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.

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