Thursday, 28 July 2016

War and Peace #11: II.x.4 - II.x.23

Despite taking two planes, four busses and two trains in the last two days, I have managed to get this week's reading done. I'm really enjoying War and Peace now and now that we're getting to the last third of the book I do feel that a lot of things still have to happen. However, I have something of a deadline for this book. I am moving on the 7th of September and I would very much like to finish the book before then, so I think I might up my weekly quota to 30 chapters rather than 20. It might be a chore but at the same time but on the other hand I also want to get on with it because the story develops quite slowly.


Summary of Chapters:
In last week's chapters the situation became rather intense for everyone, with the French army getting closer and closer to Moscow. Especially Prince Bolkonski and Princess Mary are in danger, their estate Bald Hills lying between Moscow and Smólensk, which is taken over by the French. Prince Bolkonski has a stroke and him and Princess Mary try to flee. They take refuge on one of their estates, where Prince Bolkonski dies, after exchanging a last few kind words with Princess Mary. However, after his death Princess Mary wants to help her peasants against the French but the peasantry refuses both to leave and to let her go. This is where Nicholas Rostov appears as a shining knight in armour, aiding Princess Mary in fleeing from the coming French army. The two even slightly fall in love in their short acquaintance and I think I might ship it.

We then switch to Prince Andrew who is also at the front. Prince Andrew is offered a position in his staff by Kutuzov who is sentimental over his father's death, but he has become popular with his regiment and still despises the fake attitudes of the upper classes. We also get to see more of Pierre who is in Moscow and is expecting disaster to strike. He has been spending serious money on outfitting a regiment and he wants to join the army himself as well. But his characteristic inconsistency means he never truly makes his way to the front. That is, however, until he witnesses two French men being flogged and shouted at on the streets of Moscow. The vileness of it makes him leave and he joins the army just in time for the lead-up to the Battle of Borodinó.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is still a strange in-between quality to these chapters. On the one hand a lot of things are happening and some storylines are ending. Prince Bolkonski's death, however, releases Princess Mary, who's freedom hopefully means she can now make independent choices and get rid of that terrible Christian guilt. Prince Andrew continues to be slightly grumpy but dedicated to doing good. I do wish he'd forgive Natasha. Pierre's continuous back and forth on, well, anything, is getting ever so slightly on my nerves, however. I don't know what some people see in him, but he seems to be all about ideas and less about action, unless he is forced to it. 

General Points:

  • The chapters focusing on the growing anti-French feelings in Russia are really interesting. French has been a part of the novel, thrown into casual conversations as a sign of sophistication. Now the different salons have anti-French jars, which work pretty much like anti-swearing laws. When thinking about it, it is quite scary.
  • Princess Mary is finally free and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her. She is a strange character, one who on the one hand seems to be desperate for release and yet has also internalised so much Christian humility and guilt that she can't let herself be free. She is both a sympathetic and a pathetic character, so she does keep your attention.
  • The description of the soldiers that Pierre sees is very interesting, especially in how he can't understand the resilience with which they go into battle. The build-up to the Battle of Borodinó also allows Tolstoy to go back to describing politics and history. This attention to history and how it changes in time how certain events are seen.
  • We're heading up to the Battle of Borodinó, one of the deadliest battles in the Patriotic War. I look forward to discussing it next week.

Quotes:
'With wide-open eyes she gazed at the moonlight and the shadows, expecting every moment to see his dead face, and she felt that the silence brooding over the house and within it held her fast.' 60%
This is Princess Mary's feeling after Prince Bolkonski has died. She is experiencing the strange combination between terror and elation at her new loss and freedom.
'The ancients have left us model heroic poems in which the heroes furnish the whole interest of the story, and we are still unable to accustom ourselves to the fact that for our epoch histories of that kind are meaningless.' 62%
Tolstoy loves discussing history, truly engaging as an Author with what he is writing and what others have written. 

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