Well, this book ends in excitement.
Rostov is present at the peace accord between the Russians and the French. (I love how Tolstoy maneuvers and imagines his characters in decisive and important historical moments of the war – as if he’s always imagined what it was like and this gives him the chance to describe it.) Nikolai does not have a strong opinion of Napoleon, and is actually offended that the tsar would consider him emperor.
It probably was unthinkable at this time of revolution – Napoleon upset the natural order. Not only did the French rebel against the monarchy, but this little impudent shorty was the one who arose. Arriviste doesn’t even describe it. And to Rostov, who is a count and deifies the emperor, this must be soul-destroying. To Nikolai he is a bad horsemen, he rudely drops a glove that he expects someone to pick up, and then just leaves the medal he’s supposed to pin on the soldier for someone else to actually pin on him. In earlier chapters we’ve seen his cunning, but through Nikolai’s eyes he’s just a rude, short, egotistical man who doesn’t have the right to consider himself the tsar’s equal. It makes me think again of Andrei’s encounter with him on the battlefield, though there we saw some of his compassion.
In other words, he’s human, but what Nikolai expects is a god. At least that’s what he expects of his sovereign. The denial of any clemency for Denisov, coupled with the reward that Lazarev randomly receives, puts Nikolai in a difficult frame of mind—
Painful work was going on in his mind, which he could not bring to an end. Terrible doubts arose in his soul. Now he remembered Denisov with his changed expression, his submission, and the whole hospital with those torn-ff arms and legs, that filth and disesease. He imagined so vividly not that hospital stench of dead flesh that he looked about to see where the stench could be coming from. Then he remembered that self-satisfied Bonaparte with his white little hand, who was now an emperor, whom the emperor Alexander liked and respected. Why, then, those torn-ff arms and legs, those dead people? Then he remembered the rewarded Lazarev and Denisov punished and unforgiven. He caught himself in such strange thoughts that it made him frightened.
He eats and drinks silently, two bottles of wine by himself, so that when someone starts challenging the French, he has an outburst that’s out of proportion to what’s been said. He comes up with a manifesto of sorts, that seems to be the only way he can make sense of the situation—
”We’re not diplomatic officials, we’re soldiers and nothing more,” he went on. “We’re told to die—and we die. If we’re punished it means we’re guilty; it’s not for us to judge. If it pleases the sovereign emperor to recognize Bonaparte as emperor and conclude an alliance with him—it means it has to be so. And if we start judging and reasoning about everything then there’ll be nothing sacred left. Next we’ll be saying there no God, no anything,” shouted Nikolai, banging the table….”Our business is to do out duty, to cut and slash, not to think, that’s all,” he concluded.
“And to drink,” said one of the officers, unwilling to quarrel.
“Yes, and to drink,” Nikolai picked up. “Hey, you! Another bottle!” he shouted.
And thus ends book II. Wow.
Poor Denisov. A ghreat man, a dear gheart, who we will miss. I’m not holding out high hopes. This is kind of Nikolai’s laying in the field moment that Andrei had, but he has gone in a different direction.
So, time for a scorecard before V2II, BIII
Nikolai- drunk, angry, disillusioned, but hey, the war’s over. Not really in love with Sonya, but still in love with the Sovereign.
Andrei – just seeming to get a glimpse of something after his visit with Pierre. Not sure what’s next, but he may have discovered a will to live
Pierre – discovered masonry, so perhaps something that will give him some strength of character. We can only hope. He could be prone to rapture. He’d make a good match for Marya (but since I read that one spoiler – curses – I know that’s not to be)
Denisov – in bad shape in a bad hospital, if it could even be called that. He’ll never get that smell out of his nose if he survives. He’ll probably die of his unhealing wound before anything else.
Liza – dead
Old Count – just had a good deal of excitement with the war. It will be interesting to see if he and Andrei can co-exist. I have a feeling he may not be on the scene long
Vassily, Helene, his no-good son, and Anna P – I’d be fine if they all died – like if Pierre could go back in disguise and take them all out like Stockard Channing did in “The Girl Most Likely To..” (why I remember that movie from TV as a kid – who knows?)
Natasha – winner of the “most incredible age jump award” for aging three years in a year and-a-half). She’s turning 13 in 1805, but by 1806 she’s fifteen. I have to work out that chronology. Still charming, but glad that thing with Boris Drubetskoy is done.
Boris – he just is turning into an oily politician, isn’t he.
Quite an amazing cast, and that’s nowhere near everyone. The gleam is off the war, and it looks like there’s going to be a 5-year peace. We’ll see what happens in Book III.
2 months ago