Sunday, May 30, 2010

And then what?

I'm noticing a theme with these holiday weekends - busy, busy, busy. Lost the thread a bit for this weekend, but I'll be back tomorrow after the memorial day picnic....

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Volume II, Book III, Chapter VI

Poor Pierre. He just seems lost.

IT's two years previous, in 1808, that we meet Pierre again. Pierre has become the head of the masons involuntarily. He cannot stop his enteraintements and "bachelor companies", but now he does them and feels guilty about them. He's also paying for shortages in dues, charities, etc.

In short, he's being taken advantage of.

He begins to feel that masonry is not all it's cracked up to be. He feels there are those interested in science, those interested in god, and those interested in furthering themselves by belonging to an organization with wealthy connected people. Some, even those as rich as he is, are stingy with their dues, in direct opposition to the ideas they propound.

Unlike, and in direct contrast to Andrei, his ideas are not thought out. He gives a speech to the masons about responsibility: "The entire project of the order should be based on forming people who are firm, virtuous, and bound together by unity of conviction, a conviction that consists of persecuting vice and stupidity everywhere and with all their might, and of patronizing talent and virtue..."

Yeah, good luck with that. It actually doesn't have much of an action plan except for recruiting and secretly building people to take over towns for the masons, but provokes ire nonetheless. It strikes most as smacking of Illuminism, which had political goals, and is mostly rejected. The masons do not take it up, and Pierre leaves.

It's interesting here how Tolstoy criticizes the Russian masons for losing track, and also has that habit of referring to them as "our", assuming we are Russian readers (probably at the time a worthy assumption. You always feel like you're on his team.)

Anyhow, sad for Pierre, who seems so lost. It's a stark contrast to Andrei and his successes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Volume II, Book III, Chapter VI

More Speransky. A private visit. Andrei's moving up. Kind of insufferable. Between him and Andrei they believe they are the saviors of the world. Much talk about how stupid everyone else is.
T puts it beautifully, with a great capture of the condescension:

Speransky...flaunted his impartial, calm reason before Prince Andrei and flattered Prince Andrei witih that subtle flattery...which consists in silently acknowledging on'es interlocutor and oneself as the only people capable of understanding all the stupidity of all the rest, and the intelligence and profundity of one's own thoughts.

In the course of their long conversation on Wednesday evening, Speranksy said more than once: "Among
us everything that lies outside the general level of inveterate habit is considered..." or with a smile: "But we want the wolves well-fed and the sheep safe..." or: "They cannot understand it...." And all that with an expression which said: "We, you and I, understand what they are and who we are."

And in the end, Andrei gets a commision. Andrei's got his head on his shoulders and some compassion, which he notes Speransky does not have. I think I agree - religious zealot turned politico can't be a good thing.

Plus ├ža change, right? Amazing it still happens, and certainly with Russia there seems to be a history of charismatic religious figures swaying the monarchy. Perhaps a genetic weakness? Or just humanity. People like a strong sense of direction and what feels like new ideas. Look at Pierre with the masons. Same thing. I don't know Russian history, so Speranksy could be a good thing, but I always marvel at that kind of ego, who is so sure to have the answer to everything.

Actually, Andrei even thinks that: "In general, the main feature that struck Prince Andrei in Speransky's mind was his unquestionable, unshakeable faith in the power and legitimacy of reason. It was clear that the notion, so usual for Prince Andrei, that it was after all impossible to express everything one thinks, would never have entered Speransky's head, and it never occured to him to wonder: 'Isn't everything I think and believe sheer nonsense?' And that special cast of Speransky's mind attracted Prince Andrei most of all."

That's why the Speransky's of the world cast forth into power, and the Andrei's clean up the mess. At least that's how I see it now. Either way, it's so incredible that Tolstoy hits right on it every time- not just the types of personality, but their attraction to each other.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Volume II, Book III. Chapter V

Andrei and Speransky. I'll fill in the details demain.

Andrei meets with Speranksy, in a large group of men. Speransky it described in odd terms – alien almost, and definitely weak physically and aware of his power. Andrei’s impression - ”In no one had be seen this calm and self assurance of clumsy and obtuse movements, in on one had he seen such a firm and at the same time soft gaze of half-closed and slightly moist eyes, such firmness of a totally meaningless smile, such a thin, smooth, soft voice, and, above all, such a tender whiteness in the face and especially of the hands, somewhat broad, but extraordinarily plump, tender, and white.”

He is slow, aware of all around him but keeps the gaze of whoever he is speaking to. He knows what’s going on the room. He and Andrei have an interesting conversation, in which he makes it clear he knows who Andrei is from having freed his serfs, and that he is a liberal of the type they’d like to be allied with.

Andrei disagrees with him a bit about the ruling of the nobility, but still Speransky says they will finish their conversation later, invites him to lunch and ducks out. It’s clear he has some respect for Andrei – indeed that Andrei is who he came into the room to meet. Andrei meanwhile, has accessed more power after what he’s gone through. He is seeing with more mature eyes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Volume II, Book III, Chapter IV

August 1809. Andrei returns to Petersburg.

He has some ideas about the military, but the sovereign doesn’t like Andrei, or so Andrei thinks. It turns out the sovereign is displeased that Andrei hasn’t served since 1805, but then again, a near-death experience, being left for dead, and the death of one’s wife could do that to you.
Andrei has a plan for revising military regulations. He tells an old field marshall, a friend of his father’s, and soon he is summoned to meet with Arakcheev, who is the head of the military. Russia is carrying about sweeping reforms, based on the ideas of Arakcheev and Speransky, who has the ear of the sovereign. They change the inheritance of title ages, as well as requirements for diplomatic service.
Andrei meets Arakcheev, after waiting in his anteroom with many terrified men. Through Andrei’s eyes, we see the power plays, how people deal with not being the person in power and trying to get what they want.
Andrei meets Arakcheev, who declines his offer of regulation, saying no one even carries out the old one. On them is stamped that they are stolen from the French and deviate from policy. But, most importantly, he appoints Andrei to a commission on military regulations, with no salary. Andrei said he would have declined a salary.

Andrei asks to whom the memo has been passed, and he is told the committee for military regulations.

Score one for Andrei.

Great stuff in here describing the offices, the people in power, and how they maneuver - especially how terrified everyone is of Arakcheev. Andrei, clearly, is not. The politics I’m sure will get very interesting.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Volume II, Book III, Chapter III

Sorry I missed yesterday - I was out of town. But I am loving what's going on, and glad to be back after that last chapter. I think that scene with Andrei and Natasha is one of my favorite things that's happened so far. It will go on my list of unforgettable moments, along with:

The policeman tied to the bear
Natasha standing up at dinner
The countess asking the count for money
Pierre's mason train exchange
Nikolia's homecoming
Denisov (just in general. I miss him, and not having good feelings about where we left off with him. Dear heaghrt.)
Liza dying and looking at Andrei
Marya's people of god

Wow - there's a lot. I think I could go on for a while at this rate, so I'll cut it short.

I like this chapter, in which Andrei has a turnaround of mind from the last two years and the thoughts that have been obsessing him.

A month after that amazing moment with Natasha, he drives into the country, and looks for the gnarled old cynical oak while he's at it. He can't find it, or rather he does, and it's "transformed, spreading a canopy of juicy, dark greenery" in the evening sun, and "suddenly a causeless feeling of joy and renewal came over him". He decides

"No, like isn't over at the age of thirty one...it's not enough that I know all that's in me, everyone else must know it, too: Pierre, and that girl who wanted to fly into the sky, everyone must know me, so that my life is not only for myself; so that they don't live like that girl, independently of my life, but so that it is reflected in everyone, and they all live together with me!"

Quite a change in mood. He decides to go to Petersburg, and that it's time for him to be useful again. He's obviously coming out of mourning, but Spring and Natasha have obviously awoken something in him. The chapter ends with him chiding Marya for saying Nikolushka can't go for a walk since it's cold. Andrei, interrupted in a reverie, is "dry, stern, resolute and, in particular, unpleasantly logical." He basically tells her "that's why warm clothes were invented and that he needs to be outside.

Tolstoy tells us that this particular logic works as if "punishing someone for all that secret illogical work that was going on inside him. On these occasions Princess Marya reflected on how such mental work dries men up."

Ha. I love that. The brilliance is that even though Andrei has had this turn around he's still Andrei, son of the old count. Yes, he's had a change where he wants to be useful and not throw away his time (we've already been told how much more capable he is than Pierre at management), but he can still be -for want of a better word - a bit of a prick. I do like him a lot, though.

Also, in this chapter, is that great brilliance of following thoughts and emotions. These characters feel deeply, and Andrei in particular feels in a way that it feels as if it will last forever. He makes decisions. He stays in what he's in. I love how the moment changes though, and he's out of the state that he thought he'd been in forever. That change in emotional states - you can see it in Nikolai, too - is beautifully done. Of course, congruent with what's happening in nature as well.

By the way, it's June now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Volume II, Book III, Chapter II

So after all that, I'm just making it a short one. I loved this chapter.

Andrei goes to visit Rostov, and all their people and coziness, and wouldn't you know it, the first thing he sees is Natasha running along in the woods. He also sees her on and off all day, always happy, and assumes that she's probably stupid, but still is charmed, or intrigued, rather. "What is she thinking about? Why is she so glad?"

Elder Rostov of course wants him to stay, and says papers haven't been brought from town, so Andrei has to stay over. In the night he gets up, he can't sleep, and the spring night seems as eager as Natasha--

"As soon as he opened the shutters, moonlight, as if it had been watching at the window for a long time waiting for that, burst into the room. He opened the window. The night was fresh and stilly bright. Just under his window was a row of rimmed trees, black on one side and silvery bright on the other. Under the trees was some juicy, wet, curly growth with touches of silver on its leaves and stems. Further beyond the black trees was some rood glistening with dew, to the right a big, curly tree witha bright white trunk and branches, and above it a nearly full moon against the light, nearly starless spring sky."

How beautiful is that? Spring is moist and bursting, juicy, silver, eager. And right at the moment he leans out the window, he hears voices above him, talking. It's two girls, Natasha and Sonya. Natasha can't sleep. She wants to play a game again. And Sonya is obviously tired.

"You sleep, I can't" Natasha says, and must be close, as he can hear her dress rustle and her breathing above him. He's afraid to move. Then she tells Sonya how she may spring up and fly. Sonya annoys her by telling her it's after one o'clock. She sits for a while in the window, still, with an occasional sigh, and finally says suddenly "Ah, my God, my God! what on earth is it! If it's sleep, it's sleep!" and slams the window.

What can Andrei think? He's confused, and unable to even comprehend what he is feeling - that she doesn't care about him, or even know who he is, and he is filled with "unexpected tangle of youthful thoughts and hopes, contradictory to his whole life."

This chapter is beautiful. I'm sure it's the most, I would say sexual, of what I've read so far. But it's more that the language and the action is so full - full of spring, of Andrei's thawing heart, and Natasha's unstoppable will for life. She's captivating to all. She's a great character, and he's been tantalizing with her so far.

I read a spoiler that she marries someone else, but it was when I first was reading so I could remember wrong. It's clear she's awakened something in Andrei, though.

It's such a great description of a spring night, though. I've had Sonya and Natasha warring in my head before. One sleepy, sensible, and the other wanting to miss not a single moment and experience as much of it as possible.

Beautiful

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Volume II, Book III, Chapter I

Andrei is traveling in the country, to look after his son’s estate (convenient). The little tyke has property, and Andrei is the executor.

In the two years (it’s now 1809, and Russia is so close to France they are jointly warring with Austria) that Andrei has lived in the country, he has put into effect many of the changes that Pierre suggested. Andrei, we’re told, has done so without any fanfare and with much more success.

So we see him on the road, and it’s Spring 1809. The footman mentions that it feels light, which Andrei does not believe. Instead, he sees an oak in the midst of all the birches. It says to him not to believe in anything. The young, slim birches all believe in Spring and are happy about it, but to him the oak says ”Spring and love and happiness!...And how is it you’re not bored with the same stupid, senseless deception! Always the same, always a deception! There is no spring, no sun, no happiness.”

Nice tree.

Luckily for us it’s Tolstoy and Andrei anthropomorphizing it. Either way, Andrei agrees with it, that ”Life is over”. He comes to the hopeless conclusion that he must live “”without doing evil, without anxiety, and without wishing for anything”

Not a happy camper out there. We’ll cross our fingers that things change.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Volume II, Book III

Okay, I've been reading, but I haven't been posting. Just a respite. These first two chapters are beautiful, and I'd love to do them justice, especially this unbearably sweet moment with Andrei and Natasha when you can almost feel the air. So, coming soon....

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XXI

Well, this book ends in excitement.

Rostov is present at the peace accord between the Russians and the French. (I love how Tolstoy maneuvers and imagines his characters in decisive and important historical moments of the war – as if he’s always imagined what it was like and this gives him the chance to describe it.) Nikolai does not have a strong opinion of Napoleon, and is actually offended that the tsar would consider him emperor.

It probably was unthinkable at this time of revolution – Napoleon upset the natural order. Not only did the French rebel against the monarchy, but this little impudent shorty was the one who arose. Arriviste doesn’t even describe it. And to Rostov, who is a count and deifies the emperor, this must be soul-destroying. To Nikolai he is a bad horsemen, he rudely drops a glove that he expects someone to pick up, and then just leaves the medal he’s supposed to pin on the soldier for someone else to actually pin on him. In earlier chapters we’ve seen his cunning, but through Nikolai’s eyes he’s just a rude, short, egotistical man who doesn’t have the right to consider himself the tsar’s equal. It makes me think again of Andrei’s encounter with him on the battlefield, though there we saw some of his compassion.

In other words, he’s human, but what Nikolai expects is a god. At least that’s what he expects of his sovereign. The denial of any clemency for Denisov, coupled with the reward that Lazarev randomly receives, puts Nikolai in a difficult frame of mind—

Painful work was going on in his mind, which he could not bring to an end. Terrible doubts arose in his soul. Now he remembered Denisov with his changed expression, his submission, and the whole hospital with those torn-ff arms and legs, that filth and disesease. He imagined so vividly not that hospital stench of dead flesh that he looked about to see where the stench could be coming from. Then he remembered that self-satisfied Bonaparte with his white little hand, who was now an emperor, whom the emperor Alexander liked and respected. Why, then, those torn-ff arms and legs, those dead people? Then he remembered the rewarded Lazarev and Denisov punished and unforgiven. He caught himself in such strange thoughts that it made him frightened.

He eats and drinks silently, two bottles of wine by himself, so that when someone starts challenging the French, he has an outburst that’s out of proportion to what’s been said. He comes up with a manifesto of sorts, that seems to be the only way he can make sense of the situation—

”We’re not diplomatic officials, we’re soldiers and nothing more,” he went on. “We’re told to die—and we die. If we’re punished it means we’re guilty; it’s not for us to judge. If it pleases the sovereign emperor to recognize Bonaparte as emperor and conclude an alliance with him—it means it has to be so. And if we start judging and reasoning about everything then there’ll be nothing sacred left. Next we’ll be saying there no God, no anything,” shouted Nikolai, banging the table….”Our business is to do out duty, to cut and slash, not to think, that’s all,” he concluded.
“And to drink,” said one of the officers, unwilling to quarrel.
“Yes, and to drink,” Nikolai picked up. “Hey, you! Another bottle!” he shouted.


And thus ends book II. Wow.

Poor Denisov. A ghreat man, a dear gheart, who we will miss. I’m not holding out high hopes. This is kind of Nikolai’s laying in the field moment that Andrei had, but he has gone in a different direction.

So, time for a scorecard before V2II, BIII

Nikolai- drunk, angry, disillusioned, but hey, the war’s over. Not really in love with Sonya, but still in love with the Sovereign.
Andrei – just seeming to get a glimpse of something after his visit with Pierre. Not sure what’s next, but he may have discovered a will to live
Pierre – discovered masonry, so perhaps something that will give him some strength of character. We can only hope. He could be prone to rapture. He’d make a good match for Marya (but since I read that one spoiler – curses – I know that’s not to be)
Denisov – in bad shape in a bad hospital, if it could even be called that. He’ll never get that smell out of his nose if he survives. He’ll probably die of his unhealing wound before anything else.
Liza – dead
Old Count – just had a good deal of excitement with the war. It will be interesting to see if he and Andrei can co-exist. I have a feeling he may not be on the scene long
Vassily, Helene, his no-good son, and Anna P – I’d be fine if they all died – like if Pierre could go back in disguise and take them all out like Stockard Channing did in “The Girl Most Likely To..” (why I remember that movie from TV as a kid – who knows?)
Natasha – winner of the “most incredible age jump award” for aging three years in a year and-a-half). She’s turning 13 in 1805, but by 1806 she’s fifteen. I have to work out that chronology. Still charming, but glad that thing with Boris Drubetskoy is done.
Boris – he just is turning into an oily politician, isn’t he.

Quite an amazing cast, and that’s nowhere near everyone. The gleam is off the war, and it looks like there’s going to be a 5-year peace. We’ll see what happens in Book III.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XX

It looks like Nikolai is there on the worst day possible to intercede with the sovereign, as it's the day of the peace, the 27th of June. There's a banquet planned, and flags crossed in the streets with A and N (for Alexander and Napoleon).
Nikolai can't stay with Boris, and doesn't want his help (it's clear from the last chapter that he's going to be no help), so Rostov decides to take the letter to the soverign himself, in a fit of bravery (stupid or not).
He walks right into the house the emperor occupies, and is stopped by an officer who tells him to go downstairs to the officer on duty, but he won't be received.
Sure enough, when he gets there, he catches the valet dressing the officer in his finest suspenders and tunic. He's talking to someone else, who says to come back, and is even more shocked and disturbed that Nikolai would not go through the chain of command.
Luckily (as this is a book), he runs right into the cavalry general he knew from when he first saw the soveriegn. The man agrees to talk to the Tsar about it, since he knows Denisov is a good man.
Sure enough, the sovereign comes out of the house, and Nikolai is again dumbstruck, as the tsar was "illuminating everything about him with his gaze." The general speaks with him, and then as he mounts his horse, he says loudly, "I cannot, General, and the reason why I cannot is that the law is stronger than I".

Things are not looking up for Denisov. It looks like, no matter how noble he was in trying to feed his men, he'll be disciplined for it, if he's not dead yet. Although Nikolai is overwhelmed by the Tsar, who is so far given nothing but god-like qualities, it's clear that Tolstoy is beginning to expose the ridiculousness of those in power, and in some sense the powerlessness they have. The tsar has real power, but also at the mercy of what everyone around him thinks of him. He must be a political creature. And, in being so, Denisov may die and Nikolai will be disappointed. It seems from the glowing terms in which the tsar is described here, though, it will be hard for Nikolai to think any less of him. That's probably why he said what he said as loudly as he did. There's no way Nikolai will fall out of love, no matter who it's for.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XIX

Well, Boris has become quite a political creature.

He has asked to go to Tilsit on the day that Buonaparte is meeting with the Tsar to discuss a peace. June 25th, 1806. This is the day that Rostov picks to come and bring his letter to Boris. It's brilliant how he weaves real history in with his story - it's historical fiction - perhaps the first? Anyhow...

Boris is aware of which way the wind is blowing, and hosts a Francophile Polish count, Zhilinsky, and several French officers in his rooms. Boris comes in, and feels he is interrupting. In fact, he can't help but feel angry at the French. Boris, meanwhile, is truly about his own power. Nikolai can't help but be slightly curt and anti-social.

"Rostov felt ill-humored immediately after he noticed the displeasure on Boris's face, and as always happens with people who are ill-humored, it seemed to him that everyone was looking at him hostilely and he was hampering them all."

Boris asks if he is tired, and leads him into his room. Nikolai feels awkward looking at Boris in the eye, meanwhile, Boris, crossing his legs, and stroking the slender fingers of his right hand with his left, listened to Rostov the way a general listens to the report of a subordinate". It's hard not to pick up on that subtle feminizing of Boris - it's a great detail. Feline. And I think Tolstoy is contrasting politics with the brute force and difficult time that he's shown us through Denisov and Rostov. Either way, it's clear Boris has sold out.

Boris feels like the soveriegn won't do anything anyway, and is harsh in such cases. Nikolai gets snippy with him, and says if he doesn't want to do anything he should just say so, but Boris says he'd like to. Just at that moment he's called away by Zhilinsky, and Nikolai stays in the room listening to the French talk and pacing.

If I were to guess at the future, Rostov will be able to get the letter to the sovereign - there was that whole thing about him swooning in front of him, and that could be a payoff. Probably too Hollywood.

The note about the date says the peace last for five years. So, when we move forward to 1811/12, I'm assuming Boris will have been in a position of power, and Nikolai (maybe married to Sonya we can hope?) will be able to give Boris his comeuppance.

Who knows? I'm clearly not liking Boris. And it's clear he's Anna's son as well. It's great how we see these characters starting one way when we know them superficially and then growing into their true selves. It's actually thrilling.

I'm sure whatever happens will be better than my prediction.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XVIII

Oh, sad. Rostov goes to the officers' ward, and there he first meets Tushin, who is now missing an arm and rooming with Denisov. Nikolai visits Denisov, who is not in good shape - "His wound, despite its insignificance, still had not healed, though now it was six weeks since he was wounded...what struck him was the Denisov did not seem glad to see him and smiled at him unnaturally. Denisov did not ask about the regiment, nor about the general course of affairs. When Rostov mentioned it, Denisov did not listen."

He is definitely resentful of his situation, and holding on to his anger. He tells his story, which clears the room. He's holding onto a letter he reads to Nikolai, refuting his charges, and angry about the suggestion that he beg the sovereign for mercy.

"For what? If I were a ghrobber, I'd ask for meghrcy, but I'm on tghrial because I beghrout the ghrobbers to light. Let them take me to court, I'm not afghraid of anybody; I've seghrved the tsar and the fatherland honoghrably, and didn't steal!"

Nikolai wants to help him, and spends the day with him. At the last moment, right before leaving, Denisov gives Nikolai an envelope, and in it is a letter to the sovereign, not mentioning anyone else's failure. He hands it to Nikolai with a "painfully false smile"

So sad for him. He's just broken. I'm still hoping for good things for him. It's so nuanced - Tolstoy gives these tragedies, little small changes or points of view that lead the way to unknown and possibly painful places. Not to mention the awful vividness of the surroundings. We're lucky in this time and place. He really brings you back to the helplessness and inhumanity of both war and the time.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XVII

Now it's June.

This whole chapter is Rostov trying to find Denisov in the army hospital. It's rank. "The hospital stench in this dark corridor was so strong that Rostov held his hand to his nose and had to stop and gather his strength to go further."

Everyone has typhus, and Rostov is warned that to go in could be death for him. He goes in anyway and sees men lying all around. There is a man seizing in the middle of the room, asking for water, and Nikolai orders someone to get it for him. Then he feels someone looking at him, something behind him - an old soldier. He gets closer, and realizes that the soldier is dead.

"Let's go, let's go!" Rostov said hastily, and, lowering his eyes and shrinking, he tried to pass unnoticed through the line of those reproachful and envious eyes directed at him as he left the room"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XVI

It's April.

There's a long description of the dugouts they're living in. Rostov and Denisov are lucky, and Denisov gets great treatment because his men love him so much.

The next thing that we see is Rostov coming back from a night of duty, and seeing Denisov in a huff. He comes in, angry about something, and leaves again. When Rostov wakes, Denisov is coming back with provisions, followed by two captains who are angry with him for seizing a transport of provisions, saying that they're soldiers haven't eaten in two days. Denisov says his haven't eaten in two weeks, and they can say whatever they like.

The regimental commander advises him to go and take care of it, before proceedings can be started. He goes to see the staff, but is not immediately recieved. He storms in and sees Telyanin, and is so upset about being accused that he punches Telyanin.

Of course, when the story is retold, Denisov is said to have been drunk, stormed in, and attacked. A summons arrives. When they go into battle, Denisov gets hit in the thigh, and decides to go to the hospital.

I hope this is the end of him. I hope they haven't broken him. Tolstoy is great at illustrating the ridiculousness of heirarchy in the army, more specifically in the unequal treatment. Denisov is treated well by his men as he looks out for them. The army, though, looks out for no one but itself. And for the care of those at the top. Denisov, I fear, does not stand a chance. I do love Denisov's "ghr" dialect.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cold

Ugh, now I have a cold. Event on Saturday, cold started yesterday afternoon. So a little fuzzy for the Russians. You don't really think of these things when you talk about daily blogging. Oh well. Hopefully I'll come back into focus and read one today. Stay tuned....

Friday, May 7, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XV

Rostov returns to the Pavlogradsky regiment, and is as happy to be there as he was to return to his family. A sense of relief, as the life is so strict and regimented, and he can't make mistakes as he did in the world.

I never had realized the route of "regimented", meaning strict and planned. Nikolai is happy that life in the regiment is as planned as it is. A regiment is regimented. Kind of a "duh" moment there, but I hadn't seen the military root.

Anyhow, in April the regiment camps out near a nearly completely deserted German village. The villagers have nothing, and even though there is money there is no way to buy anything. The soldiers are starving, but all goes on as before. The horses eat the hay off the roofs of the houses, and are skinny, emaciated. Still there is roll call and such.

Denisov and Rostov are just as close as they were, and Denisov saves Nikolai from dueling with a man who insults him - Nikolai saved a young Polish girl, her father, and her baby from starvation in a nearby town, putting them up in his quarters. The man makes a remark that the Polish woman should be introduced to them all. Nikolai gets angry and explains the woman has become like a sister to him. Denisov responds "It's your chgrazy Ghrostov bghreed"..and Rostov noticed tears in Denisov's eyes.

Denisov is a sensitive fellow at heart, too. I feel bad about his failed proposal to Natasha, but as delighted as he must have been by her, I think he's in love with the family. I hope he finds happiness.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Bghreak

As Denisov might say, "tonight, I am taking a bghreather."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XIV

Short chapter. Marya tells Pierre that he should take Andrei with him, that staying at the house is doing him no good, and isn't good for his temperment. Pierre talks with the old prince, who humors Pierre's belief that and end to war is possible. After Pierre leaves, they talk about him and only say good things.

Everyone loves Pierre, and Pierre loves everyone (except his wife and her family - he's getting smartly cautious at this point).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XIII

Andrei and Pierre drive up to Bald Hills, and once there Andrei insists that Pierre meet Marya's "people of God". They are afraid of the old prince, but they stay with Marya, wanderers who make pilgrimage and beg. Andrei kind of makes fun of them, one a feminine young man and the other an old woman.
The old woman tells a story of a pilgrimage and seeing the virgin drip oil, as well as a man who loses his sight and has it restored for speaking against the miracle. Pierre says it's a trick and the woman gets offended and almost leaves. Pierre assures her he was just joking.
It's interesting to see regular people in this, who provide a background for so much of the story. They are always there, but we're mostly concerned with the nobility. And interesting as well to see how important religion is, but still even in 1805 there are people, like Andrei and Pierre, who reject it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XII

Andrei is coming around. Pierre asks him in the carriage to Bald Hills why he believes what he does. Pierre tells him of the masons and feeling something larger than himself - there's a good analogy of a ladder that we see that goes from plants to man, and why would we suppose that it doesn't go deeper than the plants and larger than us.
Andrei is mourning his wife. It's clear he has some guilt and hoped to absolve himself but instead watched her die. Heart-wrenching.
They speak for a long while, and for just a moment Andrei's heart opens up, and "for the first time since Austerlitz saw that high, eternal sky he had seen as he lay on the battlefield, and something long asleep, something that was best in him, suddenly awakened joyful and young in his soul."
It goes away as soon as he gets back in the house, but he touches it. Maybe not all is lost.

And all this before genetics, really. I was thinking that they didn't know what we do about universes, or the even smaller parts that make everyone of us. What would have Tolstoy made of that, that we are made of small universes ourselves, working together in one large being. Dust swept up into consciousness, perhaps. Multiple universes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XI

Well, as I said, quite a chapter.

Pierre notices that Andrei is a bit down in the dumps, and has lost his sparkle. They speak as if they're mere acquaintances. Even when Andrei starts to talk about his plan for the house, he stops abruptly and says they should just go to dinner.

Over dinner the fireworks start a bit. Andrei finally gets passionate when confronted with Pierre's ideas about helping others being the greatest good. Andrei does not agree, even when it's pointed out that he's helping his sister, his son, and his father. To Andrei they are not separate from him. He explains his philosophy to Pierre.

He contradicts Pierre's beliefs about helping people and that there are definite evils. He believes remorse and illness are the only two evils. Otherwise, he is not equipped to define evils for anyone else. Also, he refutes Pierre's ideas of helping the poor with an age-old argument: they're animals. For them they need to work as much as he needs to think, and he couldn't trade with their labor anymore than they could for his. Educate them? What for? And hospitals? If they're lame or kept alive past their time they're a burden to the family.

Wow. Andrei's a little bitter. It all the arguments their have ever been against reform from the wealthy or powerful. Interestingly, he would like to see the peasants freed for a different reason - absolute power corrupts. If a peasant is whipped the welts heal, but those given unlimited power end up becoming "cruel, coarse, can't help themselves, and become more and more unhappy." Wow.

The chapter ends thus:

"So there is what and whom to be sorry for -- human dignity, peace of conscience, purity, and not their backs and heads, which, however much you may whip them and shave them,, will remain the same back and heads"
"No, no, a thousand times no! I'll never agree with you," said Pierre.

It looks like Andrei is following in his father's foot steps.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Volume II, Book II, Chapter XI coming....

Okay, the truth here - I had a 15 hour workday yesterday, and had pre-posted yesterday's entry. This chapter is about Pierre visiting Andrei, and it's got a lot of important stuff, and I'm just tired. So, I'll write about it tomorrow, and do a double-header. Not like I have readers I don't think, but still I don't like to disappoint myself. But I'm tired and I'd like this to really be about the chapter. So, more tomorrow and Pierre's visit with the careworn Andrei.

Volume II, Book II, Chapter X

Speaking of serfs, Pierre visits his land in Kiev.

He is trying, according to the Masonic plan, to work on his virtues. He wants to emancipate the peasants, so he gathers all his stewards and gives them new rules, about not punishing the peasants, not having women with children work, etc.

Meanwhile, he is feted the same as in Petersburg, so he doesn’t get to change much. He does not have a head for business, and his head steward, a “very stupid but cunning man” manages to make it look like he’s making changes, but it’s all cosmetic. Pierre makes nearly 500,000 a year, but almost all of it goes, and he has to borrow. The countess alone is 150,000. It’s amazing.

Tolstoy is great in this chapter illustrating how complicated these affairs are, and also Pierre’s fecklessness in carrying them out. He wants to feel good about doing good deeds, but he doesn’t have the stomach to learn what’s going on and make changes. His steward suggests, and he agrees, not knowing that the steward is not at all on his side. He’s easily duped. The steward convinces him the serfs are happy, but all he’s seen is a show, masking the abuse, people who’ve had to sell their children, the constant work, labor, and no reward. It’s sad.

Pierre truly has no clue. He comes off as simple, with a good intention, but no idea of the scope of what he owns, or what he’s up against.