Thursday, October 28, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XIX - XXI


This is all about Pierre. He feels something is coming, something that will involve him. A friend introduces him to the prophecy in the Apocolypse of St. John, that Napoleon is the Anti Christ – by putting “L’empereur Napoleon” next to corresponding values of the Hebrew alphabet, the numbers add up to 666. Pierre desperately wants to have this happen for him, since he feels so bad about himself, that he bastardizes his name to “l’Russe Besuhof” after trying several spellings of his name, and ends up with 666 (the e in “le” would’ve made is 671, so he drops it). So it’s in this ecstatic, magical thinking he’s trying to find a solution:

His love for Miss Rostov, the Anitchrist, Napoleon’s invasion, the comet, 666, l’empereur Napoleon and l’russe Besuhof – all that together must ripen, burst, and lead him out of that spellbound, worthless world of Moscow habits in which he felt himself imprisoned, and bring him to a great deed and great happiness.

Pierre intercepts a letter to the Rostovs with news of Nikolai’s decoration and also of Andrei’s promotion. He would have liked to have been a soldier, but he couldn’t for being a mason, and also for now being numbered by the beast – “he was therefore not to undertake anything, but to wait for what was to happen.”


Pierre visits the Rostovs. Much dinner conversation. Petya wants to enlist. Much patriotism. Pierre is confused – “Natasha’s unusually brilliant and animated eyes, constantly turning to him with more than affection, had brought him to that state.”

He leaves, upsetting Natasha, but telling her he cannot visit her as often. He gives no more reason than things to do, but he’s in love with her.


This is a grand, sweeping description of Petya going to attempt to enlist. He is going to try and speak to the sovereign directly, but gets caught up in the throngs of people to see him. He is almost trampled. He is swept up in the excitement. Near the end of the chapter, the sovereign walks out on to a balcony and drops a bit of a biscuit, which is picked up by a cabby. People throng to him. The sovereign asks for a plate of biscuits to throw into the crowd. Petya rushes forward trying to get a biscuit (Interestingly, as historically accurate as a lot of this novel is, this scene is made up completely – there is no biscuit dropping mentioned anywhere in the history of this time). Petya knocks an old woman out of the way, and then stops her arm with his knee to get a biscuit.

You really get an idea of how frenzied people were for their Tsar. It’s wild. The writing is exciting, of course, and you’re swept up in it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XVI-XVIII


Natasha's sick. Really sick. Tolstoy doesn't have much use for doctors

Natasha's getting better, but still doesn't like to do anything but spend a little time with her brother. She takes communion, liking that and the preparation.

Natasha goes to church. Prays, is struck by the prayer. She herself prays for all and for herself peace and happiness in life and feels that god hears her.

She's healed!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Daily practice

I didn't realize how far off I've gotten on daily practice. It's been nearly two months!!  That's way too long.

So now I have 172 chapters in 90 days.  I want to do a few a day until I get caught up - that may be a while.  Wow. It's amazing how quickly a short break turns into a very long one. 

No reader clamoring - lol. But still, it's wild how fast time passes.  Glad to be back with the advent of Autumn.

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XIII-XV

I’m so behind on the blogging!  I’m going to be doing chunks of chapters so I can catch up.

Chapter XIII

Rostov and Ilyin go to a little abandoned tavern and join the other men, flirting with a doctor’s wife while her husband tries to sleep in the next room. He has no sense of humour, and the men like that so much they keep flirting with her and playing cards, which she laughs at. Once the rain stops, they leave to go back to their “kibitka”, and the men sleep under their “wet greatcoats” laughing about the night’s distractions and keeping each other up. It’s beautifully written.

Chapter XIV

The men are called up past two in the morning to begin the march again. They’re still talking about the doctor’s wife.  More beautiful nature writing about the grass, the sky, and the light.  Rostov is no longer afraid going into battle, but has compassion for Ilyin, who is.  They go into battle close to sunrise. The descriptions are great, and it must have been intensely colorful; with the “orange uhlans on chestnut horses, and behind them, in a large mass, the blue French dragoons on gray horses” with “ragged, bluish-purple clouds, turning red in the east.” It has a “joyful and rousing effect” on Nikolai.

Chapter XV

This is an important chapter.  Nikolai is chasing the battle, and there is a blow by blow account.  In the excitement, he tangles with a French officer racing toward the battle “with the feeling with which he raced to intercept a wolf” – his horse hitting the other horse’s rump with its chest.  “ the same moment, not knowing why himself, raised his saber and struck the Frenchman with it.
            The moment he did this, all Rostove’s animation suddenly vanished.  The officer fell, not so much from the stroke of thr sword, which only cut his arm slightly above the elvbow, as from the jolt to his horse and from fear.  Reining in his horse, Rostov, sought his enemy with his eyes,to see whom he had vanquished. The French dragoon officer was hoppin on the ground with one foor, the other being caught in the stirrup.  Narrowing his eyes fearfully, as if especting a new blow andy second, he winced, glancing up at Rostov from below with an expression of terror.  His face, pale and mud-splattered, fair-haired, young with a dimple on the chin and light blue eyes, was not at all for the battlefield, not an enemy’s face, but a most simple, homelike face.  Before Rostov decided what to with him, the officer cried out: ‘Je me rends!’ [“I surrender” – I guess here could be part of the French reputation]. He hurriedly tried to but was unable to disentangle his foot from the stirrup, and his frightened, light blue eyes were fixed on Rostov.  Some hussars galloped up to him, freed his foot, and sat him in the saddle.”

This is just so immediate and heartbreaking to me.  There are others around fighting as well, and hussars trying to get a dragoon to surrender a horse, or get back on one, while Rostovgalloped away with the others, experiencing some unpleasant feeling, which wrung his heart. Something unclear, confused, something he was unable to explain to himself, had been revealed to him in the capture of this officer and the blow he had given him.” Tolstoy focuses and slows time for us.  It’s filmic in a way – through the noise and clatter around we see this moment that surprises both men. It seems clumsy and awkward – Nikolia whacking the dragoon with his sword; the dragoon shocked, and caught with one foot in his saddle, having to be helped back on to his horse.  And what about that gesture?  After being defeated he’s helped by the opposition to gain his dignity back.  Imagine this in cold, wet mud at dawn.  It’s sad, and pathetic, and Tolstoy manages to show the humanity and the unexpected sadness that accompanies it.

Nikolai is given a St. George cross for his heroism.  So they’re even more afraid than we are!”, he thought. “So that’s all there is to so-called heroism? And did I really do it for the fatherland?  And what harm had he done, with his dimple and light blue eyes?  But how frightened he was! He thought I’d kill him.  Why should I kill him? My hand faltered. And they gave me the St. George Cross. I understand nothing, nothing!”   He gets promoted, his own battalion, and any mission that called for bravery.

Tolstoy makes the wolf hunting much more noble.  Amazing chapter.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter XII

This is getting complicated. Slogging Nikolai, getting a letter that Natasha is ill, and writing to Sonya that he would come and marry her if he could, but this was their last separation, and he had to fight for the fatherland. He does fantasize about country life - hunting, houses, dogs (where he’ll get the money for it, who knows, but he isn’t aware of that).
Nikolai was given his old squadron, pay doubled, and they moved into Poland.It’s the 12th of June, and a thunderstorm - a wild one. Action is to begin on the 13th. There is a new young officer, Ilyin, all of sixteen, who reminds Andrei of himself at that age to Denisov., he “tried to imitate Rostov and was in love with him like a woman.”
They are wet and cold, and Ilyin finds a tavern that some of their men are already at, as is Marya Genrikhovna, the wife of a regimental doctor.  
The nature descriptions are wonderful, water dripping everywhere. You can feel the discomfort. His writing is so beautiful, and in the midst of it always this little doubt from the soldiers, wondering what it’s all for, but in it anyway.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter XI

This is the chapter during which Andrei becomes disillusioned with the military.  There are men speaking in different languages, lost trying to communicate with each other in French, German, Russian.

And in the midst of it, Andrei surprisingly feels most for Pfuel  - “He alone of all the persons there obviously desired nothing for himself, felt no enmity against anyone, and desired only one thing: the putting into action of a plan worked out according to a theory arrived at through years of labor.”

Here’s a thing I love about Tolstoy - he was speaking, in his own narrator’s voice, about the difficulty with Germans, and his dislike for them. And now, in this chapter, Andrei is finding he has the most human sympathy for this man who is just trying so hard and is nothing but frustrated. It’s the brilliance for me of him - the fluidity of the emotions and opinions of his characters. Andrei is by no means fickle, but we see how quickly things can change.  Love it.

The big news is actually that Andrei becomes disillusioned - “What science can there be in a matter in which, as in any practical matter, nothing can be determined and everything depends on countless circumstances, the significance of which is determined at a certain moment, and no one knows when that moment will come?..A good commander not only does not need genius or any special qualities, but, on the contrary, he needs the absence of the best and highest human qualities - love, poetry, tenderness, as searching philosophical doubt. He should be limited, firmly convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he would not have patience enough), and only then will he be a brave commander.”  Witness General McChrystal who was fired last year forsaying incendiary things in a magazine.  He sounds like he fits the bill. Andrei believes in the end it’s all about the men who are on the field, and not these people in this room.

And Andrei asks, after seeing this, to be assigned to the Army, “forever lost to the world of the court.”  Not a bad thing.  He came once again to his senses, but who knows - I think this happened before, right?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter X

Whew. I’m back. This novel spans several years. One needs a break every once in a while I guess. Rearranged the furniture to include a beautiful red leather chair perfect for reading, today it’s misting outside, and I’m ready to jump back in time.

Andrei is told to go to Benningsen’s house by the sovereign, so he goes. Mostly this chapter is a description of Pfuel as a theorist. I’ll comment here that I love the compassion and care T gives to the description of the characters, even I think to the character themselves, whether or not he likes them. I don’t think he likes Pfuel all that much, though may have respect for him as a tactician. It certainly gives him time to take a swipe at Germans.

Pfuel is an a “poorly cut Russian general’s uniform, which sat on him awkwardly like a mummer’s costume.” He is impatient, angry, and this because he wants to get inside and start arguing. He even insults the Turkish action Andrei has returned from. “He grumbled something to himself in a tough bass voice, the way self-assured Germans speak…Clearly, Pfuel, always ready for ironic irritation anyway [ha-love that], was especially upset that day that they had dared to inspect and criticize his camp without him.

This does give T some time to wax on national character – “Pfuel was one of those hopelessly, permanently, painfully sefl-assured men as only Germans can be, and precisely because only Germans can be self-assured on the basis of an abstract idea – science, that is, an imaginary knowledge of the perfect truth.” [Let’s for a moment remember that in 1865 science was not to the point it was today, though I don’t know if that would change Tolstoy’s view of it. Certainly people still have this argument today.]

He goes on to say that a Frenchman is self-assured because he “considers himself personally, in mind as well as body, irresistibly enchanting to men as well as women”; an Englishman that he is a “citizen of the best-organized state in the world…he always knows what he must do, and knows that everything he does as an Englishman is unquestionably good”; an Italian “because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others”; a Russian because “he does not know anything and does not want to know anything, because he does not believe it is possible to know anything fully” [read:wise, if he does say so himself – ha]. “A German is self-assured worst of all, and most firmly of all, and most disgustingly of all, because he imagines that he knows the truth, science, which he has invented himself, but which for him is the absolute truth.”

Sounds a little like Ann Coulter.

But I digress. I think it’s safe to say T is not a fan of the Germans, or perhaps just dislikes their self-assuredness. But since this is who he says Pfuel is specifically, he has a person to universalize with. And, in this light, and the battles we’ve seen so far in the book, “military science” seems a sad, misguided oxymoron at best.

Tolstoy points out that Pfuel was an architect of a failed war in 1806, which he only uses to back up his theory – as it was his prediction it wouldn’t work since people departed from his theory. “…in his love for theory, he hated everything practical and did not want to know about it. He was even glad of failure, because failure, proceeding from departures of his theory, only proved to him the correctness of his theory.”

Gotta love that. How can that not be comedy?