Thursday, 31 March 2016

War and Peace #2: I.i.21 - I.ii.13

Sorry that this post is up a little bit late but I was struggling through trying to figure out who was fighting who where in Austria when. Yup, we've moved from a dance party straight into warfare. We've met another number of characters which I have a feeling will be important, but there are also a huge variety of characters, including the Emperor of Austria, which I'm assuming won't feature very much. So, dig in with me and experience your own 'Baptism of Fire'!

Summary of Chapters:
Now that Tolstoy has introduced us to the whole variety of main characters, it's time to split them all up and set off on a number of different storylines. In the first few chapters we stick with Pierre and Anna Mikhaylovna who were visiting the Rostovs last week. We now find out that Count Bezukhov is indeed dying and Pierre, his illegitimate son, is rushed to his side by the ever resourceful Anna. Once there it is clear that both Prince Vasili and the Old Count's daughters don't want Pierre anywhere near what they see as their inheritance. Unfortunately for them, the Old Count's final will inherits everything to the newly legitimized Pierre and makes him the new Count Bezukhov. We also witness Prince Andrew dropping his wife off at his father's estate where his sister, Princess Mary Bolkonski also lives. She's rather devout but seems like a lovely person. Prince Andrew then leaves for the front in Austria.

And now we start on Book Two which introduces us to Tolstoy writing warfare. Let's say that it's both fascinating and confusing. The situation in Austria is dire, with the Russian and Austrian armies trying to hold of Napoleon's march through Europe. We meet a number of characters here, such as Nicholas Rostov and Prince Andrew who are both seemingly in this war to make their careers and to make a good impression. One of the most fascinating passages is Nicholas' "baptism of fire" when he encounters his first battle. Tolstoy doesn't hold back when it comes to warfare and politics. When Prince Andrew is sent to the Austrian court, which has decamped to Brunn after Vienna was overrun by Napoleon. There is also suspected treachery by the Austrians as they might be making deals with Napoleon behind the Russians' backs. This week's section ends with Prince Andrew rushing back to the Russian Army with dreams of saving them but realising that there might be no way to save them from disaster.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is definitely more of a sense of urgency to these chapters than there was in last week's section. Tolstoy has moved on from introductions and now all the new characters that we of course meet aren't as crucial anymore, I think. The atmosphere around the Old Count's death is quite gloomy and dark, especially since it manages to bring out the worst in all the characters around the Count. Similarly, many of the people at the front seem the be equally dubious in character. Whether it's stealing, gambling or drinking, all of this happens unabashedly and those who don't engage like Prince Andrew look a bit snobbish. A downside to the military situation is that, for a reader, it can be a rather complicated situation to wrap your mind around. I feel like I need to crack open a history book!

General Points:

  • I think I'm coming to the conclusion that none of Tolstoy's characters are truly "good" in the sense that you couldn't criticise them. Even if they are innocent like Natasha or pious like Mary, you'd still like to tell them to shape up.
  • Tolstoy is definitely enjoying writing dialogue. I'm not entirely sure why but description isn't rife in War and Peace the way it was in Les Mis for example. Characters express their emotions either through actions or very short bursts of description. 
  • When Tolstoy does take the time, though, some of his descriptions are absolutely stunning. Whether it's Nicholas discovering how paralyzing warfare is or Tolstoy's description of Mary's effect on others, Tolstoy definitely drags you right in.

Something Interesting:
Today I'm looking at one of the most frequent characters in War and Peace so far: Mikhail Kutuzov. Although he is a historical character, he features a lot and interacts with a lot of Tolstoy's fictional characters like Prince Andrew. Kutuzov was born in 1745 and served under three different Tzars: Catherine II, Paul I and Alexander I, the latter of which is Tsar in Wa and Peace! As I mentioned last week when covering France's Invasion of Russia, Kutuzov is very much appreciated for his leadership during that time in Russia's history. And, fun fact, he was a Freemason!

In an even more fun fact, there is also a Kutuzov Cake which looks amazing! It has nothing to do with Mikhail Kutuzov as far as I can tell and is known by plenty of other names, but it looks to yummy not to share.

'While in the Rostovs' ballroom the sixth anglaise was being danced, to a tune in which the weary musicians blundered, and while tired footmen and cooks were getting the supper, Count Bezukhov had a sixth stroke.' p.54
I love the slight irony and sarcasm that Tolstoy infuses into his narrator's voice. Of course this isn't technically funny because someone is dying, but Tolstoy is definitely aware of how the sixth dance and the sixth stroke echo each other.
'On such matters I am only severe with myself. I understand such feelings in others, and if never having felt them I cannot approve of them, neither do I condemn them.' p.71
This was Princess Mary expressing how she looks at love and how people act when they're in love. I sort of love Mary, I think, but I can't see her being very happy in the rest of the novel because she seems so happy to accept suffering.

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