Saturday, August 28, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter IX

I’ll spare you most of this, though like all of this book, it’s a great read. Tolstoy breaks down the factions of the army Andrei is entering into:

Pfuel faction – military theorists, believing there is a theory and practice to war – includes the German princes, and others, “predominately Germans”.

Opposite of Pfuel faction – bold action interested Russian nationalists. Want an advance into Poland and all new plands

Third party – sovereign and all his most trusted, who made deals between the two above parties – mostly non-military like Arakcheev

Grand Duke party – heir to the throne, wounded by Austerlitz, and afraid of Napoleon

Barclay de Tolly party – want Barclay de Tolly in power since Benningsen messed it up in 1807

Benningsenists – Benningsen is the best and he proved it in 1807

Sovereign lovers – basically people who adore the emperor and wish he would just abandon his “excessive distrust of himself” take command of the military

Then there’s this great nugget – “The eighth and largest group of people, which was so enormous it outnumbered the other ninety-nine to one, consisted of people who desired neither peace nor war, neither an offensive movement nor a defensive camp in Drissa, or wherever if might be, neither Barcaly not he sovereign, neither Pfuel nor Bennignsen, but who desired only one thing, that that most essential: the greatest benefit and pleasure for themselves.”

So, when Andrei is arriving a new party is forming, one that believes that having the sovereign around is a bad idea, since everyone is worried more about how they can help him and pleasing him than winning the war. So they convince him, under the guise of “inspiring the people”, to go back to Mosow. And he leaves, not in charge of the army (which Napoleon mentioned was a bad idea earlier anyhow).

This chapter is great illustrating how the distance of history can make things so much clearer. I’m sure in 1812 this wasn’t as clear, but Tolstoy has cut through it. There’s a little comedy from distance so far, and the tone definitely points out the ridiculous in it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter VIII

Andrei is looking for Kuragin to avenge Natasha. He follows him to Petersburg, then finds he is in Turkey so gets posted there. Once he gets there, Kuragin has gone back to Russia. His life gets a little easier, but the betrayal by Natasha “struck him the more strongly the more he tried to conceal its effect on him from everyone.” The sky is low and clear to him again, as opposed to how it was on the field when he almost died. He annoys his General with his constant activity (he’s industrious), so he’s granted a transfer back to the Western Army.
Andrei goes back to visit Bald Hills, colored by his recent experience with Natasha. He doesn’t feel at home. His father is crankier than ever, and more mistrustful of the world. Andrei, at his father’s goading, tells him what he thinks of Mlle Bourienne, and that his father is being unnecessarily harsh to Marya. His father calls him out for “judging”, which is true irony, being who he is, and throws him out. Marya convinces him to stay one more day, during which she asks him to forgive his father. He cannot, he says, as that’s a woman’s place, but realizes if she is begging for forgiveness for him, he should have punished him long ago – and that leads him to his hatred of Kuragin, whom he vows once again to find. He feels like his son will grow into these people - “the deceived or the deceiver”. He says to himself , “I’m going to the army – why? I don’t know myself, and I wish to meet a man whom I despise, in order to give him an occasion to kill me and laugh at me!” All that seemed coherent seems ridiculous and incoherent to him now.

This is a bleak chapter. It’s brilliant how Tolstoy conveys Andrei’s sense of distance from his family. He’s at a bit of a remove to start with, but you can feel how his heart has been broken. It was broken before, with Liza, but this has a different quality to it. Contrasting him with Rostov and Nikolai’s love for Sonya, Andrei feels more aware of his responsibility, and also to honor and morality. He’s not completely in it for himself, but from his coldness you might think so. His abandonment of his son in this chapter is off-putting. He just stops in the middle of a story that he’s telling his son and leaves the room, realizing he feels nothing for him – he has no tenderness, and his son only reminds him of when he was happy. Poor kid. It’s kind of a shocking moment. Andrei does seem a little self-obsessed here, but somehow it feels like he’s on his way to something. Shocking moment with the son, though.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


So, I'm still reading daily. I'm up to chapter 11, but I'm just not figuring out how to write about it. The writing might be a little anemic through here.  There's a lot of war stuff and strategy - here's where a good knowledge of history of the war would help. I suppose this is how I'm getting it.  In any case, I'll be back, but I'm not feeling incredibly motivated.  I'm sure I'll end up writing something today, if only to get to T's diatribe on the character of the Germans.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter VII

Balashov, after that encounter with Napoleon, is invited to dinner with him. Napoleon of course spends the entire time trying to get a rise out of him by saying things about Russia, finally pulling his ear (literally) and asking him why Balashov didn’t say anything in response to Napoleon’s saying that Alexander shouldn’t try to take charge of an army and should just stay in his business ruling.

It turns out having your ear pulled “Avoir l’oreille tirĂ©e avec l’Emperueur” by the Emperor is a great honor.

Napoleon lets go, asked if the horses are ready for Balashov to go, and then tells him to take his, since he’ll have a long way to go.

“All the details of the conversation were conveyed to the Russian emperor, and the war began.”

It’s clear from this chapter what a hothead Napoleon is. He’s been equated with that for most of the time since. His tirade in this chapter about throwing the Germans out is almost ecstatic in its anger – he blows up for no reason. So Tolstoy is definitely painting him as an ego out of control. Makes sense – there seemed to be no limit to his ambition. You have to wonder about when these people get into power, and be thankful that most despots stop at their own country. When they are outsize like Napoleon, or Hitler, you have to be thankful they are defeated, as once they have what they want you can’t help but think they’d then start destroying what they have. That kind of ego is never satisfied.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter VI

This is a great chapter. Tired of me saying that yet?

Anyhow, Balashov is introduced to Napoleon, who T tells us is fat, in about 5 different ways – fat and short – “round stomach…fat haunches of his short legs….plump white neck…full, youthful face with its protruding chin…stout, short figure, with its broad, fat shoulders and involuntarily thrust out stomach and chest.” And Balashov notes, that the court is lavish and elegant beyond any he’s seen. And this is in the house Alexander just abandoned.

He’s all self-importance and impatience from the get-go. He’s also incredibly self-interested – “It was clear that only what went on in his soul was of interest to him. Everything that was outside him had no meaning for him, because everything in the world, as it seemed to him, depended only upon his will.”

During the interview, in which he “the more he spoke, the less able he was to control his speech” he convinces himself more and more of his rightness. It’s quite a performance. His leg begins to tremble, his right calf specifically, and he stops only to take snuff. So it kind of feels like an addled coke addict talking a mile a minute. Balashov tries to cut in, but has no luck. Napoleon is convinced of his own opinion, and convinced Balashov is as well. There’s a lot of political background, but trust me, it’s great – and a little all over the place in an very entertaining way – “’I know everything,’ Napoleon says at one point, discounting all of Russia’s allies (he’s decided the Russians are allied with the English, though Balashov has said that they are not) ‘..The Swedes, their destiny is to be ruled by mad kings. Their king was insane, they changed him and took another, Bernadotte, who promptly went out of his mind – because no Swede who wasn’t a madman would conclude alliances with Russia.’ Napoleon grinned spitefully and again put his snuffbox to his nose.”

Balashov tries to interject, but to no avail, and believes that he’ll be ashamed of his words once he gets past this angry rant. So, he “stood, his eyes lowered, looking at the movements of Napoleon’s fat legs, and tried to avoid his gaze.”

Kind of a 19th century Mel Brooks here – get ‘em with comedy. Napoleon keeps saying what a fine reign Balashov’s master might have had if he had only been intelligent with his alliances. He keeps saying that over and over, and taking more and more snuff. He finally exits saying that he is devoted to Alexander and that he would have had such a fine reign. He leaves, and everyone rushes to the door to follow him down the stairs.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Volume III, Part I, Chapter V

This description of Davout is just wonderful (after we're told he's just a mean person, the likes of which are inexplicably near power but necessary in the state mechanism)-

It would have been possible to find a better location, but Marshal Davout was one of those people who deliverately set themselves up in the most gloony conditions of life, so as to have the right to be gloomy.  Fo the same reson they are always in a hurry and stubbornly busy. "How can I think you about the happy side of human life, when, as you see, I'm sitting in a dirty shed and working," said the expression of his face.  The chief pleasure and need of these people, on meeting life's animation, consists in throwing their glomy, stubborn activity into the eyes of that animation.

Davout is short and rude to Balashov, and takes the package from him and reads it.  He orders Balashov to stay, and he ends up riding with them for four days. Finally, it looks like he'll meet Napoleon.  "Four days earlier, the sentinels of the Preobrazhensky regiment were standing by the house to which Balashov was brought....Napoleon was to recieve Balashov in the same house in Vilno from which Alexander had sent him off."

Wow - that's ballsy.  I think beyond that, even.  He's marched around for four days, to end up in the same place he left from, but this time as a prisoner, ostensibly. If Napoleon wanted to show power, this is certainly a way.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter IV

There's a great little character detail to start the chapter with the Tsar, and something that made me laugh. The sovereign doesn't include his (T tells us) famousphrase about not surrendering while there is an armed man in Russia in the note to Napoleon as he feels "it would be inappropriate to convey these works when a last attemot at reconciliation was being make; but he told Balashov to convey them without fail to Napoleon in person."

It's two in the morning on the 14th of June, but the sovereign sends Balashov out with the note. He reaches the French at dawn.  No one really wants to take him seriously, and he's taken to a colonel to take him to a commander to take him to his destination. At this point he runs into Murat, who is known as the King of Naples, and brother-in-law to Napoleon. He has much plumage, having a reputation for just dressing as gaudily as possible and riding through the streets.  He assures Balashov that Napoleon has no wish for war, but was offended by the request to withdraw his troops from Prussia.  So, Murat considered Alexander the instigator.

This line of conversation Murat broke off "in the tone of a conversation between servants who wish to remain good friends despite a quarrel between their masters."  Balashov thinks he'll now meet Napoleon, but instead is sent to Davout.  Hmmmm.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter III

Meanwhile, back in Poland, waiting for things to happen, the sovereign is being feted by Count Benningsen in the Vilna province. He's been in Poland for a while.  Funny that the last soldiers who through themselves in the river for Napoleon were Polish, too.  Hmmm.

Anyhow, here we are at a ball in Vilna.  Boris shows up, without his wife, and dances with Helene, who naturally is there - all the aristocrats follow the tsar. Boris is up to his old tricks - he has money now because of his wife but still wants to be in the right circles.

The sovereign is pulled over by Balashev, who whispers something in his ear. Alexander grabs his shoulder and walks quickly across the room. Boris is nearby, and overhears him say that he will not make peace as long as there is one armed Frenchman in his country.  He's not happy to have had Boris overhear that Russia has been invaded without the declaration of war that they've all been waiting for, but Boris sure is. He has special information now that will make people think he's privy to things he's actually not. 

The sovereign writes Napoleon a letter apologizing for some incident about passports (I'm so much more interested in the people I just glide over some of these things),  but does not mention the phrase he came up with about not having peace while there is a single armed man on Russian soil.

I read a little on Wikipedia the economic reasons which aren't mentioned in the novel so far, either because in 1865 they weren't as clear, or because this novel is inherently on Russia's side (which makes sense), but it's interesting to note that Russia had annexed Poland, and France's invasion was ostensibly to free Poland, but Russia depended on France for manufacturing, since it was rich in natural resources, but not factories.  I'm not reading much on the history, only because I don't want to know what happens, and this book is mentioned everywhere with this war, so spoilers abound.  Anyhow, interesting actual historical context.

I aslo love Boris in there, in that actual historical event, like a cartoon character against a film.   It's brilliant how Tolstoy creates these characters and has them witness historical events. Not only do we see the Tsar's reaction to the invasion as its happening, but get this great sense of Boris' sliminess at the same time.  It's brilliant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter II

We knew the last chapter was setting us up for war, and indeed....

Napoleon invades Russia. Tolstoy is great in illustrating the ridiculous frenzy inspired by his presence, and his complete lack of interest in anything other than himself or his ambition.

There is an anecdote of a Polish officer, a colonel of the uhlans (Polish for soldier?), who wants to cross over the river Niemen without looking for a ford as requested by Napoleon, since he's so excited to be asked to do anything in front of the emperor. Napoleon had given the orders after looking through a field glass placed "on the back of a happy page who ran over" - great detail of a despot. Who knows if it happened, but great detail. So, the adjutant says that Napoleon would "not be displeased by such zeal" and lets the colonel cross. There's a horrible scene of men and horses drowning. Napoleon is not even caring or noticing - "They tried to swim forward to the other side, and, though there was a ford a quarter of a mile away, they were proud to swim and drown in this river before the eyes of a man who sat on a log and was not even looking at what they were doing....For him it was no new conviction that his presence at all ends of the world, from Africa to the Steppes of Muscovy, struck people in the same way and threw them into the madness of self-oblivion. He ordered his horse brought and rode to his camp."

Forty men drowned in the river, and I'm sure this was an historical event. They still, in wet clothes, yelled "vivat" to him as he passed, even with bodies needlessly gathering on the river.

Napoleon gives an order about "enrolling the Polish colonel who had needlessly thrown himself into the river in the Legion d'honneur, of which Napoleon himself was the head."

Tolstoy ends with a Latin phrase along the lines of "who the gods would kill they drive crazy first." It's perfect to end this chapter, as we see how little life means to the French emperor at all. Tolstoy picks the perfect event to illustrate it. The mass frenzy, too, is an entire paragraph of French snippets of men excited to be back in battle and near Napoleon. I think it's important to remember that this was still a time that most people believed their leaders were monarchs - gods or close to them. To the monarchy Napoleon might have been something of a usurper, but to the people his godlike status was unquestioned - at least to his people. Tolstoy mentions Napoleon's second wife, after anulling his marriage to Josephine, and sets us up for what his idea of his self is. The invasion into Russia is framed as just something done without much thought - that it was deserved and his land anyway.

We know how this plays out historically, but Tolstoy is making it about fascinating personalities.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Out of town

Out of town this weekend, and took today as a vacation day. Not that many people (if any) are reading this, but I'm trying to keep this to exactly a year. So, tomorrow, another one or two. Ah, back to 1812.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter I

Ah, Volume III. Halfway through - ppg 603-606 of 1215 (not including the 5 page appendix). War. 1812. I at least know how this one turns out. Waterloo.

This chapter is philosophizing about the nature of large historical events, and the inability we have to actually pinpoint their causes:

"Fatalism in history is inevitable for the explanation of senseless phenomena (that is, those whose sense we don't understand). The more we try to explain sensibly these phenomena of history, the more senseless and incomprehensible they become for us."

"History, that is, the unconscious, swarmlike life of mankind, uses every moment of a king's life as an instrument for its purposes."

The argument is that kings are connected to more people, so more easily their actions are traceable or affecting to others, but they are still at the mercy of history, of millions of little decisions, and the larger human hive-mind that seems govern large events. They are avoidable, Tolstoy intimates, but only if other decisions had been made. Each soldier deciding to fight, the historical events that precede it, etc, cause it to come into being.

“The deeper we go into search of causes, the more of them we find, and each cause taken singly or whole series of causes present themselves to us as equally correct in themselves, and equally false in their insignificance in comparison with the enormity of the event, and equally false in their incapacity (without the participation of all other coinciding causes) to produce the event that took place.”

In other words, who knows? But this book is in some ways coming to look at those millions of causes. I was struck the other day with the Dangerous Liaisons section that those 12 chapters could easily have been (and have been) entire novels. It’s one episode among many. I’m still amazed at the breadth and I’m only halfway through.

There is a great point at the end about no one thing being the sole cause – that when an apple ripens and falls there is more than one reason it does so, but to the child beneath the tree it’s because he was hungry and to the botanist it’s because the fruit is rotting – and they’re both correct-

“As he who says that Napoleon went to Moscow because he wanted to, and perished because Alexander wanted him to perish, will be both right and wrong, so he will be right and wrong who says that an undermined hill weighing a million pounds collapsed because the last worker struck it a last time with his pick.”

There is predestination about it – in fact he comes out in the last sentence and says at much that it’s all been willed before all ages. It’s an interesting argument, and a philosophical one at that – whether we have free will. I don’t know much about Calvinism, but that’s what I think of – it’s intertwined with religiosity for me (as is the language a bit).

I did hear an interesting Radiolab program about decision making, though, that there have been brain scans done about this, and they all show that when we think we’re making the decision, the part of our brain responsible for the decision actually activates after the action. In the experiment, when subjects were told to just raise their finger at random, the decision was actually made after the impulse to move the finger. That’s fascinating. This reminds me of this chapter, and though that is evidence against the idea of free will, it’s challenging to feel that nothing you do is actually your decision. That’s where the fatalism comes in, but I think it can easily be an excuse for inaction. Though that's not the case with these people.

Tolstoy even says, if any of the causes were correct, none of them explains why men when out and killed each other by the millions. His dispassionate language on this is perfect - it mirrors the senselessness of war itself. The language is simple and points out the ridiculousness of the action - "For us, it is not understandable that millions of Christians killed and tortured each other because Napoleon was a lover of power, Alexander was firm, English policy cunning, and the duke of Oldenburg offended."

It's tempting though, to look at this as some part of the wave of blood and revolution that was sweeping across the world at that point - the American and French revolutions both happened within the last several years before this, and were not settled yet - still Napoleon was a result of the bloodshed before him, and the War of 1812 was happening in the States. It's hard not to feel like it was destined with all that happening at the same time. Tolstoy, from the opening paragraph where he recounts the horrible deeds that men did to each other but did not call crimes at this moment, feels against war. And I also can't help but wonder how "millions" read in 1865. We can comprehend that now with New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Paris, Tokyo, any number of even larger cities in the world. In 1865, to say millions murdered each other and committed crimes against each other in the name of war would have felt like describing infinity perhaps. I'm a little off track here, but I remember going to New York for the first time and shutting down from all the people. When speed is 12 miles an hour, how must that phrase of "millions" rung to a nineteenth century reader. It must have been awesome.

We’ll see what develops, though we know the outcome (in the book at least since it's written already) is predestined.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapters X-XXII

This is going to be a big summation. I've been saying I'm about twenty chapters behind, so I just whipped through 12, which is actually fitting for this group of chapters. It ends the volume. Lots of plot. Many tears. I love people again and hate others still more. And can't figure Andrei or the Bolkonsky's out. It's fitting to group these chapters together under the heading "The Anatole Affair".  Hopefully we're done with him after this.

So, after the opera, there are a couple of heated meetings in which Natasha loses her head to Anatole. Helene, who really is evil, visits Natasha and compliments her, calling her "deliciuex" (delightful, though I love the diminutive sense of delicious in it).  On behalf of her brother, she thinks it would be fun to humor him and to ruin her  - on some level she knows this must be true. She does know about her engagement to Andrei, but I don't think she knows her brother is already married - secretly, to a Polish farmgirl who he was forced to marry by her father. That sounds like an opening to a joke, doesn't it?

Anyhow, the Rostovs go to a party, and Natasha completely falls under Anatole's spell. He, for his part, is passionate about her.  They exchange letters, and decide to elope. Sonya, proving her loyalty to the Rostovs, eventually capitulates and spills the beans to Marya, who they're staying with. Marya (Dmitrievna, not the Princess) has already gone to meet the old Prince Bolkonsky, and was met with rudeness and shouting. She shouted right back.  She breaks the elopement, and tries to silence everyone, but there are whispers. Dolokhov arranges the whole thing, so you know he can't be silent.  And Anatole gets over it quickly. 

Natasha is not so lucky.  She breaks off the engagement with Andrei through a letter to Princess Marya, and really believes she's in love with Anatole, though Sonya tries to talk some sense into her.  She even thinks that Pierre must be okay with it, through a faulty logic that Pierre must know what's going on.  He doesn't, and is horrified when told of what happened. He takes it as more evidence of the inconstancy of women.  His wife, who is involved, he is rude to when he sees her, even insulting her to her face that whereever she is there is "depravity and evil".  Ouch.   He tells Anatole to leave after threatening him, and then apologizing and giving him money.  Poor Pierre.

Natasha, after finding out from Pierre that Anatole is still married, tries to poison herself. She hasn't been crying, but has "parched lips" (there's that mouth thing again) and a set face.  She takes ill, and then tries to swallow arsenic, though does tell Sonya when she's scared for what she's done.

Pierre, meanwhile, talks to Andrei who is back now.  Andrei just returns her letters, is very business-like, says he cannot forgive, and asks Pierre to never speak of it again. Marya, Pierre notes, is secretly quite happy at the broken engagement, even though she'd written a letter to Natasha telling her that she loved her (false). Pierre goes back to Natasha, who feels awful and is "tormented" by the wrong she's done him.  She asks Pierre to ask Andrei to forgive her, and begins to shake. Pierre agrees, and asked if she loved "the bad man".  She doesn't know, but feels that she is ruined forever. Pierre is touched and tells her if he were free,  and"the handsomest, brightest, and best man in the world" he would ask for her hand.  He wipes away tears. Something happens between them.

Pierre leaves, and there's a comet in the sky that people have presaged meant the end of the earth.  Pierre, his eyes wet with tears, gazed joyfully at this bright star, which, having flown with inexpressible speed though immeasurable space on its parabolic course, suddenly, like an arrow piercing the earth, seemed to have struck here its one chosen spot in the black sky and stopped, its tail raised energetically, its white light shining and playing among the countless other shimmering stars. It seemed to Pierre that this star answered bully to what was in his softened and encouraged could, not blossoming into new life.

Wow - that's quite a way to end a volume. I like that this whole section is behind us, and ends hopefully. I really hope Natasha is not a fallen woman, and can be saved. Kuragin is awful, as is Dolokhov, which is apparent. There's a great paragraph describing the coachmen who runs them around - having driven horses to their death, run over peasants, and sped along at 12 miles an hour - that's the breakneck speed in 1812.  Helene and Anatole's escapade reminds me of Les Liaisons Dangereuses", in which two nobles plot to ruin a young girl, who is easily corrupted. That was published in 1799, I think, or thereabouts, so it would be possible that Tolstoy would have read it. I don't think he based Helene and Dolokhov on the Marquess and the Viscount in that book, but this little escapade reminded me of it.
I'm so glad this is behind us. I feel awful for Natasha, but hopefully not all is lost. She is terribly shaken, even ill, and I can't imagine this is good for the family, but I'm crossing my fingers for goodness.

Beautifully written, as always.  It just speeds along - I couldn't wait to read the next chapter.  Hence, all 12.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter IX

Ah, the theater.

The lights go down and Natasha is confused by the artifice of the opera.  People are singing and the sets are cardboard and it seems ridiculous. She's intoxicated by it all, though, and all the people.  Anatole Kuragin, Helene's brother comes in, impossibly handsome and notices her. He asks his sister who she is, and says "how charming", which she notices.  She's excited by it all. 
During the first intermission, Pierre comes over to talk, and Anatole sits in his sister's box.  Any time Natasha looks over he's looking at her.  Finally Helene asks for an introduction.  She says she's charmed by Natasha and how can she have been hidden in the country. Countess Bezukhov was entitled to her reputation as an enchanting woman.  She was able to say what she did not think, and especially to flatter, with perfect simplicity and naturalness.
By the end of the second act, when everyone is applauding for a dancer - she describes everyone as having bare legs on stage, and the countess herself being entirely exposed - she says he's wonderful along with everyone else. 
Helene indicates that she knows of Natasha and Andrei's relationship, so her brother must, too, but that doesn't stop him from pouring on the charm.  Hopefully Natasha will not be so bowled over by this whole world as to jeopardize her relationship with Andrei.  It's clear, from the stars in her eyes, she might if she's not careful. 
I love the description of theater in this chapter - a fat woman waves her arms and sings, and other people all sing at each other while backed by cardboard.  At one point, the woman on stage is abducted, but not before everyone sings about it first. It's all action, and completely incomprehensible to her - another thing for Tolstoy about corrupt and fake society, I think.  We'll see how it shakes out.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter VIII

We're off the opera with the Rostovs.  Natasha didn't want to go, but it was a kind gesture from Marya (I love those little details), so she gets dressed up, and sees in the mirror that she is pretty, very pretty, she felt still more sad; but this was a sweet and amorous sadness."

We are in deep romanticism here, folks. Natasha is just daydreaming of Andrei and how she would hold him and love him, embrace him and speak words of love.  She's preoccupied.  She and Sonya, both pretty, get to the opera and sit down in their box. For a long time she had not experienced that feeling, both pleasant and unpleasant, of hundreds of eyes looking at her bare arms and neck, which suddenly seized her now, calling up a whole swarm of memories, desires, and emotions corresponding to that feeling.

Natasha sees Boris and Julie with the Karagins, Julie,.. with pearls on her fat, red neck (which Natasha knew was daubed with powder).  Not so attractive, and she knows Boris is talking about her and Andrei. And behind [Julie and Boris] in a green toque, with a happy festive face, given over to the will do God, sat Anna Mikhailovna.  Given over to the will of God - such a great phrase for her pompousness and machinations  - that in her eyes it's the will of God since it's in her favor.  Love it.

Dolokhov is even there, in Persian dress, with a bunch of his followers.  Small town, must be.  Back from Persia where he became a minister for killing a shah's brother.  Nice guy.  Natasha notices a beautiful lady in the next box over - Helene, Pierre's wife.  Her father says something to her about the opera, and she studies Natasha, who is bowled over by her beauty.

And then the opera starts.

I love how Tolstoy always puts the right people in the right places. It's always tantalizing, as you're just unsure what's going to happen between them.  It's amazing, with the relationship that Natasha has with Pierre, that she's never met Helene.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Volume II, Part V, Chapter VII

So, at Marya’s advice, Natasha and the count go to meet Marya and the old Prince. 
He, of course, won’t receive them. Ilya Andreich (count Rostov) is flustered, which surprises Natasha.  Mlle Bourienne meets them, then Princess Marya.  Marya is covered in blotches from being flustered - not only does she already want to hate Natasha, her father yelled at her that he would not receive them. 
Count Rostov takes this moment to excuse himself, on the pretext of running an errand, to leave Marya and Natasha alone.  The writing is great in the layers of discomfort and embarassment.  Natasha blushes for her father’s fear and anxiety, and then is angry at herself for blushing.

It’s clear that Marya would like to speak to Natasha alone, but Bourienne will not leave them room. She chats on about nothing, causing Natasha to be forcedly casual in a way that only annoys Marya further. 

On top of this, the old Prince walks in, saying over and over that he did not mean to come in in his dressing gown, had no idea she’d be there, as God as his witness. He leaves, and as Bourienne talks about his ill health Natasha and Princess Marya silently looked at each other, and the onlger they looked at each other silently, without saying what they needed to say, the more ill-willed their thoughts about each other.
Finally, as they are leaving, Marya goes up to Natasha to tell her that she’s glad her brother has found happiness. She stops, as she’s not speaking the truth.  Natasha senses this and cuts her off, telling her it’s not the right time. 

She goes back to Marya Dmitrievna’s and sobs.  Marya Dmitrievna knows what happened, but at dinner speaks as if it didn’t. 
You can just feel Natasha’s pain at having to meet this strange, awkward group without Andrei. T even describes their house as gloomy. Andrei’s beginning to feel like an apparition, even to me at this point. You can’t help but wonder where he is, if he’s even still alive. That thought, that something bad happened, is starting to occur to me. 
And what’s happened to his son?  He must be around, but he’s 6 years old at this point, we’re told. You’d think that he’d be a little more present.  It’s 1811, I guess, then, if he’s six.  Time still a little unclear to me in this. I’d find a timeline on-line, but it would ruin the plot things I don’t know.  I want to keep it a mystery.