Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Volume 1, Book One, Chapter One: 1805

Oh, boy, what did I get myself into?

It’s 1805.

This is all exposition. Luckily I have an annotated version, with not only translations of the languages, but notes on who is being referenced and what the political background is.

From what I can tell, Napoleon is upsetting Anna Pavlovna (a maid of honor to the Empress, 40), and she is talking about it to Prince Vasili (a Prince [there seem to be many, unrelated], and a little older). We find out that he has a good-for-nothing son, Anatole, as well, who Anna Pavlovna is working on setting up with the rich daughter of Prince Bolkonsky. Here invitation for the evening being set up is funny, in French or otherwise, to the effect of “my husband and I would love your company if it doesn’t bother you too much to hang out with a sick lady. Regrets only.” Vasili is her first visitor, stopping on the way to another party at the English Ambassador’s. Nineteenth century – a lot of house visiting going on.

The chapter begins in French, and a good deal of the dialogue is in French as well. It’s interesting in the online version just dispenses with that, and it really loses the comedy of the whole thing and the richness of the characters. He’s weary, and she’s a busybody, and somehow switching back and forth from French just magnifies it. My French isn’t great, but I have a feeling if this continues it’s going to improve. I am liking this translation a lot from what I can see of the alternatives.

Can I say again how glad I am to have an annotated version? Political intrigue leading up to the War of 1812 is not my specialty (read: complete ignorance except that Napoleon lost) so it’s helpful to have the notes and explanations. I also love that there are so many footnotes on each page because of the French translations that they have to go through as many as 8 symbols. I think there’s a hierarchy, and I’ve never seen a # sign before. It’s like *, **, †, ††, §, #.


I’m learning so much already. And the characters are clear, which is great. Not physically, they’re not described that way much, but definitely their character.

Even though it’s a little lumbering, I do think having all the info makes it a richer experience. And maybe only reading 4 pages a day, too.

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