Thursday, 23 June 2016

War and Peace #6: I.v.11 - II.vi.8

We have made it through the first Volume and successfully into the second Volume and the sixth Book! Thank yo so much for sticking with me so far, there's only nine more Books and two Epilogues to go. Unlike with my Les Mis read along, where I knew the basic plot of the story from the musical, I don't know where the story is going to go. I have some general ideas thanks to the unavoidable trailers for the recent BBC adaptation, but there will be plenty of surprises coming up. So far nothing very shocking has happened but I am finally starting to enjoy Tolstoy's writing and the book's pace.



Summary of Chapters:
We started with Pierre, who has unsuccessfully tried to free his Serfs and only made their lives harder, who is visiting Prince Andrew and manages to, at least a little bit, coax him out of his self-imposed exile from the world. Convinced the only way to do no evil is by not interacting with the world, Prince Andrew has retreated to his estate and is building a log cabin. From there we move to Nicholas who, after his embarrassing gambling debacle, returns to his regiment. Tolstoy this time uses Nicholas' time in the army to highlight its hardships. Suffering from a severe lack of provisions, Denisov decides to seize a transport of foods and gets into trouble. However, he is wounded and shipped to a hospital where Nicholas finds him under terrible circumstances. Typhoid has broken out and nothing seems to be possible to help the soldiers' suffering.Nicholas tries to petition the Emperor Alexander at Tilsit, where he is meeting with Napoleon, but only runs into Boris, who is turning into a person I don't trust. He has single-mindedly pursued his climbing in society in a way that makes him look down on everyone else. I don't like him. Nicholas also begins to be disillusioned with life, having gone from soldiers suffering to emperors smiling.

And now we moved into Volume II, which starts with Prince Andrew having to visit Count Rostov. He spots the happy Natasha going about her way and it reawakens a passion for life in him. Andrew decides to return to active life and heads for St. Petersburg to introduce his amendments on a law. In St. Petersburg he reenters the social elite and spontaneously forgets about the grander ambitions in his life. One of the people which leads to this is Speranski, who is an advisor to the Emperor and an overall sleaze, I think. He has something of a superiority complex. We end with Pierre who is discovering that despite men being Freemasons they don't necessarily become better men. He tries to learn more while abroad but his ideas are shot down upon his return. Slightly bitter he is talked into reconciling with Helene. He moves into the attic and is proud of his own forgiving nature.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a sense, now that we've got about a third into the novel, that everyone is growing. About three to four years have passed in these 300-odd pages and there is a sense that everyone has now encountered their first difficulty and has tried or is trying to overcome it. Those who were children at the beginning are growing up, becoming disillusioned with the world, whereas those who started out more cynically are opening themselves up to the world. This is exactly what I love about family sagas or these generational novels, you get a sense of progression and growth. However, you do have to invest some time before you hit this growth.

Perhaps it's because I've reinvested myself in War and Peace, but I am finally starting to see the appeal of it. Although time still passes rather quickly for me, and the enormous cast of characters can be a distraction, I have become invested in some of the characters. I'm fascinated by the historical aspects of the book, the casual appearances of historical figures like Napoleon, the attention to the consequences of warfare. It's not a light or casual read, but it's becoming rewarding.

General Points:

  • This week's section officially warmed my heart to Natasha. Perhaps I had too high expectations of her beforehand, expecting her to be a bit more grown up, but she's now come to the point where I find her interesting and want to know more about her.
  • I think it would be fair to say Tolstoy isn't a big fan of politics and what it does to people. Or at least, the type of court politics which are more about posturing than about actually trying to change or achieve something. So far I think he is showing this in his different stories for Boris, Pierre and Prince Andrew, all of which try to somehow involve themselves in the big game.
  • I wonder if Tolstoy is setting up any kind of romance between Prince Andrew and Natasha or if she is simply a way of getting the former out of his midlife crisis. Because any man that builds a log cabin in his early thirties is surely suffering from an early midlife crisis. I jest, I am actually really intrigued by Prince Andrew's characterisation so far.
Something Extra:
Today we're looking at one of the most interesting historic events in Europe's history: the meeting between Emperor Napoleon and Tsar Alexander in Tilsit, where the two signed the first of the Treaties of Tilsit. The first Franco-Russian treaty was signed on the 7th of July 1807 and pretty much meant the end for the Prussian King. For Napoleon these treaties meant the cementing of his power in Europe and he gained the support of Russia in his continuing struggles with Britain and Sweden. 

What I love about this meeting between Emperors is not only that it is an absolutely historic meeting between two of the most powerful people in the world, but also how they went about being able to meet on neutral ground. In a rush, the French build a raft on the middle of the Neman river which had two tents on it. The Emperors were then ferried to the raft from two opposite sides at the same time, but in order to show his superiority the French raft put on a spurt so Napoleon arrived first and could welcome Alexander. Love nothing as much as petty emperors.

Quotes:
'"I feel that I cannot vanish, since nothing vanishes in this world but that I shall always exist and always have existed."' p.303
This is Pierre trying to convince Prince Andrew that not only is there an afterlife but that life itself is worth living for.  Although he doesn't make a believer out of Prince Andrew he does awaken something in him. I did love this quote, the idea you are a part of this world and always will be. 
'"Do just come and see what a moon! ... Oh, how lovely! Come here... Darling, sweetheart, come here! There, you see? I feel like sitting own on my heels, putting my arms around my knees like this, straining tight, as tight as possible, and flying away! Like this..."' p.331-2
This quote is what made me love Natasha. It genuinely changed my mind about her. There is something about this quote which I can identify with, the desperation for freedom and the love for the night's sky.

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