Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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.  “..at 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.

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