Thursday, 21 July 2016

War and Peace #10: II.ix.7 - II.x.3

I almost didn't get around to this week's chapters because of Star Wars Celebration and my father's birthday (the big 5-0) but here it is! This week's chapters aren't as drama-filled as the last few weeks, Tolstoy is taking a definite step back from the melodrama and focusing on his historical interest once again. Napoleon is back, Emperor Alexander is personally insulted, and Nicholas is confused about what heroism means.

Summary of Chapters:
We get a final chapter on Napoleon which is ends with war being declared. From there we go to Prince Andrew who rejoins the army after a visit back home. His father is still mistreating Princess Mary, who is sinking deeper and deeper into her martyr complex. He goes to the front in Turkey in the hope to run into Anatole Kuragin in order to have his revenge, but Kuragin runs back to Russia. Prince Andrew gets himself reassigned to Russia as well but stays with the army, rather than remain hell-bent on revenge. Nicolas Rostov also finds himself at the front, now in a more senior position and a bit more disenchanted with the high ideals of the army but content with the actual life in the army. Remember the hunt from two weeks ago? During a charge Nicolas gets a similar instinct and captures a young captain of the French army. Although he is awarded the St. George's medal, he feels deeply unsatisfied at having the idea of heroism turn out to be so empty.

From there we move to Natasha, who is incredibly ill. Doctors swarm around her and her family is also glad to be able to look after her. It turns out that it's her grief at last week's happenings weighing on her and she slowly recovers physically. Her joy in life, her vibrancy and, in many ways, innocence, have disappeared. She finds some solace in prayer, in awe before the power of God and working on forgiving herself and loving others. Meanwhile Pierre is still around, visiting her frequently. Natasha sees him as the best of people but not as a love interest, whereas for Pierre there is definitely love there. On the other hand this love is also inspired by his ability to pity her, which becomes less as she improves. However, he also becomes  a bit paranoid, thinking of Napoleon as the coming Antichrist and his own name as a form of the devilish 666, thereby tying his fate to that of Russia... yeah. When the Emperor comes to Moscow he becomes embroiled in  debate but love for the Emperor and Russia wins. Simultaneously the youngest Rostov, Petya, also seems desperate to join the army and falls under the spell of the Emperor and nationalist atmosphere.

The tenth Book starts with a description of why the French were beaten in Russia, by a combination of winter and angry Russians. From there we flit to Bald Hills, the home of the Bolkonskis, where the old Prince Bolkonski is mad after Prince Andrew told him off for mistreating Princess Mary. He is getting a bit senile, not realizing how close the front is to their home. He sets up his bed in a different part of the house each night and is losing his grip on himself.

Feel of the Chapters:
The talk of war is both interesting and significantly less exciting than the rest of the plot. On the one hand it is crucial in describing Russian history and the world in which Tolstoy has set his story, but on the other hand it stands apart from the story and could me dismissed. However, it does allow for the male characters to do some necessary growing up. Especially for Nicholas the front is a good place in the sense that he becomes a lot more sensible and responsible whenever he is there.

Pierre is a confusing character. In these chapters he gets a sense of foreboding disaster, and sets out the numerical value of the French alphabet, thereby realizing that 'L'Empereur Napoleon' brings him to 666. He then manipulates his own name enough until it also brings him to 666 and from that he happily concludes he has a crucial role to play in the upcoming events. Within roughly 200 pages Pierre has joined a secret society, been kicked out of it and started believing in religious mumbo jumbo. I'm hoping that he'll become a little bit less self-involved and self-important, indulges himself less and actually does something with his life. Maybe then I can start liking him.

General Points:

  • It's interesting how Tolstoy describes how split the Russian army's leadership is. After the third group it becomes a bit tiresome to see so many men chasing after glory, convinced of their own right and wisdom, which is exactly what Tolstoy wants you to see. Men standing in their own way could be the subtitle of this novel.
  • I'm very confused about Pierre. Before starting I read that through Pierre Tolstoy would discuss philosophy and wax poetical about the world. On the one hand Pierre is definitely doing this, but he also strikes me as quite annoying?
  • Because these 20 chapters focus so much on (historical) action at the front, it feels a little bit empty of human emotions. There are little glimpses here and there but after the relatively intense few chapters on Natasha and Prince Andrew, we've definitely entered the post-drama cool down.
  • I wonder how exactly Tolstoy feels about the nationalism rising in Russia. The frequent cries throughout these chapters about the power of Russia, wanting to die for Russia, giving everything for Russia, etc. become quite a lot. Especially 15-year old Petya signing up to the army, his father initially against it until the mood sweeps him along, feels like a reminder 

Something Extra:
Today I'm only sharing Napoleon's portrait, which is perhaps one of my favourite historical portraits. He looks so determined to invade Russia and at the same time it's like he's looking at a snowy Russian field going, 'Oh shit...'. This portrait was made by Vasily Vereshchagin, who devoted a series of painting to the Patriotic War of 1812. Don't tell me this isn't the funniest portrait you've ever seen!

'They satisfied that eternal human need for hope of relief, for sympathy, and that something should be done, which is felt by those who are suffering.' 54%
This is Tolstoy's comment on the many doctors that visit Natasha's bedside. I'm not quite sure why I liked it but I did. However, it also goes to show how seemingly devoid of emotion was in these 20 chapters.
'His love for Natasha, Antichrist, Napoleon, the invasion, the comet, 66, L'EmpereurNapoleon, and L'russe Besuhof - all this had to mature and culminate, to lift him out of that spellbound, petty sphere of Moscow habits in which he felt himself held captive and lad him to a great achievement and great happiness.' 55%
In my opinion Pierre definitely lost tough with reality for a little bit. If he is supposed to be Tolstoy's representative in this novel then why is he coming up with strange conspiracy theories about his name in numbers coming up to 666? I find it intensely odd...

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