Thursday, April 29, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter IX

The majority of this chapter is a letter from Bilibin to Andrei. In French. So glad for footnotes.

The letter is long, but basically shows how messed up things are – in-fighting amongst the Russian generals; the Prussian king playing both sides; the lack of supplies; lying about victories when they’re really retreats.

When Andrei is finished reading, he has a twinge about how much it can effect him. He looks up and the nurse is hiding something. He thinks his son has died, so he rushes to the cradle to find him sleeping. He feels his forehead with his lips and sees he’s sweaty but the fever has broken. Marya comes in by him. It’s very tender. The three of them are in a tableau under the canopy. Tolstoy says they “shake their fingers at each other”, which I’m not sure of, but think may be fake scolding each other?

Either way, Andrei feels its more important for him to be at home, and the moment with his son seals it. It’s a beautiful scene after this ridiculous description of war.

I’m not getting into that all the main characters are nobles, and we’re to empathize with their plight, even though they had serfs at this point as well. It’s an irony we can see historically I suppose. What of that nurse in the scene? Who is she? All these characters are complex, rich, and then can be awful to servants. It's a complicated relationship - we saw that with the older Rostov. But I’ll concern myself for the moment with Andrei, Nikolai and Pierre. I have a feeling he’s off to war again at some point, but he is sure his father’s son.

Prince Andrei was the first to leave the crib, his hair tangling in the muslin of the canopy. "Yes, this is the one thing left to me now, " he said with a sigh.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter VIII

Did you know that they call the Napoleon army a race "Bonapartius"? Interesting.

It's 1807, February.. Andrei has been spending more time at Bogucharuvo, one of the old Prince's estates about 30 miles from Bald Hills. Marya is taking care of young prince Nikolai, with assistance from Mlle Bourienne. The old prince is in charge of a militia, and Andrei is so disgusted with the military that when all are consigned he opts to serve under his father.

At the moment, he's wracked with worry about his son's fever. He's certainly as cantankerous as his father. the old prince sends a note that Andrei should gallop to another town to tell a commander to send additional men and supplies or heads will roll. Andrei decides to ignore the order since his son is sick, and that's his main concern.

You just know that's going to be important, don't you? No novelist spends that much time on something and then drops in a little detail, like not following an order, without it having consequences. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter VII

Let's all be adults here. We know what's going on with Boris and Helene. It's a fait accompli.

At Anna P's, Ippolit makes a wierd joke about the King of Prussia (good to know he's still awkward). Boris goes to Helene's the following Tuesday, she barely speaks to him, and then invites him for dinner the next day.

Dinner. The last sentence says he becomes an intimate of hers. Hmmm.

Anyhow, she still has Pierre's land and money. I wonder if that will last. I suppose it must. This circle is tiresome, though, and I'd be more interested in the Rostov's or Bolkonsky's again. No more Boris and Helene.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter VI

We are back at Anna Pavlovna's soiree.

Pierre has been villified as the bad guy, whereas Helene has everyone's sympahty in Petersburg. Of course, Vassily calls him a "crackbrain" and Anna Pavlovna said she was against the match from the beginning (ha!) and that Helene is suffering so. Helene meanwhile, while saying nothing, has everyone ascribing suffering to her.

Boris is at this particular soiree, and has become (at least from the way I read it) insufferable. He now finds his love for Natasha ridiculous, and is only interested in getting better jobs, or as T puts it, "one needed not efforts, not courage, not perserverance, but only skill in dealing with those who give rewards for service - and he was often surprised at his quick success and how others could fail to understand it."

He keeps glancing over at Helene, who is of course interested in the young, handsome adjutant. She asks him to come visit her on Tuesday, between 8 & 9. Anna pulls him aside and asks that she not mention her husband, as it upsets her so.

Not a very kind view of society has Tolstoy, methinks. There is certainly talk of politics, which is interesting, but it comes off as privileged people who really have no effect on any outcome. There are high-ups, but one gets the feeling they are powerless in the face of Napoleon. I suppose it's the same as any salon ever is.

Can't believe Helene, though. You just itch for people to know the truth about these harpies, but g-d knows if they ever will. Oy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter V

This is a very short one - barely a page.

Pierre is sitting at home, trying to figure "the meaning of a square, one side of which represented God, another the moral, the third the physical, and the fourth their mixture."

The world is just littered with metaphysical symbols, isn't it? I've never seen that one.

Anyhow, as he is contemplating this, and about to move South to avoid the sovereign's interest in the duel, Vassily bursts in, chattering. He tries to convince Pierre that it's all a misunderstanding, and why didn't he contact him?, etc. He even tries to get him to write a letter to Helene. Pierre knows this is his moment. He cannot capitulate if he wants to live the spiritual life that he is being shown by the Mason's. He knows he cannot be rude, but he cannot give in.

So he says "Go" menacingly, and shows Vassily the door. I love that the voice is described as outside of him: "the menacing voice said once more".

The next week, Pierre leaves for Kiev and Odessa.

I never got around to writing about the history of art, which is mixes up in politics and Russian history, of the Russian people that I saw on the plane from NY. Part of it that I found interesting said that Petersburg is the head of Russia, Moscow is the heart, and Kiev is the mother. It's the birth of the church in Russia. It will be interesting to see what he does there....

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter IV

Pierre and the Masons. It's the rest of the initiation. HE is led into a room blindfolded, unmasked with swords pointed at him, re-blindfolded, and unblindfolded again. He's made to swear an oath. He's also given a trowel (to smooth over things), two pairs of mens' gloves and one of women's for his eventual "Lady Mason".

There is a moment when he has doubt, thinking this might all be done to him as a joke, but it passes as he sees how serious everyone is.

There are lots of symbols, which are explained.

I guess he's in the club. It seems like a complicated elementary school club, though I do know it's more. Initiations just seems slightly ridiculous to me for some reason. This one is solemn, and meaningful for Pierre. He feels joyous and light.

And I'm hoping Helene is still not his Lady Mason. He needs to get that property and income back as well. I think he'd be better with it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter III

This is complicated, so I won't delve to deeply, but Pierre is brought into the brotherhood of the masons. There is a complicated ceremony and explanation, having to do with virtues that he will cultivate, much symbolism, and many questions about his intentions. Then he is asked what his main predeliction is that kept him from living a virtuous life, and he says "Women". And when he does, and gives himself over, he feels joy.

He know not only believes in god, but he's a freemason.

My favorite line is that they went in to a small room in a big house where they had to take off their fur coats "without the help of servants". That's quite austere and serious. I can't imagine today what that would signify, but I gather it means that this is truly bare-bones. Speaking of, he goes into a room with the gospels, a light lit in a skull, and a coffin with bones. The masons apparently encourage one to think often about death. That sounds like what Pierre needs. They certainly have a sense of theatre and self-gravity.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter II

The traveler opens his eyes and speaks to Pierre.

Pierre asks if he’s a Mason, seeing his ring. And yes, he is. (as aside: he calls the symbol a “death’s head” – a skull – which is a Masonic sign, I guess – I could only find the one with the compass, ruler, and letter G on the web, so no picture)

This starts the stranger telling him about his own views. Pierre tells him he doesn’t believe in God, and that starts the man off. He says things like “why would we be talking about him if he didn’t exist?” Circular, and irrefutable in its way. Pierre is susceptible.

Pierre is taken in. ”Whether he believed those reasonable arguments in the Mason’s speech, or believed, as children to, the intonations, convictions, and heartfelt emotion in the Mason’s speech, the trembling of his voice, which sometimes almost interrupted him…or the calmness, firmness and knowledge of purpose which shone in the Mason’s whole being and which struck him especially strongly, compared with his own slackness and hopelessness, in any case he wanted to believe with his whole soul, and did believe, and experienced a joyful feeling of peace, renewal, and return to life”

Well, that just makes it sound easy, doesn’t it?

Pierre does tell the man he hates his life, and the Mason responds that of course, he has been given money and done nothing with it; a wife and wasted that opportunity. That he has lived a “debauched life”.

The man begins to leave and gives Pierre a card for someone to see in Petersburg, a Count Willarski. We also learn the man’s name is Osip Alexeevich Bazdeev. He gives Pierre hope in believing there is a brotherhood for good, and he is forgotten how good it feels to be virtuous.

The religiosity in this chapter was a little disconcerting, but I suppose the process of watching anyone be converted is. Pierre is at a low point, so he is certainly susceptible. I don’t know much about the Masons, though they have a long history. It does feel like he’s being acculturated, but I suppose it is giving him a sense of purpose, which he desperately needs. It’s feels a little cult-y, but it’s the god-talk, which can be off-putting. Pierre certainly needs it.

I started researching Masonry, but it’s way too extensive to get in a glance. I’m sure it will pop back up, so I’ll try to do some footwork and see what I can come up with.

But good for Pierre. Buck up, little soldier.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter I

Oh, Pierre.

He is laid up waiting for horses on the way to Petersburg, in Torzhok. He can think of nothing except "What's the point?", basically. All thoughts, those of his wife, the duel, Petersburg, suffering of the woman selling wares contrasted with his own wealth, all end in a what is god, what's the point, and death awaits thought.

I totally get Pierre at this moment.

There's a great description of this kind of repetitive, undercutting thinking--

Whatever he started thinking about, he came back to the same questions, which he could not resolve, and not stop asking himself. It was as if the main screw in his head, which held his whole life together, had become stripped. The screw would not go in, would not come out, but turned in the same groove without catching hold, and it was impossible to stop turning it.

That is such a satisfying metaphor.

An old man comes in to take the seat opposite Pierre, with a servant. He has a large signet ring with a death's head, and no beard. He reads for a bit, closes his eyes, and Pierre can't help but stare. At once, his eyes snap open and he catches Pierre looking, but Pierre can't look away. His eyes are "glittering".


This is when you catch it was serialized, handing off to the next day. I just have to look down an inch or so. But I'm being good! More tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter XVI

The long and the short of it is:

Nikolai asks his father for the money to pay Dolokhov, at first trying to seem insouciant at his loss but only managing to sound callous, which only causes him to burst into tears and chase after his father.

Denisov (pooghr Denisov), proposes to Natasha, which is a superlatively bad idea. The countess is somewhat offended and annoyed, while Natasha is flattered but pitying. Bad combination. Denisov leaves.

It takes the count two weeks to raise the 43,000 for Nikolai to pay Dolokhov (who I hope chokes on it) and then Nikolai goes back to the front. Sonya is more in love with him than ever, but he feels unworthy.

Lessons here - don't gamble; don't ask young girls to marry. One would think these truths would be self-evident, but they're not. On the whole though, Nikolai seems more human because of this, and we see who Dolokhov is. Denisov, some kind of adorable drunk, just seems destined to be that diminutive man who everyone loves, but no one does in a special way he'd like.

It's interesting here, as I imagine we'll see a little more of Andrei or Pierre after this, that we're seeing them grow-up. Andrei is a bit older, but still so proud, but war and loss are tempering their fire. Or perhaps the fire in which they're being tempered. The world is less absolute, and though romantic still in that 18th/19th century way, realism and compromise are setting in.

43,000 roubles. Current roubles into dollars would be about $1475 dollars, but in 1865 money that would be about $20,000. Whichever it is, it would be a lot to lose.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter XV

Oh, the healing power of music. Nikolai returns home, with Sonya and Natasha watching Denisov play piano and sing; the Countess playing patience with an older woman; Vera and Shinshin playing chess. He is guilty for coming in on such a warm domestic scene.

His mother calls him over saying "Coco, you're home, come here to me, my dearest." At which point I thought, huh, so that's what Coco would be a diminutive of. Cute.

Sonya and Natasha can tell something is wrong. Natasha ignores it, but Sonya asks with her eyes. There's much in Nikolai's head, too, of wondering what it all means and feeling bereft.

Then, Natasha comes into the middle of the room to sing. At first, he wonders how she can do this so unashamedly, and then from her lips composed into a smile sounds poured forth, sounds that anyone can produce for the same length of time, at the same intervals, but which leave on cold a thousand times, then for the thousand and first time make one tremble and weep.

Natasha's voice has begun to mature, and though in need of training is wonderful to anyone who hears it. Nikolai is deeply affected:

"All this misfortune, and money, and Dolokhov, and spite, and honor--it's all nonsense...and here is--the real thing...Ah, Natasha, ah darling! ah, dearest....How is she going to take this B...She did it? Thank God!" And without noticing it, he himself was singing so as to strengthen that B, taking the second voice a third below the high note. "My God! how beautiful! Did I sing that? What happiness!" he thought.
Oh, how that third had vibrated, and how was something that was best in Rostov's soul. And that something was independent of anything in the world and higher than anything in the world. What are gambling losses, and Dolokhovs, and words of honor!...It's all nonsense! ONe can kill, and steal, and still be happy....

Well, the healing power of music. It's kind of wonderful for him to feel this, and I love the way T envokes the healing warmth of home for Nikolai. The Rostov's have the warmest home in the book so far. They feel like the heart of it for me at the moment.

Nikolai's chat with his father must be coming up soon, though. There's so much melodrama, but I find it hard sometimes to just stay reading one chapter a day. I can't wait to see what happens!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter XIV

Oh, poor Nikolai.

This chapter is all cards, and Nikolai loses over and over until he loses 43,000 roubles, 43 being the addition of his and Sonya's age (so he must be 27). Nikolai just keeps wondering how he is in this man's power, and why he is doing this.

Dolokhov calls it off for dinner, and mentions that he's lucky at cards unlucky at love (I guess that's a global, or at least pan-European saying). He says he knows that Sonya is in love with Nikolai; Nikolai screams at him in a rage to leave Sonya out of it.

Dolokhov is so cold, he just asks when he'll get his money, and Nikolai tells him "tomorrow". I'm sure his father could clear the debt, but I have a feeling the Rostov's are close to beyond their means. It's been intimated. I hope he doesn't stay in Dolokhov's power. It's so sad for Dolokhov, too - no wonder he doesn't keep many friends. If he's wounded it doesn't occur to him to look to his friends for solace, just for revenge. Sad man.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter XIII

Oh, no, unlucky 13.

Nikolai hasn't seen Dolokhov or been able to get a hold of him, and he receives an invite to meet Dolokhov at the English hotel at 9. DOlokhov basically goads him into playing cards with him, and quickly, Nikolai has lost 1600 of the 2000 roubles that his father gave him to last the next 5 months.

Dolokhov is evil. He just says that people have said he's a card sharp - Nikolai even notes the torn corner of the 7 of hearts that he needs and sees it dealt to the top of the deck - as if Dolokhov does not know this already. Ugh. This can't be good.

This chapter is written so well - your heart is in your throat. Dolokhov is a great villain - spurned and ready for vengeance. You can see since Sonya turned him down that he feels he has a reason, but you just wish that Pierre had taken care of him in the duel. He's going to poison everyone with his own poison. Nikolai notes that, when bored with life, "Dolkhov felt the necessity of getting out of it by some strange, most often cruel, act."

Oh, yuck. This makes me stomach hurt.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter XII

Time for a merry ball hosted by Iogel, the dancemaster, at the Rostov. The Rostov girls are the belles of the ball, especially prized student Natasha. Nikolai and Denisov are there, and Natasha asks Denisov to dance, hearing from Nikolai how famous he was for his Polish mazurka. Nikolai told her that.

I love Denisov, who drinks too much and is a little wild. He has a big heart and easy joy, it seems. And a great way of speaking - when Natasha is trying to get him to dance, he demurs with "No, ghreally. Spaghre me, Countess." I love that speech impediment. He sits with the older women and jokes with them and he stomps his saber in time.

He agrees to dance, whipping off his saber, and "in the mazurka did Denisov's small stature not show, and he looked like the fine fellow he felt himself to be." He springs across the floor, flying in a circle, bringing Natasha with him. She is so stunned by the end of it she doesn't even curtsey to him. She is amazed, and he doesn't leave her side for the rest of the ball.

Natasha casts a spell, it seems. So energetic. And it's great to see Denisov get some time. You can feel his energy, and the relief after the dance. Beautifully done - describing him and his spurs dancing wildly but in control.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter XI

Okay, quick one. Nearing Christmas, Nikolai is busy visiting everyone and going to many balls.

Sonya basically turns down Dolokhov's proposal, and Nikolai is happy about it, even though he tells Sonya he can't promise anything to her. When he first hears of the proposal he is angry, but Natasha tells hims Sonya refused and would not be persuaded otherwise. And Natasha assumes Nikolai would never marry her, since she has no dowry or connections. He and Sonya have a tender conversation when they pledge love for each other, but he tells her he can make no promises and will love again, though never to the degree and trust he loves her. She says she loves him like a brother and deeply and they don't need to speak of it.

There are some details I love in this one - first the description of love being the atmosphere of the Rostov house, which I hadn't thought about but I guess it is:

Never had the amorous air in the Rostovs' house, the atmosphere of being in love, manifested itself so strongly as during these festive days. "Sieze the moments of happiness, make them love you, fall in love yourself! That is the only real thing in this world - the rest is all nonsense. And that is the one thing we're taken up with here," said this atmosphere.

It makes perfect sense, and it figures with the count and countess and Natasha and Sonya, with the way they greeted Nikolai when he returned. It is the house of love. I suppose Bolkonsky's is the house of a different kind of love - intense, rough, rocky, but still as deep. Don't know why I want to put them in opposition, but I do.

The other thing is that when Nikolai asks if Dolokhov is going to a party he will be attending later, Dolokhov gives him a look like the one he gave Pierre at the club. Nikolai notes it.

He's not a good one, that Dolokhov, and he's wounded, it turns out, from Sonya. This does not bode well for Andrei. Not a nice enemy. And through no fault of his own.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter X

Okay, this one's mainly about Nikolai.

Turns out he spends a lot of time with Dolokhov while he is recuperating. Dolokhov's mother of course believes her son is a saint, while Pierre is the slouch who didn't take the blame for the bear incident and believes that he only challenged Fedya to a duel because he owed Pierre money, thinking that would deter him. Then this great turnaround of "but who doesn't have a lover anyway" and "why did he wait a year" train of thought that's quite funny.

Meanwhile Dolokhov (Fedya to his friends, mother, and hunchbacked sister) reveals alot to Nikolai, namely that people think he's a cad but that's only because he loves deeply and cares for a few who he'd fight for (Nikolai is of course included). Others he'd kill and not care (witness: policeman tied to bear and thrown in river). He also throws in that women are untrustworthy (oh-that old saw).

Everyone is kind of taken in by him, except for Natasha. She hates him, distrusts him, and tells Nikolai so. She even likes Denisov, saying he's a lush but likeable (maybe it's those dark mustaches). And she tells Nikolai that Dolokhov is in love with Sonya. 16 year old sweet Sonya, who Nikolai loves but is free from for the moment. Dolokhov looks at her in a way that makes anyone who sees it blush. Even Sonya notices. So Nikolai spends less time at home, preparing to go to battle in the Fall of 1806.

So, since the birth of the baby, we've skipped ahead 6 months.

Don't trust that DOlokhov, personally. I can't believe he's up to any good. Only a mother could. Or Nikolai I guess. Maybe he believes it himself.

The writing is superb, again, especially the great double back of Dolokhov's mother in her speech and the fire of Natasha. You just know she's the truthteller in the book. She may not be "our hero", I feel like that's Andrei, but she is the one we trust. She's teetering on young adulthood.

And for the rest of them, it's off again to war.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter IX

A sad and happy day.

Liza is in childbirth, and doesn't even seem to notice Andrei. The look on her face, T reminds us over and over, says "what is it that you have done to me and why?" She seems to be confused as to what she has done to deserve all this pain, and it's not an easy birth. T also describes again the "little lip covered with fine black hair" that she has. Andrei, after leaving the room, hears her terrible moans, then finally a scream and then the scream of a child.

She lay dead in the same position in shiwch he had seen her five minutes before, and, cespite her still eyes and pale cheeks, there and the same expression on that lovely, timid, childish face, with its lip covered with fine black hair.
"I loved you all and did nothing bad to anybody, and what have you done tome? Ah, what have you done to me?" said her lovely, pitiful, dead face.

Andrei is so guilty he cannot cry at the funeral; they baptize the baby Nikolai Andreich 5 days later. The nanny throws a piece of wax with the baby's hair in the baptismal font, and it floats, which means the child will live. So that's good. Marya and the old prince are the godparents.

Yikes, death in childbirth. Not at all uncommon for most of history. What a horror, though, and that refrain of her look and surprise is haunting. He really communicates the loss and guilt. And that bit about her not even being able to register that he was there or what it meant is just heartbreaking. Much heartbreak in this book.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter VIII

Whoops!! Posted this yesterday on the wrong blog, so backdating, for anyone who might be reading - lol.

March 19, 1806. Everyone at Bald Hills is waiting as Liza is about to give birth. She tries to brush off the pains, saying it's the food, but it's clear she's in labor.

Interestingly, the whole house stays silent, as it's thought that talking about the birth makes the labor pains worse. So, everyone waits silently. Tikhon is sent for the old Prince at one point, and finding him asleep just kisses his shoulder and leaves the room. That's a sweet detail. There's a mid-wife and they're all waiting for the doctor.

Marya believes she sees the doctor coming - a carriage with lanterns, and goes down to meet him, but it's Andrei! He's alive! And, of course, in the nick of time. I love that.

And this little detail as Andrei is coming closer footsteps in warm boots could be heard. Excellent detail - who but the Russians (or a really cold climate) would know the sounds of warm boots?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter VII

Back at Bald Hills with the old Prince, Princess Marya and the little Princess, Liza.

The old Prince Andrei receives the news in a letter from Kuzutov, which explains that he saw Andrei fall himself, but his body was not found, so he could still be alive. The old Prince doesn't believe it. Marya comes into his study (where he is at his lathe--I love this--and she conflates the sound of the wheel dying with the news for the rest of her life - lovely detail). The old Prince tells her the news, and she is overwhelmed with tears, and asks her father to weep with her. He tells her to go tell Liza.

Liza, meanwhile, is pregnant and shining inwardly (as pregnant women do). She tells Marya she has been crying for no reason off and on all day, and Marya doesn't have the heart to tell her. The old Prince, of course, doesn't either, so they just say the've got a bad feeling but no news. It's two months after the battle of Austerlitz, but that doesn't bug her, I suppose.

I really hope Andrei is still alive. And wierdly, I think Marya and Pierre might be an interesting match. Not going to happen, but just popped into my head.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter VI

Oh, boy - didn't leave a lot of time to write today.

Another chapter of Pierre frustration in which he is finally pushed to the breaking point. He is trying to figure out what to do with his wife, and is resolved to just get out of the house. He stays overnight, though, and she comes in and confronts him. Or, should I say, belittles, patronizes, shames him. Awful woman. She says, basically, that she didn't have an affair with Dolokhov, but she would have been justified in it if she had. And we also find out that she has repeatedly said she would not have children with him ever.

Pierre, for his part, knows he never loved her, but said so anyway, so he does feel some remorse. He feels its his own fault. He feels guilty, but it's clear that there was no love on either side. Sad.

He asks her to be quiet, she doesn't, and he finally picks up a marble slab and shouts "OUT!" so loud that everyone hears it. And it's intimated he would have possibly killed her if she wouldn't have left at that moment.

A week later he leaves for Petersburg, giving her the power of attorney to the bulk of his estate. I don't know if that was warranted to save her reputation, but it's clear that's what she and Vassily wanted anyway. Vile people.

Anyhow, Pierre is free and off to Petersburg. Helen gets what she wanted. Let's hope it doesn't last.

I have some more thoughts on that, and some things about Russian history I've recently learned. Also, just how brilliant these characters are - their actions make sense even know from what we know of psychology and development years before those theories. I'm sure they were in the ether, but it's just so well constructed. I'm awed at the breadth of it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter V

The duel!

Pierre shoots, after putting his left arm behind him to not hold the gun with it as well, and then bursts into sobs. He hits Dolokhov who can't believe it. Dolokhov then, sucking on snow and gritting his teeth, takes a shot at Pierre and misses, since he is allowed a shot. It's unclear if it's on purpose, to me.

Either way, Pierre runs off into the woods muttering to himself "death..lies" and other incomprehensible mutterings. So sad.

Dolokhov breaks down in the wagon on the way to his family's, saying his death will kill his mother. I still distrust him. He's such a bully. He's willing to kill, but when he is wounded there is no honor involved.

And really, you end up feeling sorry for Pierre that he had to go through this. He seems like a bit of a lummox, but a likeable one.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter IV

Pierre is sitting across from Dolokhov, Denisov, and Rostov, obviously distracted. He had recieved an anonymous letter and another tip-off that his wife and Dolokhov were having an affair, but he is unsure what action he'd like to take, if any. When he thinks about it, "something terrible and ugly rise[s] up in his soul."

He is having trouble believing it of Dolokhov and his wife, though he knows it could be true. His took Dolokhov in, clothed him, gave him money, while his wife complained of his presence. But he has seen the glee in his eyes when he does something cruel "'He must think everybody's afraid of him, it must make him feel good. He must think I'm also afraid of him. And, in fact, I am afraid of him,' thought Pierre, and at these thoughts, he felt something frightful and ugly rise up in his soul."

Pierre is so engrossed that he forgets to drink to the sovereign when Rostov toasts, which annoys Nikolai. Then Dolokhov toasts to the health of beautiful women and their lovers (which is really over-the-top). Then, a servant lays down music for the cantata for Kuzutov (that sounds like cuckoo for cocoa puffs), Dolokhov snatches it before Pierre can see it. Pierre demands it back, angrily, and Dolokhov won't give it. "Dolokhov looked at Pierre with his light, merry, cruel eyes, and that the same smile, as if to say: 'Ah, this is what I like.'" He challenges Dolokhov to a duel.

At that moment, he is sure of both Dolokhov and his wife's guilt. There is no turning back. Rostov will be Dolokhov's second, and Nesvitsky Pierre's.

Rostov and Dolokhov sit up late, where Dolokhov admits he's not nervous, that his only intentioned is to kill as quickly as possible.

The next morning they meet for a duel at eight. Pierre hasn't slept. He is sure of his wife's guilt, though, and feels no reason to preserve Dolokhov's honor. Nesvitsky tries to convince him to let it go, but he says it doesn't matter, and then asked how to fire the pistol, as he's never held one.

Nikolai doesn't convince Dolokhov to surrender, either, so they are to walk from forty paces to ten, in fog in which they can barely see, to possibly kill.

This chapter is great in suspense building. You just feel Pierre's blood boiling, and the thing in him that wants to get out over the kind of natural oafishness that he normally displays. He's not even wearing glasses in this chapter, which further intensifies his cluelessness. The writing is visceral, from his POV, following every turn of thought. And it's great the following morning as well, when he follows through even though he might not make it out alive. He feels lost, and must act.

From the maiden aunt voice, I'm actually glad of it. Helene was a bad match, forced on to him by Vassily, and perhaps with this people will see that he might have a spine when pushed and give him his due for something besides his money. I do like Pierre. I hope he wins.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter III

At the banquet for Bagration. Nikolai is there, as are Denisov and Dolokhov, and Pierre, who is rich and sad. There are the young men, and then the old, and he is part of both circles somewhat and lost. This is my favorite description, of people entering the hall:

..scattered through different rooms, the guests, like rye shaken in a shovel, came together in one heap and stopped in the big drawing room by the door to the reception hall.

Rye shaken in a shovel - excellence. And I love such an earthly metaphor for such a man-made, courtly event. There is one later as well, during the dinner, that people are seated closer to the guest of honor in order of their importance, as naturally as water flows deeper where terrain is lower.

Bagration is presented, slightly embarrassingly, with a silver salver of peoms about him. Luckily, they're cut short by dinner. Pierre and Nesvitsky are seated across from Denisov and Dolokhov (awkward), and there is much toasting. Nikolai is first to be overcome almost to tears and throws his glass on the floor, followed by many others. The servants clean the glass. More toasts are made and glasses thrown, finally toasting to the count, who burst into tears.

That last bit I love. So in character. And a bunch of drunk Russians throwing glasses on the floor for someone else to clean up. That must have been a nightmare, really. And dangerous. I guess no one was feeling any pain. Oh, well. IT was a nice party.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter II

Tired, so this will be short, but more on Russian history tomorrow night.

Rostov is back, feeling all that loves stuff was childish, and enjoying his popularity. Elder Rostov, the count, is hosting a banquet at the English club for Bagration, who is a hero for keeping his column/flank in formation (although we know he just didn't want to battle). Anna Mikhailovna whispers that Pierre's wife has been compromised by Dolokhov (does that behavior from either of them surprise us? Not me). So Pierre's being invited.

Much conjecture about the war and how the Russians could have lost the battle, and then the last bit about how sad it is that Andrei died and left his wife alone. Tragic.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Volume II, Book I, Chapter I

I’m writing this at some thousands of feet. You can take War and Peace anywhere. That sound profound, doesn’t it.

I’m back after a break, and that was kind of nice. It got me re-energized - a few days off after the exhaustions of war in time for Nikolai Rostov’s homecoming. Loved it.

While I was in NY, I was walking through Central Park and saw the lines of horse-drawn carriages. Something we don’t think of, really, is just how enormous a beast a horse is. One that was in the street during the Easter parade gave a friendly nudge to my friend Pat, and knocked him a little off-balance (not as hard as it sounds as he has vertigo, but still).

I was thinking, though, as I saw the parade of them, just how daunting it must have been to face them in battle. Sure, you have automotives, tanks, and planes, but there’s an immediacy to a horse - to facing another living being that can trample you. Or fall on you. Then to think of the the battle fields littered with bodies and with enormous dead horses. It was shocking to think of it. It’s complicated and messy - not that modern warfare isn’t as well. But it’s certainly anything but clean - think of the manure that is produced, soldiers wading through that as well as mud and blood. And then having to manage the animals. Just put it into a very different perspective.

Anyhow, we’re back with Nikolai, who is returning home to Moscow to the Rostov homestead, bringing Denisov (Vaska, drunken, dark-haired, says his r’s with a gh) with him. Vaska has drunken three bottles of wine, so he’s passed out in the bottom of the carriage as Nikolai is leaning forward to make the carriage go faster. He can’t wait to get home.

There’s a great detail about seeing home and the chipped stucco, how no one takes care of it, and he’s home. He sees a servant, and then is rushed from all sides by his family. Natasha is so overwhelmed that she rushes up to Denisov and kisses him out of sheer excitement. There’s an emotional reunion with the countess, and the two of them hit the hay.

The next morning, they sleep until 9, at which point Natasha, Sonya and Petya are so excited they yell from them through the door. Petya is so excited about seeing a saber that he rushes in while the men are still in deshabille, which is forbidden for the girls to see. One of my faves in this chapter is how Nikolai raises his head from his hot pillow when he wakes. Such a small thing, but perfect in this context. Of course his pillow would be hot, not warm, after months at war and his first real, deep sleep in months. I just loved that.

So he and Natasha have a heart to heart. There is a complicated scene in which logic, which makes sense to Nikolai, is used by Natasha to explain Sonya’s feeling. Even more, he understands Natasha’s friendship/love vow, which was burning her own arm with a ruler to show how much she cared--
Sitting in his former schoolroom, on the sofa with padded armrests, and looking into Natash’s desperately lively eyes, Rostov again entered that world of his family and childhood, which had no meaning for anyone but him, but which had provided him with one of the best enjoyments in life; and the burning of the arm with the ruler to show loved did not seem nonsense to him; he understood and was not surprised at it.

Natasha explains that Sonya loves him (which is obvious to him, and he loves her), but she is being represented by Natasha to Nikolai, to simultaneously make sure he still feels what she wants him to, but also to let him know that she releases him as he should be able to experience life. He understands. Natasha, meanwhile, giggling at everything (”not because what they were saying was funny, but because she felt merry and was unable to hold back her joy, which expressed itself in laughter” is taking dance lessons, and doesn’t want to think about Boris or anyone else.

Boris, I feel, after the last run-in, is on his way out anway.

There’s an odd chronology here - Natasha is 13 on her name day and quite a girl, but 15 here - he says as much. What I don’t get is that it’s the beginning of 1806, and the book begins on July of 1805. So even if she was turning 14 on her name day, she still wouldn’t be 15. It doesn’t make any sense. I’ll research.

Meanwhile, Sonya and Nikolai share a very private look since they were unsure how to greet each other, which tells them all they need to know - “their eyes met without any formality and gave each other a tender kiss. Her look asked forgiveness for daring, though Natasha’s embassy, to remind him of his promise, and thanked him for his love. His look thanked her for the offer of freedom, and said that, one way or another, he would never stop loving her, because it was impossible not to love her.”

Those are some dang complicated eyes.

Anyhow, Denisov comes in, looking more the ladies man than Rostov had expected.

I don’t know how he wouldn’t know that. He’s kind of the good-hearted bad boy, in counterpoint to Dolokhov, who I think is just a bad-hearted bad boy.

I loved this chapter, especially how he creates the intimacy with Natasha and Nikolai. It’s very sweet. The Rostov’s are so effusive, unlike the Bolkonsy’s, though I think they care for each other as deeply. It’s so warm, there, though. Very sweet.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Pause

So I'm in NY, and I'm realizing I didn't read today, and it's the beginning of a new volume. So, I'm just going to take a day or two off and resume, probably taking it back up before I leave - I'm only here for four days. But it's just feeling like a pause between volumes might be a good thing.

So enjoy the pause. Eat something. We'll be back.