Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XIX - XXI

This whole section is about the battle at Borodino outside of Moscow – I think until the end of the volume, and I’m about there. There’s so much great stuff, but I was kind of tempted to just sum up all the chapters in one entry. Instead, I’ll go ahead and write for a few – I’ve read ahead several chapters – I’m almost at the end of this part of the Volume. Really having my doubts about finishing in time. I haven’t done the chapter math, but I have 424 pages left to go in 58 days. That’s an average of over 7 pages a day to read, not including the writing. I need to get a move on. Oy. Durn job and social life!


This chapter is all military strategy and the battle of Borodino. It’s Tolstoy the narrator giving his view of events, and theory about battles – namely that the historians are wrong and the reasons that things went the way they did was completely reactionary in the moment. It’s about Napoleon choosing his position, and if he would have done something on the 25th instead of the 24th, and what the Russians would have done. According to Tolstoy, history has been rewritten to not compromise the glory of the Russian people, but the army was twice as weak as the French and in a surprised, accidental position.

There’s even a map. And I looked up the word “redoubt”, which is a fortification.


Pierre is driving out of Mozhaisk with a green coat and white hat. He really does seem a bit of a buffoon. It’s all troops marching, and Pierre caught in the middle, all unsure where they’re headed. There was a cart of wounded men, and singing of the cavalry men. It’s hot in the sun, but “where Pierre was standing, it was damp, bleak, and sad.” Ugh. Pierre keeps driving along looking for familiar faces, but is only met with shock at his size and outfit. He runs into a doctor he knows who tells him to go see Kutuzov so he would be safe during the battle.

He ruminates a little that these men were possibly going to die tomorrow, but they were surprised by his hat. Pierre goes on and sees muzhik militia men, enjoying what they were doing – building fortifications. “The sight of these bearded muzhiks working on the battlefield, with their strange, clumsy boots, and their sweaty necks, and some with their side-buttoned shirts open, revealing their sunburned collarbones, impressed Pierre more strongly than anything he had seen or heard so far about the solemnity and significance of the present moment.”

There’s a lot in this book about the peasants, and people’s reaction to them, though it’s telling we don’t really meet them. This is a story about the nobility for the most part. The peasants, as a group, are a symbol, reason for rumination, the future, etc., but not characters as far as I see.

Pierre is so lost in some ways – he keeps looking for an answer and for a way to be of use, but can’t help being a bit of a lummox.


Pierre arrives in Borodino, and keeps asking what the Russian position is (and we learned about it in XIX). He’s interrupted by peasants carrying the Mother of Smolensk icon. There’s a beautiful scene in which Pierre marvels at the solemnity and devotion of the muzhiks, and even of some of the Officers who were. The servers are weary, but even with their lazy singing “all the faces lit up again with the solemnity of the present moment that he had seen on the faces at the foot of the hill in Mozhaisk and had glimpsed on many, many faces he had met that morning: heads were bowed more frequently, hair was tossed, and sighs and thumps of crossings on breasts were heard."

Kutuzov arrives, and the men of lower rank continue praying, not really acknowledging him. “When the service was over, Kutuzov went up to the icon, knelt down heavily, bowed to the ground, and for a long time tried and was unable to standup because of his heaviness and weakness. His gray head twitched with the effort. Finally he stood up and, with a childlishly naïve puckering of the lips, kissed the icon and bowed again, touching the ground with his hand. The generals followed his example; then the officers, and after them, crushing each other, stamping, puffing and jostling, with excited faces, came the soldiers and militiamen.”

Just beautiful. The writing is cinematic before cinema. It’s another marvel of his writing - he deftly moves between the specific in scope (Kutuzov) to the general (the men rushing the icon). It’s such a beautiful scene, too, showing the politics of the military, the faith of the men, the physicality and age of the general. The arrival of the icon with the thumping of the breasts and tossing hair - it’s all you need to know.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XVI - XVIII


Sweet intimate moment between Andrei and Kutuzov. Andrei tells Kutuzov he would rather be with the men that have a position with him, which Kutuzov understands. Kutuzov is deeply moved, and his eyes glisten with tears as he says they'll make the French eat horseflesh. The serenity goes back to reading his book as Andrei leaves - a French book, of course.

Andrei realizes that Kutuzov is the best person to be in his position because he knows who he is and what life is. "He won't have anything of his own. He won't invent, won't undertake anything...but he'll listen to everything, remember everything, put everything in its place, won't hinder anything useful or allow anything harmful. He understands that there is something stronger and more significant than his will - the inevitable course of events - and he's able to see them, able to understand their significance, and, in view of that significance, is able to renounce participating in those events, renounce his personal will and direct it elsewhere. And the main reason one believes in him...is that he's Russian; despite the Genlis novel and the French proverbs...."

It's intimate between the two men; Kutuzov has known Andrei since he was a boy and respects his need to be with the troops. This determined outcome is something T comes back to again and again - that the men are just pawns in an outcome that has to happen. What is that, Calvinist? I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it religious, but there's a feeling that history is written in hindsight, and the men who are acting are just fulfilling it without realizing. For sure, especially with communication as it must have been in 1812, one man's orders were only as good as the thousands carrying them out hearing from others. Craziness. Now it's all computers


Gossip in the circles. Back in Moscow. Everyone's deserting, and the government officers have left. There's a rumor that count Rastopchin is not allowing people to leave Moscow. There is gossip about Pierre, that the regiment was costing him much, but that he would ride in front of it and let people look at him without a charge. Julie Drubetskoy's circle made fun of him that way, and they were a circle that fined people for speaking in French. Pierre comes in and they speak of the Rostov's, who are unable to sell their house. Pierre says they're waiting for the younger son to return to leave. Then there is the revelation that Marie Bolkonsky is back in Moscow, and is said to be smitten with Nikolai after he saved her (word travels fast!). At the end, someone tells her she should pay a fine for speaking in French, and it ends with her saying 'But how do you say it in Russian...?'

Brilliant chapter. Not only does it sum up a lot of information, it does it while relating the out-of-touch quality of the nobility, and their inability to even speak their native language. It's wild to me how bound up the Russians were with the French at this point - as if the aristocracy didn't even speak the same language. And though this was written in 1865, 40 years before the 05 revolution, and 52 before the big one, you can feel it stirring. Tolstoy was an aristocrat himself, but it's clear he holds no absolute love. That's another treatise, though...


Pierre decides he must go into the army. He's met by his last remaining cousin, whom he has cared for since his father died. She's hysterical about leaving, and feels she must be taken to Petersburg to avoid Bonaparte's rule. He tells her the city is fine, and that's she's been misinformed. Pierre plays a game of patience and tells himself that if it comes out he'll join the army - he doesn't. He does, though, agree to sell an estate for a militia, as that's the only thing that can be done. He goes to a village to look at a hot-air balloon being launched to fight the enemy (we're way before planes, remember), and he sees the flogging of a Frenchman. He is beaten so badly that he begins to cry. Pierre is upset at the crowd's taunting the man, and gets angry. He leaves for the army immediately, and the further he goes toward the battle the lighter he feels. The chapter ends with this: "He now experienced a pleasant sense of awarneness that everything else that constitutes people's hapiness, the comforts of life, wealth, even life itself, is nonsense, which it is pleasant to throw away, in comparison with something...With what, Pierre could not account for himself, nor did he try to clarify to himself and for whom and for what he found it so particularly delightful to sacrifice everything. He was not concerned with what he wanted to sacrific it for, but the sacrificing itself constituted a new, joyful, feeling for him."

The brilliance of this book, one of the many, are characters coming upon life lessons - that's not original, but what is is the way they float in and out, changing. They are strong one moment, forgotten the next - elusive, and life changing at the same time. He also does those moments like the execution so well - crowd scenes, humanity, people displaying sometimes not their best selves. So great.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XIII-XV


Rostov and Ilyin, along with Lavrushka (the one who talked with Napoleon), go on a ride from their camp and end up in Bogucharavo, where they hope to find some pretty young women to flirt with.

They arrive just after Marya’s meeting with the peasants. Dunyasha goes out to ask their names, and Alpatych tells them the whole story: that the Princess is stuck there with all the bags packed as the peasants have threatened to unharness the horses and let them go. If she stays they will obey her, but if she tries to leave, they’ll stop her.
Nikolai meets her, and is struck immediately by her nobility and grace. There’s a great moment here about decorum – “With the respectfulness of his tone, Rostov seemed to be showing that, though he would consider himself fortunate to make her acquaintance, he did not want to use the occasion of her misfortune to become closer to her.
Princess Marya understood and appreciated that tone.”

More will be revealed, but I’m pretty certain of what it is. I do love imagining what’s not explicit here – the smell of the grain, the dark hallways of the house in summer with the dresses rustling against the wood floors; the rooms with the small, ornate furniture; the rush of Dunyasha bringing Nikolai into meet the princess.

This book is so great.


Rostov gives the muzhiks a piece of his mind. They’re quarreling among themselves about what just happened. Nikolai walks up and starts calling them traitors and asking for people to be bound. When he calls for Dron, two of the other peasants actually come up and hold his hands behind him. He tells them to get to their houses, and help load the carts, and within two hours everything’s ready. They’re even worried about damaging her nice things. I don’t know if it’s a lot to believe, or if it’s just not something I have experience in, but he does make the peasants seem simple-ish. I guess they would be used to a male authority figure, and any rebellion would obviously not be organized or able to stand up to the existing hierarchy. Certainly this one folded quickly.

Rostov doesn’t see the princess in her house, but does ride with her to an inn along the way and allows himself to kiss her hand when he leaves. She is smitten, and realizes she may be falling in love. He feels the same, but gets angry thinking about her wealth and being teased, let alone the promise he made to Sonya. It would, though, solve his family’s problems, as well as make both him and Marya happy (if not Sonya). It seems pretty clear he feels it, too, though. Ah, romance.


Andrei goes to Tsarevo – Zaimishche to see Kutuzov. I love that town name – probably because it ends in ish-che, which just sounds really Russian to me. Everyone calls Kutuzov “his serenity”. That’s a great detail.

And guess what? Denisov’s back! He’s there to talk to Kutuzov about a battle plan. He makes Andrei think of that long ago time with Natasha, and how Denisov was in love with her.

Kutuzov arrives, and takes Andrei and Denisov with him. He tiredly listens to Denisov’s plan:

Everything Denisov has said was practical and intelligent. What the general on duty was saying was still more practical and intelligent, but it was obvious that Kutuzov depsied both knowledge and intelligence, and knew something else that was to decide the matter – something that did not depend on intelligence and knowledge…it was obvious that Kutuzov despised the intelligence, knowledge, and even the patriotic feelings shown by Denisov, but he despised them not with his intelligence, feelings, or knowledge (for he did not even try to show any), he despised them with something else. He despised them with his old age, with his experience of life.

He tells the general that he can’t do anything about looting, since if you allow it or not it doesn’t matter. “Oh, German scrupulosity!” he says. Supposedly the Russians called all foreigners “Germans”. But either way, Kuzutov is old enough to know what he can and can’t do.

Interesting chapter. Glad to see Denisov is back and afire again. He’s one of my favorites, and I love his speech impediment thing. Yay.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters X - XII


Marya is sitting around, locked in her room, lying on a couch, thinking about her “inner loathsomeness” for thinking as she did about her father and the possibility of his dying before he died. She’s interrupted by Mlle Bourienne, who gives her a leaflet from the French they’ve been dropping in the village asking the villagers to cooperate. Suddenly, hit with a bout of nationalism she runs up to Andrei’s study and calls for help. She asks Dunyasha to tell Bourienne to not come near her, and to leave quickly. She’s horrified at the thought of the French coming into their house, being treated well by Bourienne, and possibly taking liberties with her as well.
She calls Alpatych to see Dron, who finally comes to her. He explains that there are no horses for her to leave, and that there has been no food for them to eat.
She is shocked and says they can have the master’s grain, and anything they have is for the muzhiks. Dron once again asked to be relieved of his keys and his duty, which confuses her.

I don’t think it’s this chapter, but I can’t remember if I mentioned that the peasants were talking about setting the horses free rather than permit her to leave. I think they think it would be more dangerous if they were left alone, but also know that if she leaves they have no protector, either. So they’re forcing her to stay.


The muzhiks gather to talk to her. She addresses them, telling them that she is giving them all their grain, and whatever they’d like, and begs them to come with her to the Moscow estate where they will be taken care of.
They react badly, all talking about going into servitude, and being in bondage to her. They tell her to go by herself.
Strangely, none of them will look her in the eye. She leaves, asking Dron to have the horses ready for departure, and to be alone with her thoughts.

At this point, I was slightly confused, but it makes some sense – they don’t know what they’re being asked to do except abandon their lives and everything they’ve known to follow this woman. She doesn’t seem all that powerful or knowing, really. Just sad. So I’m sure it’s thinking she’s a clueless noble who wants to do good but doesn’t think about anyone else in it. Either way, I think it’s interesting no one will look her in the eye


Marya is obsessing about her father’s death, namely that she didn’t go to him when she felt that she should have, for fear of upsetting him, and all the while he wanted to see her. It seems like they had a reconciliation, but she feels she could have been there more for him.
She then remembers him in the coffin, and freaks herself out, basically.

She’s a fragile flower, that Marya. One has a to be a little careful with her, I think. She does love hating herself a lot. I guess you gotta have a hobby, right?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters VII - IX


This is an interesting chapter. It’s based on a French history of Napoleon by Thiers. It’s an account of Napoleon meeting with a peasant, who doesn’t know who he is and speaks frankly with him about the war. He says, in the end, that Napoleon may have beaten everyone else, but the Russians are different. When he finds out that he’s speaking with Napoleon, he rolls his eyes, freaks out, and is silent – according to Thiers: “All of his loquacity suddenly stopped, to give place to a feeling of naïve and silent admiration. Napoleon, after rewarding him, set him free, like a bird that one sets back to the fields where it was born.”

Well, that’s some prose for one, and I’m glad I don’t have to read an entire book of that. The interesting thing about this chapter is that T makes that peasant Lavrushka, who is Denisov’s serf from earlier in the book. So in Tolstoy’s mind, Lavrushka knows who Napoleon is the entire time, and doesn’t let on. He acts the fool, but is aware the whole time. It certainly credits him with a lot, but even better takes another one of the novel’s characters and puts him in an historical episode and changing the entire effect of it. It’s certainly nationalistic of Tolstoy to do this, believing the Russians, and especially the Russian peasants, to be smarter than everyone else when they need to be. Or at least resourceful. It’s a great insertion of fiction in the history.

Lavrushka meets up with Rostov at the end of the chapter, as Napoleon rides of self-satisified, and rides off with he and Ilyin to explore the villages.


Alpatych came back from Smolensk. The old Prince ordered the militia up, got dressed, and went off to go see the commander. Moments later, he’s brought back up the walk, wheezing, and nearly lifeless. He had a stroke.

They move to Boucharavo, which is the house Andrei was working on and living in earlier. For three weeks his condition doesn’t change. They can’t move him further, to Moscow, but it’s becoming more dangerous to stay. Marya permits herself to think perhaps it would be better if he did die. And, emboldened by this, “all her personal desires and hopes, forgotten and dormant in her, had reawakened.” Of course, since it’s Marya, she feels awful, believes it’s the devil, and beats herself up and tries to pray.

Since it’s more and more dangerous to stay, she decides to leave on the 15th.

There is a beautiful death scene, in which he tells her he loves her and asks for forgiveness – he’s difficult to understand from his stroke, but she can decipher, and then he manages to get out some words. It’s highly melodramatic, but certainly effective.

Of course, she immediately berates herself that she has been wishing that he would die, that she wished for it. She’s finally stopped from coming back in, then called to his body. She’s horrified by it, as she’s immediately aware that whatever was of him is now missing.

There’s a beautiful bit about the dressing and the coffin, the floor “strewn with juniper boughs” while the people crowd shyly around and kiss his hand. You can imagine the midnight darkness, candle light, wood and white linen.

Okay, he’s gone, and now Marya’s alone. I wonder how long before she will start blaming herself. Will it now be freedom, or lifelong mourning?


Alpatych and Dronushka (Dron) the head muszhik in the town. We learn that these peasants are headstrong, and have been known always to do what they want. They’re great workers, and strong, but smart and willful as well. Alpatych is trying to get them to furnish carts and horses for the Princess to leave to Moscow, but it’s apparent that they will not help. Dron says they have no horses and no carts. Alpatych knows this is incorrect, but doesn’t push, although he does tell Dron that he sees “seven feet under you!” which is a skill ascribed to sorcerers. Dron keeps wanting to back out, but Alpatych will not let him. “He had been managing peasants for long time and knew that the main means of getting people to obey consisted in not showing them any suspicion that they might not obey.” Whatever sense that makes.

Either way, they don’t, and Alpatych has to give up his own cart and horses.

It’s apparent Dron doesn’t want to be in the position, but none of the muzhiks are okay with helping the princess leave.

It’s an interesting chapter, as there aren’t nobles in it for the first time. Or soldiers. It’s a discussion between peasants, where we can see how the workings and negotiations are between them. Once again, these people are property, and that’s apparent. It seems it’s true that it requires a good manager. Alpatych might be okay, but it’s sure the old Prince and Andrei who they respect. And neither are here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters IV - VI

These chapters are so rich that they’re deserving of more than I’m giving them here, but for the sake of expediency –


Alpatych goes to Smolensk, which is promptly attacked. Even while it’s being attacked, the man whose inn Alpatych is staying in, Ferapontov, refuses to leave believing that everyone is over-reacting. There is a letter saying that Smolensk will not be attacked from Barclay de Tolly, since it is being defended by two valiant armies. The letter, obviously, is wrong. Tolstoy has not much use for bureaucrats.
Alpatych tries to escape, but is stopped by the fire. He runs into Andrei, who gives him a letter to his father and his sister to evacuate. Berg show up again, self-satisfied, trying to ask why Andrei is standing doing nothing with buildings burning. He realizes who Andrei is, and backtracks.
The chapter ends with Andrei spurring his horse away as the villagers ooh and aah at houses burning and their stores of grain going up in flames.
This chapter is just beautifully written – so much about what people will not give up and their reactions to disaster. There are great images, and it feels lived, actually. I don’t know if it was, or T just read many accounts, but it feels experienced. The characters, as usual, are rich and full even if only seen for a moment. It’s a great chapter.


Andrei visits Bald Hills, which is deserted. It’s only 3 days after the old Prince, Marya, etc, have moved on and evacuated, but in that time it seems like the place is a shambles – fences torn, grain taken, things broken. It looks like troops came, looted, and moved on. It’s all very sad. The garden is even overgrown (which probably took longer than 3 days, but whatever). Andrei passes one old, deaf peasant sitting by himself. And then Alpatych, who has stayed and taken names. It’s been three weeks of heat with no rain.
Andrei seems a little careless about Alpatych, and tells him to tell the people to go to another of their estates – I suppose since they are property they have nowhere else to go and no one to support them.
Andrei passes two little girls who are taking green plums and frightens them without meaning to. He hides and spies on them as they laugh and in their bare feet run off with the plums. There is a pond on the way in, but it’s been sapped dry. He comes across a pond on the way out and wants to swim in it, and then sees his men, all dirty and swimming in it. They offer to get out for him, but he’s disgusted by the sight of all this naked flesh in the pond.
The chapter ends with a letter from Arakcheev about how the army is suspicious of Wolzogen, and that they never should have lost Smolensk.

It’s a bit of a departure, that letter, from the rest of the chapter, but interesting in the aftermath of the loss of the town. The whole chapter is elegiac, sad. I find his reaction to the bodies in the pond. They call him “our prince” and try to evacuate the pond to give him room, but he “shuddered, not so much from the cold as from revulsion and horror, incomprehensible to himself, at the sight of this enormous number of bodies splashing about in the dirty pond.” I suppose it just seems sad, and odd to him, especially considering it was his estate. Sad.


Clever, funny chapter all about Prince Vassily vacillating while running between Helene (pro-French) and Anna Pavlovna's (pro-Russian) salon. Since vacillate means "to sway to and fro", I wonder if that's the inspiration for Vassily's name in this. He has to remember what he says at one, and who he supports and doesn't (in this chapter mostly about the merits of Kutuzov). He's actually called short by someone about his changing opinions, but sloughs it off. There is a young man - l'homme de beaucoup de merite is how he's called - who challenges Vassily a bit - including the above remark about having had a problem with Kuzutov before. In the end, based on saying something tactless, Vassily and Anna sigh and his naivete. It's a bunch of snakes in this chapter, and T is quick to let us know how fickle they are, but especially Vassily.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters I-III


Much discussion of strategy and the outcome of the war. It's an interesting discussion boiling down to the argument that all the strategy and decisions made, the battles lost, actually had the function of pulling Napoleon deeper into Russia, which was his undoing. No one would have thought that, and no one would have advised that, but it was ultimately what won the war for the Russians. Once again little decisions and unforeseen ones decide the fate of all.


Not sure of Russian geography, but the troops are closer than ever to Bald Hills. It's clear the old prince is not in his right mind. He received a letter from Andrei, reads it, but still is in denial. The rest of the household is ignorant of anything. The letter is read aloud, and Marya is confused about the geography, so doesn't know the French have passed the river her father says they'll never pass. He's also raving about Poland, which was the battle in 1807. The old prince is frustrated, and no one wants to stand up to him, even though it's clear they're in danger. They explain it away by saying he is preoccupied with new building, but it's clear he's getting more senile. They are sending Alpatych to Smolensk to check things out.


Old Prince Andrei sends Alpatych to Smolensk, after two hours of instruction. He's confused, and trying to remember something. After Alpatych leaves, he picks up the letter from Andrei and only fully at that moment grasps the meaning that the French are a four day march from Smolensk. He immediately starts thinking about that past, and wishes for it all to be over.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapters XXII & XXIII


During a large gathering of nobility, a manifesto was read by the sovereign which “evoked raptures”. "...as soon as things touched on the war and what the nobility had assembled for, the talk became indecisive and indefinite".

A naval officer speaks, and the translators made a great choice giving him a Southern American dialect. It works for the “especially resounding, melodious nobleman’s baritone, pleasantly swallowing his r’s and dropping consonants, that voice in which one calls out ‘Youtheah, a pipe!’ and the like.” Love that. He speaks against a militia and for conscription. He calls the sovereign ‘the sovn’.

Pierre takes a moment to say it would be better if the nobility knew what troops were already deployed, and how many, and then could better know what to do if they were given an idea from the Emperor what he needed. He is resoundingly attacked from all sides. He’s told that it’s not their place to do that, and no one can know that information, anyway. These are the moments when you see how much of a monarchy this world exists in. It’s so much like our own, and then the king-idea comes in, and servitude, and the actual world view brims forth. It’s amazing to think what a revolution a revolution was out of this frame of mind. It’s like revolting against god, and people who thought they were. Always amazing to me.

Someone calls Pierre the enemy of mankind. And there’s much shouting amidst the people who are pretending they don’t care.


Here’s where the real monarchy comes in. The sovereign enters and asks the men to raise a militia. The Moscow nobility ‘donates’ ten men per thousand with full equipment. Pierre is swept up, seeing tears in the sovereign’s eyes (having just given a speech to the merchants), and in his zeal donates a thousand men.

“Pierre had no other feeling in that moment except the desire to show that it was nothing at all to him, and he was ready to sacrifice anything….
Old Rostov could not tell his wife what had happened without tears, and at once agreed to Petya’s demand, and went to sign himself up.
The sovereign left the next day. All the assembled noblemen took of their uniforms, planted themselves at home or in the clubs again, and, groaning, gave their stewards orders about the militia, astonished at what they had done.”

Mob patriotism fever. This isn’t to say that some nobles weren’t fighting, but when they talk of donating men, it’s once again clear that they are property-owners, and their property is the serfs. Wow.

End of Book I