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.

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