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.

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