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.

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