Thursday, 7 April 2016

War & Peace #3: I.ii.14 - I.iii.12

I've been doing rather well in doing this reading an I realise that's a presumptuous thing to say considering this is only the third week, but it's still been quite busy. As exams come nearer I might have to scale it down to ten rather than twenty chapters, but I have all intentions of continuing throughout exam period. I've also had a sneaky look ahead at page count and some future chapters only seem to be a few pages long, in which case, when I have free time, I might even stretch the weekly sections a bit. Aah, the freedom of controlling one's own reading. But let's get on with it, shall we?

Summary of the Chapters:
So far it is fair to say that a lot is constantly happening. Tolstoy has set up a wide variety of characters and each seems to have been divided into a subset with its own storyline. But of course everyone is deliciously intermingled and related so each storyline remains relevant to the plot overall. So let's see what happened! The first few chapters (and the last few chapters of Book ii) are dedicated to finishing up Tolstoy's initial foray into Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Prince Andrew manages to show himself from his better side although he also walks away from the battle with a sense of disappointment at how lacking warfare really is in nobility. Nicholas is wounded and begins to wonder why he left his comfortable home and Tolstoy leaves the scene with the reader feeling equally unhappy abou the whole thing. Dolokhov remains in the story, first popping us as a friend to Pierre in the first Book and now showing himself as a good soldier rather than just a drunkard.

Book ii brings us back to the civilised world of princes and princesses, rather than soldiers. First we see Pierre, recently become Count Bezukhov, who has been visiting Prince Vasili who has been very busy helping himself while pretending to help Pierre. Helene Kuragin, Prince Vasili's daughter, has been flaunted in front of Piere's eyes who is very conscious he's being seduced into a marriage that won't make him happy and yet he can't help himself to still want it. And so they get married. And then we move to poor Princess Mary who Prince Vasili tries to convince his son Anatole to marry. Princess Mary is almost fooled into thinking he might want her, but is disillusioned by her father Prince Bolkonski (father of Prince Andrew).  But we once again shift place and return to battle, where the Russian army is greeted by their Emperor. Nicholas is filled with imperial love and zeal, Boris does his best to rise the ranks, and Prince Andrew continues to try to find satisfaction. We leave them all on the eve of the Battle of Austerlitz.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a distinctively different feel between the chapters which focus on the courtly life and those which focus on battle. While describing the social niceties of the elite and how fake most of it is Tolstoy is clearly enjoying himself and I find them to be some of the most interesting chapters. So far the chapters on war, however, are the ones where I feel Tolstoy clearly places most of his emotion, whether it's the description of Prince Andrew striving for glory (see below) or Nicholas' love for his Tzar.

I find myself getting more used to Tolstoy's continually growing list of characters. Especially when looking at the Russian army, there are generals and adjudants everywhere, each of which are named and all of which disappear after a few pages or chapters at most. It's very different, for example, from Hugo's Les Mis which has a relatively small number of characters considering the length it spans.

General Points:

  • Princess Mary is definitely my favourite character so far. There is something so vulnerable and yet so strong about her. Also, she has some of the most genuine relationships out of any of the characters so far, managing to inspire actual affection rather than faked.
  • As some of you may know, the BBC recently aired a new adaptation of War & Peace in which the relationship between Helene and Anatole Kuragin was, let's say, modernised a la Game of Thrones. These chapters hold a hint as to a potential incestuous relationship which was made factual by the BBC and I wonder how it'll play out in the rest of the book.
  • Having just read Les Mis with its passionate defence of Napoleon, it is very interesting to read an account of Napoleon's exploits from the other side, so to say. They don't think him half as heroic as Hugo did and this way of shaping historical figures through literature is fascinating.
  • Tzar Alexander is a very interesting character because, well... he's fact, he's history, unlike some of Tolstoy's other characters. But overall War & Peace is incredibly historical, with many of the characters either being actually real or slyly based on real people. Considering he only wrote 2 generations or so after the events he describes I feel like there was some audacity in doing so, but perhaps I'm wrong there.
A rather fancy Alexander I
'In the darkness it seemed as though a gloomy unseen river was flowing always in one direction, humming with whispers and talk and the sound of hoofs and wheels.' p.150
I loved this description of the thrum that is hanging over the army as they wait for something to happen. People always forget how much time soldiers spend waiting and anticipating.
'The old prince felt as though he had been insulted through his daughter. The insult was the more pointed because it concerned not himself but another, his daugter, whom he loved more than himself.' p.175
I absolutely love how much of a pappa bear Prince Bolkonski is towards his daughter. On the one hand he is clearly very protective and yet he expresses this love so incredibly harshly that he unwittingly hurts her. And yet she's such a loving daughter that I think she can see where his love is coming from. I hope this relationship doesn't get ruined...
'Every general and every soldier was conscious of his own insignificance, aware of being but a drop in that ocean of men, and yet at the same time was conscious of his strength as a part of that enorous whole.' p.188
This is one of Tolstoy's descriptions of how Nicholas and the rest of the army felt when they saw their Tzar. I sort of like the lack of national fervour in it since it's all focused on one man but it is exactly this leader-cult which is so dangerous to society as well.

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