Saturday, July 31, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter VI

Back to business.  The count, with Natasha and Sonya, arrives in Moscow. They stay with Marya Dmitrievna.  (Remember her?  She was the ball-busting powerful lady from the first part who terrified everyone but Natasha, who was just as forceful at 13- - she’s charmed and Natasha’s her goddaughter).
She knows the score, and bosses everyone around. She takes Natasha to get dresses made, and she intimidates the dressmaker to her own financial advantage.  Rostov is checking on selling the Moscow estate. 

Marya gives Natasha some advice about how to make Princess Marya and the old Prince like her, but Natasha is silent.  Marya takes it as acquiescence, but in reality Natasha disliked any interference in the matter of her love for Prince Andrei, wich appeared to her so set apart from all human affairs that no one, to her mind, could understand it.
Marya says it’s better if she would try to be friends with them, and easier if they like her.
It would be, but they’re a challenging lot. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter V

This is all Julie and Boris’ entrapment, uh, I mean engagement. 
Boris is interested in Julie, but as a rich bride. He’s drawn to Marya, but doesn’t know how to talk to her, and she’s completely ignorant.  Julie, meanwhile, is wealthy and prone to melancholy.  Boris thinks it may be all show, but they both bond over the sadness of the world and how difficult everything is, ending in death. 
Julie has an album (I guess in the 18th and 19th century young women would have albums in which they would keep keepsakes and mementos, and friends would draw in them) in which Boris draws trees and writes (in French) “Rustic tress, your gloomy branches shake darkness and melancholy down on me”.  Charmer! And at one point a tombstone which reads:
(translation from the French here - it’s in French) “Death is helpful and death is peaceful/ Ah! Against sorrows there is no other refuge.”
Of course, Anna Mikhailovna is all over this, and tells her son who close she’s becoming to Julie, and mentioned her enormous estates.  Boris gets her “simple-hearted slyness”, but still listens to her.
Meanwhile, Boris can’t propose because “some secret feeling of aversion for her, for her passionate desire to get married, for her unnaturalness, and a feeling of horror at renouncing the possibility of true love, still stopped [him].

She’s also described as being too plump, and covering herself with powder.  Sounds attractive, right?
Boris finally proposes, mostly because he’s horrified at the thought of having spent all this time in Moscow for nothing.  Excellent. I hope they’re really happy.
Of course, as Boris predicted, all showers of melancholy disappeared once the wedding was announced.  Surprise!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter IV

Marya is completely ignorant that Boris might be paying her any attentions, and ends up sitting with Pierre as he is the last of the guests to leave.  Pierre jokes with her, and also lets her know if Boris’ attention to Julie Karagin. 
She lets it slip that some days she feels she’d marry anyone available, and that she must go away (from the earlier dictum of her father, though she doesn’t mention that).  Pierre turns serious and beings questioning her, but she deflects it.  She asks when the Rostov’s will come and what Pierre thinks of Natasha.
She keeps asking him to tell the whole truth about her, which indicated to Pierre that she wanted to her something against Natasha, but he could not.  Of course, it’s clear she wants to have a reason to dislike Natasha.  Pierre tells her that she’s enchanting--
”I decidedly don’t know what kind of girl she is; I simply cannot analyze her.  She’s enchanting.  But why, I don’t know that’s all one can say about her.

Princess Marya sighed, and the expression on her face said” Yes, that’s what I expected and was afraid of.”
“Is she intelligent?” asked Princess Marya. Pierre pondered.
“I don’t think so,” he said, “although--yes.  She doesn’t deign to be intelligent....Ah,no, she’s enchanting, that’s all.”
Princess Marya again shook her head disapprovingly....

“Ah, I wish so much to love her! Tell her that if you see her before I do.”
Yeah, right. She’s got her mind made up, and is threatened, it’s clear.  You know they would get along, if they would let themselves, but Natasha’s lightness and Marya’s darkness could easily annoy the other beyond any reason. I think Marya thinks she wants to love Natasha, but we’ll see if it comes to pass.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter III

I can only say I am liking the old count less and less.

It's his birthday, he's in a foul mood, and he tells Marya not to let anyone in who is not on a list.  He's been seeing a handsome tall French doctor, who decides he'll do what he wants anyway.  The old count is furious, blames Marya, and says she must go away permanently.  And then, adding insult to injury, he wonders aloud why no one will marry her, as if he hasn't sent them all away.

You kind of wonder if he's pushing her to see if she will finally blow up.  Anyway, there's a small dinner (somehow Boris has wheedled his way in), and it's clear he's serious.

He's severely unpleasant. Maybe it's the best thing for her.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter II

Meanwhile, in Moscow as well, old Nikolai Bolkonsky (the old count - Andrei's father) is being hailed as a center of opposition to the government. He's as cantankerous and senile as ever.  He's making his daughter's life hell.

She can't go out and be social without him, since he won't permit her.  He's becoming closer to Mlle Bourienne, which angers Marya.  Julie, her friend in letters, seems completely different to her and is entertaining suitors.  The old count, meanwhile, turns away any suitors Marya may have. She finds herself getting angry with Nikolushka, then crying at how awful she is.

Her father actually kisses Mlle Bourienne's hand and Marya blows up at her.  The next day, the old count has Mlle Bourienne served first, and when one of the servants forgets, he explodes and yells that Bourienne is first in the house now, and that if Marya forgets herself again he'll show her who's boss and she should apologize.

So she does, and feels bad because she sees how old he's getting, and how could she be so angry at such a helpless man. 

This is one twisted relationship.

As time passes, it's amazing the clear light he's throwing on all of these dynamics. What might have been entertaining or endearing is now close to reprehensible, sad.  The relationships are souring, and people are being challenged. Their making choices to remain in ruts, or not even choosing - unknowingly staying where they are on their paths.  Some are good possibly, but most seem frustrating - who's even headed for any happiness at this point.

The brilliance of it is you can see why they're headed this way- the thousand tiny little steps that have backed them into these corners. I have a feeling this is not a romance. He's unsparing - not cruel at all - but unsparing how he looks at all of them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter I

There's a lot to this one. I'm heading to bed, so I'll follow up on this. Great things said in this chapter, and almost too much to quote, but an amazing paragraph about people deceiving themselves. We're back with Pierre, and he's disillusioned, but unable to do much but drink, and keep himself busy. He's not doing well.

Pierr is becoming an old "gentleman-in-waiting" in Moscow, just being at parties, beloved by everyone for his wit and his wallet. He has moved into his house in Moscow with the "dried-and drying-up princesses" since for him "Moscow was comfortable, warm habitual, and dirty, like an old dressing gown."

It's such a deft portrayal of someone falling into a rut of drinking and loss. There's a long paragraph I won't retype here that just catalogs the counter-intuitiveness of thought and action of everyone around him, from finding his wife witty and charming while he knows she's "never loved anything except her own body, and is one of the stupidest women in the world" to Napoleon, to the outward appearance of piety and giving of his Masonic brothers who will not give to their own community or poor. He sees a Christian law that everyone gives lip service to but no one follows - a universally acknowledged lie.

"He experienced the unfortunate ability of many people, escpecially Russians--the ability to see and believe in the possibility of goodness and truth, and to see the evil and falsehood of life too clearly to be able to participate in it seriously."

So he keeps busy, and he drinks - "Nothing is either trivial or important, it's all the same; only save yourself from it as best you can!" thought Pierre. "Only not to see it, that dreadful it!"

He's putting it off, to think about it later, while it destroys him now. Not a good place, this one.

I love that he puts in "especially Russians". He knows his audience. I'm quarter Ukranian/Hungarian Jew and quarter Russian Jew. I wonder if that counts? Certainly, for this world view, it may. It sounds awfully familiar...

One day, we keep hoping for Pierre, one day.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Volume II, Part IV, Chapter XIII

Oh, the countess is not happy. The count is unhappy, since he knows that if he wasn't such a bad manager of his affairs and being robbed by Mitenka, then they wouldn't be in the position they are in.

So the countess is outright mean to Sonya, and Nikolai almost says something he'll regret forever. He threatens to get married in secret. The count goes to Moscow to sell the estate with Sonya and Natasha, and Nikolai goes back into the army. Natasha's too sad to write to Andrei any way but perfunctorily.

Well, this is just a sad ending to this part. We're into part five next, and I'm hoping that we get some of this out of the way. It's not looking good. I think war might come in between here. But I'm really sad for the Rostovs. I know I should be rooting for Nikolai, but he's so clueless it's a little challenging. He even knows a bit about the finance, but living with his head in the sand like his father. Sigh.

The writing, as always, is beautiful.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Volume II, Part IV, Chapter XII

Nikolai drive Sonya back, since Natasha who "always saw and noticed everything" arranged for it to be just the two of them and two maids.

When they get back, Sonya is very excited, as is Natasha. Natasha speaks to Nikolai about how only recently their mother expressed her displeasure at the match.

Sonya and Natasha go to their rooms, and play a game where they look for their loves in the mirror. Natasha sees nothing, but Sonya feels pressure and lies and says she does. Natasha thinks it's Andrei, who they were looking for, and Natasha peppers her with questions. Though she's happy for Sonya, it's clear Natasha is very unhappy about Andrei, and worried nothing will come of it.

I'm worried about the match that Nikolai is making and what will happen to the family. Will something swoop in and save them?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Volume II, Part IV, Chapter XI

The fun continues at a neighbor's house - the one they were traveling to in the last chapter. It's a house with a widow and her 4 daughters. The matriarch is trying to keep them from being bored by dripping wax into water and trying to tell fortunes from it.
They all love the revelers, and pretend to not recognize them, then they all dress up. Someone tells a ghost story, and Sonya, uncharacteristically brave, volunteers to go into the barn to check it out.
Nikolai, who has been seeing Sonya in a whole new light (by the way, in the last chapter, Sonya felt her entire future would hinge on this one night - so you know what's going to happen), decides at the minute Sonya is going to the barn to go outside and get some air. He intercepts her, and they kiss. It looks like the deal is sealed.

Can I be ambivalent about this? I know it's not like the Russian aristocracy is going to last more than 100 years after this anyway, but I'm a little torn about this - Nikolai is loving Sonya, but now his family will more than likely lose its house and its lands, throwing everyone into poverty. I don't know that Natasha marrying Andrei will do anything about this. So there's a shadow over the whole thing.

They're obviously drawn to each other and have to do what they have to do, but I feel a little loss for the old way of life. I love the Rostovs, but it doesn't feel like they have any notion of how to save themselves.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Volume II, Part IV, Chapter X

"Does it happen to you," Natasha said to her brother, when they had settled in the sitting room, "does it ever happen to you that you feel there's mothing more - nothing; that everything good has already happened? And it's not really boring, but sad?"
"As if it doesn't!" he said. "It's happened to me that evertything fine, everybody's merry, and it suddenly comes into my head that it's all tiresome and we all out to die. Once in the regiment I didn't go to an outdoor fete, and there was music there...and suddenly felt so bored..."
"Ah, I know that. I know, I know," Natasha picked up. "I was still little when it happened to me."

I love this chapter. It starts off with philosophizing, and then these extremely young people - Natasha, Nikolai, and Sonya, begin to reminisce. They're joined by an older gentleman, Dimmler, who is immediately drawn into their conversation about the soul and imagining eternity.

Natasha is asked to sing by her mother, and does it refusing all the while. Petya interrupts and she cries. Mummers come to the door, and then they all get dressed up and decide to go to a neighbor's house.

Nikolai, in a troika with Sonya and Natasha, decided to race the other. It's a beautiful scene of snow and speed - the horses going fast; the snow being churned like sugar; this beautiful sense of Nikolai's of being completely disoriented and happy. He can't quite figure out where they are but is deliriously happy. Delirious, maybe. Voices point out his mustache and eyelashes are white - they must be covered in frost - laughing and giggling.

It's brilliant and random - they start of slightly bored, reminiscing about the past and trying to figure out their place in it, and end up delighted, covered in snow and full of joy. It's amazing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter IX

Natasha is bored, restless, unhappy.

It's near Christmas, and Tolstoy sets the tone by telling us it doesn't feel like Christmas, but everyone has to to go through the motions anyway. Nikolai is napping, Sonya's working on a pattern, and Natasha is working on creating some drama.

She keeps saying to her mother, "I want him. I want him," referring to Andrei. She goes through the house, enlisting servants to various busywork. T even says she has no idea why she's asking or for what, but does and makes something up. She sends one to get oats, and another to get a rooster, and another to get some chalk. Still another to heat up the samovar.

She doesn't necessarily come across as spoiled, and T says that she asks most of the servants as if testing them, not believing they really will do anything she asks. They do. I think this kind of thing, where servants with individual personalities and characteristis quickly, is from Tolstoy's own experience as a count. This is how servants were treated, and what they did. The line between family and servants seems to move all the time. They are obviously very familiar and forgiving with each other.

Natasha tells her mother that her youth is being wasted, her loveliness, her. No one can do anything. The sameness of the day to day is driving her crazy, and the sameness of all the people. She keeps thinking things are happening in the way they have happened before. She seems off-kilter.

The chapter ends with her and Nikolai retiring to their favorite corner in the sitting room, where they have their best conversations. Maybe the mood will pass.

We have so much to keep us entertained now - it's a great exercise to think of all the things they didn't have 200 years ago. I guess I'd be stir-crazy, too.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter VIII

Things were not cheerful in the Rostov house.”

That’s how this chapter ends. The Count is hemorrhaging money – he is aware of how much he is losing and how close he is to ruin, but he can do nothing to stop it. There are still about 20 people who live with them, people who come over and win money from the count at cards since he’s a bad player, and obviously many who take advantage of the Rostov’s.

The countess is trying desperately to get Nikolai to marry Julie Karagin, who is now rich, and her mother is open to it. She tries to talk to Nikolai, who only cruelly asks if he would sacrifice his happiness and desires for this match. The countess cannot bring herself to ask it, and just cries. He doesn’t visit Julie, and then goes back to the army still in love with Sonya. Sonya, meanwhile is above reproach but the countess still gets annoyed with her, precisely because of that.

Natasha gets word Andrei’s wound has re-opened because of the warm climate, or he would be coming back. He’s delayed, and she starts falling into sadness, feeling like she’s wasting herself.

Well, I can hope for a happy ending here since I like the Rostovs (even though, perhaps because of, their humanity and big hearts). It’s heart-breaking how they’re so themselves, isn’t it? The count is feckless and big-hearted, and doesn’t realize people are taking advantage of him. Nikolai is consumed with himself. The countess is self-sacrificing, but unable to muster the strength to take any control of the family. I’ll keep my fingers crossed…

The count walked about in his affairs as in an enormous net, trying not to believe that he was entangled and with each step getting more and more entangled, and feeling himself unable either to break the meshes that ensnared him or to begin carefully and patiently to disentangle them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Film Fest

So I've been inundated with a film festival here in LA, up late seeing screenings and then up early to work.  Needless to say it's cut in on my W & P time, especially since there are some long chapters lately - 7 pages takes a lot more time than 2. So tonight and tomorrow are two late nights, but then I'm house-sitting this weekend and hope to get some quality reading/writing time in....

Till then....

Monday, July 12, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter VII

So you read a chapter and think “that one was great”, but then he comes along and just outdoes himself. I would use the phrase “the words leap off the page”, but that’s kind of trite and doesn’t really cut it. It’s more you step through and into the world where the feelings are so deep, and moments passing by are juiced for all their flavor. I almost can’t sit still and feel like laughing when I’m reading a chapter like this one. It’s the simple things – food, music, friendship, laughter – and Tolstoy serves them up in such a way that I can’t help being pulled in. Who hasn’t had that perfect food, or a moment of such joy and satisfaction.

It turns out that this man is their uncle, but an eccentric who lives alone in what seems like a lodge. He has servants, and a housemaid, Anyisa Fyodorovna. Natasha and Nikolai first balk somewhat in the surroundings, but then are captivated by Anyisa’s wonderful food, the music of the balalaika, and their uncle. There’s also a Russian essentialism running through it, that Natasha, though half French, can dance like a Russian because its in her soul. Underneath it politically I’m sure is the love for the peasant, the Russian, the nationalism that was sweeping the world in the 19th century, especially at that time (or I could be reading that into it). Tolstoy doesn’t feel completely on the side of the monarchy, and seems to be looking for some essential way of living underneath. But that’s not for here and now. The writing is just wonderful, and here are some of my favorite passages:

“Natasha ate everything, and it seemed to her that she had never seen or tasted anywhere such buttermilk flat cakes, preserves, so fragrant, such nuts in honey, or such a chicken….Natasha, her eyes shining, sat straight backed on the sofa, listening to them. She tried several times to wake up Petya and give him something to eat, but he mumbled incomprehensibly, evidently without waking up.”

“At once, in time with that sober merriment (the same that was breathed out my Anisya Fyodorovna’s whole being), the tune of the song began to sing the souls of Nikolai and Natasha. The uncle continuted to pick out the song, clearly, assiduously, and with energetic firmness, gazing with an altered, inspired gaze at the place Anisya Fyodorovna had left. Something laughed slightly in his face, on one side, under his gray mustache, and it laughed especially when, as the song got going, the tempo quickened and in running passages there would be a sudden break.”

“Natasha threw off the kerchief she had wrapped around her, ran and placed herself in front of her uncle and, arms akimbo, made a movement with her shoulders and stopped.
        Where, how, and when had this little countess, brought up by and émigré Frenchwoman, sucked this spirit in from the Russian air she breathed, shwere had she gotten these ways, which should have long been supplanted by the pas de châle? Yet that spirit and those ways where those very inimitable, unstudied Russian ones which the uncle expected of her….She did it exactly right, and so precisely, so perfectdly, that Anisya Fyodorovna, who at once handed Natasha the kerchief she needed for it, wept through her laughter, looking at this slender, graceful countess, brought up in silk and velvet, so foreign to her, who was able to understand everything that was in Anisy and Anisya’s father, and in her aunt, and in her mother, and in every Russian.”

“What did Nikolai’s smile mean, when he said ‘He’s already been chosen’? Is he glad of it or not? He seems to be thinking that my Bolkonsky wouldn’t approve of, wouldn’t understand this joy of ours. No, he’d understand everything. Where’ is he now?” though Natasha, and her face suddenly became serious. But that lasted only a second. “Don’t think, don’t dare think of it,” she said to herself…”

I love that. I love that she just cuts it off, doesn’t go there. In the carriage, she and Nikolai laugh, and she says she’ll never be as happy as she is now. He tells her to be quiet, that’s not right, and each in their thoughts is thinking how wonderful the other one is. Nikolai, of course, is wondering why she has to get married and take herself away. She’s just thinking how dear he is. There’s a light on at home. Is it foreboding? I don’t know, but the chapter is warm, and lovely.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter VI

This is a long one, all about hunting again.

Nikolai and Natasha are still out. Nikolai sees a fox, run over by other hunters, and sees his hunstman get in a fight with another.  It turns out he is with a rival landowner Ilagin.  Nikolai is ready to be angry (and Tolstoy says that in his way without any other information Nikolai takes all on the words of others).  Instead, Ilagin is a nice, courteous man, who suggests they all hunt together.  Nikolai then notices a nice dog Ilagin has.  Ilagin notices his Mitenka.  T lets us know that Ilagin, though playing her off, gave his neighbor three families of house serfs for the dog the year before.  Isn't that nice?

The men, of course, can't wait to see a rabbit, and watch as their dogs try to get it, each rooting for his own hound.  They are not impartial as they say.  In the end, Nikolai's uncle's dog wins.  So neither of the owner's dogs do, and this man who is not a nobleman's dog does (I don't think he's an actual uncle, but that's unclear to me).  Either way, the two pompous ones end with their tails between their legs.

The great moment for me in this chapter is Natasha's shriek right after the drama of which dog, if any, would capture the hare.

"At the same time, Natasha, without pausing for a breath, let out a joyful and rapturous shriek, so that shrill that it made their ears ring.  With this shriek she expressed everything the other hunters had expressed with their simultaneous talk.  And this shriek was so odd that she herself would have been embarrassed at such wild shrieking, and they all would have been surprised at it, if it happened at any other time."
What an odd, thing, huh?  Natasha is so excitable, yet it's a perfect gesture. He's been building this pressure for the last few chapters, and gives it to her to release.  It's a great moment.

As is the shaming somewhat of the nobleman.  It is upsetting to my sensibility that anyone would have traded several humans for a dog, but that was the currency was.  Still is, in some parts of the world, but that's another story.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Not so fast...

I thought I was going to be all smart and post-date chapter VI since I have an event from 9 AM - 12PM today, and I'll more than likely not be able to see straight and just want to go to bed when I get home, but it's one of the longer chapters.  So, instead of trying to cram reading and writing into 25 minutes I currently have, I'll go ahead and write about it tomorrow.  And sleep instead.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter V


Nikolai is waiting for the wolf to come to him. You gotta love Nikolai. He’s standing in the clearing, knowing that something happened and that the wolf possibly will come his way. He’s actually praying that the wolf will come to him, and having whiny thoughts: “I’m always unlucky, in cards, in war, in everything…if only once in my life I could chase down a seasoned wolf, I’d ask for nothing more.”

How old is he again?

The wolf comes soon enough, and we’re given a blow by blow, including Nikolai trying to rouse the oldest dog he has, Karai, to tangle with the wolf. Danilo eventually comes, and heads the wolf off from the woods, and there’s another team as well. Danilo suggests to Nikolai they tie the wolf up (a la Peter and the Wolf) instead of stab him, and Nikolai was about to do.

In the end, they catch 5 wolves – 2 from the hounds, and 3 from the Borzois. The count mentions to Danilo ”You do get angry, though, brother.” That’s the best line.

The chapter is excellent in its breathlessness and action. I looked up a bit about Russian wolf-hunting, and it was a pastime of the artistocracy. Ha- I just accidentally typed “aristocrazy”! I love that. Either way – hunting for sport in their own compound. Nikolai manages to come off not completely as a whiny twit, but it’s clear he’s acting more like an older brother than man of the house, and his posturing is getting clearer. He’s a contrast to Andrei, who is his own man. I don’t know how they’d evolve as brothers-in-law.

Sad about wolves – I guess they’re extinct in the British Isles from hunting and other parts of Europe. Still strong in Russia. They’re really beautiful animals. And you can’t help but wonder at the dogs, who are domesticated wolves, pulling the wolf down. Tolstoy is writing this around the times the serfs are emancipated (1861) – I wonder if this is analogous somehow. I’ll think on that, but good to remember that as a hum in Tolstoy’s world at this point.

It’s a great chapter – or series of them. I just have to wonder if its foreshadowing anything. The capture of the wolf is so detailed. Dolokhov is mentioned as flashing in Nikolai’s mind – perhaps he’s the wolf. He has been before.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter IV

The hunt.

And I think we may have met our first transgender person in the novel, Nastasya Ivanovna, and old man with a beard in a woman's coat with a woman's name (note the -a and -ovna ending - huh - I'll have to do some research.

More on this chapter tomorrow, meanwhile, here's a Borzoi to contemplate. There were about 40 of the 130 dogs in the wolf-hunting party who were Borzois. I've always thought they were extremely beautiful - I've seen a couple who look like half-moons, but not that sturdy - dog of the aristocrats. They actually, it turns out, were bred to hunt wolves. There are 54 bloodhounds as well for the hunt.

Here it is tomorrow already - that was fast. This chapter is comedy. While Danilo, the huntsman, is very serious, the count, Ilya Andreeich, is a little tipsy and comes across as bufoonish. This is the only chapter I remember him being called by his first names, which must be an indication of the familiar. Semyon, his valet, is with him, and they talk. The count has had a meal and half a bottle of bordeaux - Semyon compliments him on his children - Nikolai, Natasha, and Petya - and how well they ride, hunt, etc. The count eats it up. Meanhwile they know the reserve so well they pick up where everyone is by sound.

In the end, the wolf comes directly toward them. Nastasya (the buffoon) gets off his horse to pick up the counts dropped snuff box, which was dropped when the count was startled at Semyon yelling at a dog. All three get stuck with the wolf loping toward them and into the bushes, followed by two packs of bloodhounds. The wolf is lost. Danilo even yells at them, what I figure must be profanity, since it's just a letter and a blank: "A______!", he cried, raising his whip threateningly at the count. "You b___ed the wolf!...Some hunters!"

It's pandemonium. Comedy. I'm sure the hunt's not over.

This wolf hunting reminded me of Peter and the Wolf, which I used to listen to repeatedly as a child. So good.

Then there's this Oscar winner from a few years back, which is wonderful, too, though much grittier.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter III

This one's all about hunting. Beautiful prose - he saw a morning than which nothing could be better for hunting: it was as if they sky was melting and, without wind, descending to earth."

Nikolai plays with the dogs, who come up to him on the porch, and discusses the wolvees with Danilo, the head kennelman and huntsman. He's a little intimidated, but knew that "Danilo, who scorned everything and was above everything, was still his serf and his hunter." Nice. People and dogs are similar. In fact, Danilo is portrayed as like a horse or a bear in the living room, so out of place is he.

Natasha demands to go, and Nikolai, like a petulant child, says something like "mama said you're not allowed." You can almost hear him stamping his foot. It's a beautiful fall day, which in Russia, and for the gentry, means hunting. It's irresistible in this chapter - "like a lovesick man in the presence of his beloved" it's described. Well, we'll have to see what the primal looks like in the next chapter, hunting a wolf and her cubs.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter II

Nikolai calls Mitenka out on a mistake, and kicks him outside. He's taking things into his own hands. The count tries to tell Nikolai that Mitenka just carried 700 roubles to the next page, and didn't do anything, but whatever Nikolai wants to do he's right. Nikolai apologizes. The counts says he knows cards, but damn these muzhiks (peasants) and their carrying over. Nikolai rips up a promissory note for two thousand roubles from Anna Mikhailovna and Boris since they were poor and they're friends. Then Nikolai goes out to hunt to carry on his father's tradition.

I can't feel to good about their prospects. I have a bad feeling about that promissory note - I think Boris will marry rich and help them in no way at all. And though Nikolai has more bluster, it's clear he's just as senseless about money as his father. Oh, Rostovs - good hearts, but I'm fearing for your wallets.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Volume II, Book IV, Chapter I

This is the kind of chapter that makes me want to skip forward and see what happens.

Nikolai is safely ensconced in the army, in what Tolstoy calls the "obligatory, irreproachable idleness" of military service. He is finally scared into coming home from a letter to his mother saying if he does not come home and help run the house soon they'll lose everything.

There's a great detail about him not wanting to go home, but by the time he's there he rushes the house like breathless as a boy. Natasha is engaged, which he doesn't trust, and neither does his mother, he finds out. I love that in his case it's the lack of betrothal and the delay, while for his mother it's "that hidden feeling of ill-will a mother always has against her daughter's future marital happiness." I don't know if it's true across the board, but it feels like it reveals some truth we all somehow know. These are the moments I love in this book. Now her mother thinks it's ill health, and Nikolai doesn't feel that Natasha is acting like a woman waiting for her betrothed.

Meanwhile, it's made me suspicious, too. I don't know what's going to happen, but it makes me want to skip ahead....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Volume II, Book III, Chapter XXVI

Six months have passed since Andrei left, and he sends Marya a letter telling of his engagement. HE said he would come home that minute and marry Natasha, but the doctors tell him he needs three more months at the spa. That's menacing....

She shows her father the letter, and that makes him sour and talk of death, or of marrying Mlle Bourienne. And he gets even meaner to Marya, who meanwhile fantasizes about being a Christian wanderer. She's even gotten the outfit. She thinks Andrei's wanting to attach his happiness to another woman after the death of his wife is foolish - that all bliss is no attachment. But she loses her resolve with her nephew and her father- she "loves them more than God" which is shameful to her.

I do love in Tolstoy's narrative how he goes into the mind of each character. His tone changes with each one. I do not question Marya's piety - he does not. And he doesn't make fun of it. I'd need to know more of his views before projecting if he himself has a message, but I don't doubt he does. I hear there's more philosophizing later, so I'll enjoy the characters for now.