleon. The book opens with Anna P calling him the Antichrist
Napoleon Buonaparte, the Antichrist. By Ingres.
So, after we walk away from the mustachioed charm of Princess Bolkonskaya, some guy named Pierre enters and makes Anna P nervous. Qui est ce Pierre? He’s the son of a courtesan, and it’s his first party in Petersburg. He’s large and ungainly, doughy, and blond I pictured. Ken Howard, maybe. A young version. Seth Rogen? He’s awkward conversationally, and we’re told he engages a lady when she needs to leave, but also walked away from one when she is speaking. Shorthand is that he’s socially tin-eared. Something about him makes Anna P nervous, and it’s not only that he’s larger physically than everyone there, but that he doesn’t know what to say about what to whom and when. Her nervousness is mentioned a couple of times.
There are, apparently, many rules.
Just as the chapter ends, he is walking up to the Abbe Morio, whose plan for “perpetual peace” he has just poo-pooed to Anna P while talking her ear off (see above). What’s he going to say?!?
A note here that I’m liking this one chapter day thing. This one was only 3 pages long, which meant that while I was eating my lunch I read it 2 or 3 times, and read some passages over. Getting a good sense from it, and the conversational tone of the author.
Also, I looked up the lineage of the Russian Royal family, and what things like Empress, Empress Dowager, and Empress consort are. You can read it yourself, but suffice it to say in 1805 we’re under
He looks a little blonde and doughy to me, actually. There are rumors he may have had something to do with the death of his father, Tsar Paul I.
His wife was Empress Elizabeth (Empress Consort-confusing, but her mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress, had more power).
I swear I took Russian history at some point. I must’ve dropped it, since I can’t remember thing one.
6 months ago