Thursday, 7 July 2016

War and Peace #8: II.vii.3 - II.viii.9

Well, how everything can change in just one week! Last week we left two people happily in love and one person feeling better about his life and this week we return to find everything slowly falling apart. Also, the plot is really picking up pace I feel. More and more characters' storylines are being intermingled, they are meeting each other, falling in love with each other. And meanwhile Russia's foreign policy keeps being quite a big topic. Maybe I should do some research before next week's post, see what it is all about?

Summary of Chapters:
This week's section started of rather horridly with chapters describing a hunt. On the one hand the were some of the most active and therefore thrilling chapters in War and Peace so far and yet on the other hand I found the descriptions of Nicholas and co hunting a poor wolf slightly off-putting. The Rostovs, after the wise decision to just pretend they don't have money troubles, find themselves sinking further and further into said troubles. The only way out, it seems, is for Nicholas to marry Julie Karagina, who has recently inherited a lot of money. Problem is, he is finally falling in love with Sonya. Meanwhile Natasha is getting increasingly frustrated at the year's separation enforced on her and Prince Andrew by his father, Prince Bolkonski. It's making her a bit capricious. Finally, it all seems to come to a head in the Rostov household when Nicholas reveals his intention to marry Sonya to his mother. With a major break in the family looming, Countess Rostov agrees to stop being mean to Sonya while Nicholas returns to his regiment with the promise not to elope with Sonya.

Pierre meanwhile is no longer content with his St. Petersburg life and returns to Moscow. He is increasingly troubled by internal questions as to the purpose of his life and tries to quell these with copious amounts of wine. Prince Bolkonski and poor Princess Mary also come to Moscow and the former is absolutely abhorrent to the latter. Princess Mary suffers under her father's anger about Prince Andrew's engagement and the chapters focusing on them are rather sad. Her companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne, however, is making the most from the situation as Prince Bolkonski showers her in attention just to hurt his daughter. Professional social climber Boris meanwhile has come to Moscow after failing to hunt down a rich heiress in St. Petersburg. Torn between the quiet and unaware Princess Mary and the frankly annoying Julie Karagina, he proposes to and is accepted by the latter after Anatole Kuragin, brother to Helene, arrives in Moscow and makes him nervous. Finally Natasha, Sonya and Count Rostov also arrive in Moscow, where poor Natasha has a rather terrible meeting with Princess Mary. Both women feel awkward and thereby come across as hostile, while Mademoiselle Bourienne happily chats away. When the Rostov crew go to the opera they not only run into the newly engaged Boris and Julie, but also into Dolokhov, who proposed to and got rejected by Sonya not too long ago, and into the newly arrives Helene and Pierre, as well as Anatole Kuragin. The latter immediately sets his eyes upon Natasha.

Feel of the Chapter:
The first few chapters of this week's section hold some of my favourite descriptions by Tolstoy so far. The way he describes the winter landscape (see Quotes) is beautiful and it really lifts up the novel. In the young Rostovs he does seem to be describing both the love of life and the disappointment of life. Both Nicholas and Natasha are struggling with the balance between their own desires and the expectations of them and they seem happiest and content far away from everything. However, the story of the Rostovs' active self-destruction through their trouble with money seems to hold a lesson as well that pure self-indulgence is not the way. Perhaps they are too content.

After roughly 400 pages of characters living hundreds of miles apart and being only very tangentially related to one another, it is almost too good to be true to have almost all of them in the same city, let alone building. It also ramps up the tension as one suddenly comes to realize how entangled these characters have all been. Everyone knows everyone through someone else. The very Julie Karagina which Princess Mary has been exchanging letters with was the Rostovs only hope of solvence but has now married Boris, who was once in love with Natasha, who is now engages to Prince Andrew, the brother of Princess Mary. Meanwhile, Pierre is good friends with the Rostovs and the Bolkonskis and his wife Helene's brother Anatole is currently making eyes at Natasha. It feels like a soap opera, but it's way better written.

General Points:
  • I'm still figuring out whether Tolstoy is being a bit misogynistic in his description of his female characters or whether he is presenting them a certain way to make a point. Helene is, according to Pierre, who seems to be Tolstoy's spokesperson, the stupidest of women and yet he also praises her. Julie Karagina is incredibly self-involved and everyone can see it. I wonder whether Tolstoy's kindness to Natasha will change once her storyline with Anatole takes off, which will give me my answer.
  • Poor Princess Mary is truly suffering and yet her story is a conflicting one as well. Her willingness to self-sacrifice is both admirable and incredibly annoying. Her father mistreats her but she can find no way out of herself and therefore no way out of her situation. 
  • Money is at the heart of many of these plotlines. Boris is chasing after it, the Rostovs don't have it and Pierre has too much of it. Although not laid bare as such, money clearly makes Tolstoy's Russia spin.
  • I wonder how much of the political talk in War and Peace is Tolstoy expressing his opinions andd how much of it is purely there to form characters. As such, the reader needs an understanding of the historical and political background of the novel because it adds to the reading experience. 

Something Extra:

Above is the Bolshoi Theatre, the Opera house in Moscow which also stages ballet performances. It was opened in 1825, so a good 40-odd years before War and Peace was published. The theatre building has had quite a turbulent past, repeatedly catching fire and having to be rebuilt or renovated. It was initially known as the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theatre and was, of course, imperial property.

The building underwent major renovations in 2005-2011, when it was discovered that apparently 75% of the building's structure had become unstable. During these renovations, funded by the government and apparently costing up to $1.1 billion, effort was made to return the theatre to how it had looked during the 19th century. The inside was completely stripped and old fixtures were repaired in specialist shops, while on the outside the original Russian coat of arms replaced the hammer and sickle. So, it is pretty fair to say that all our characters must have come together in an Opera house looking pretty similar to this. 

'Where, how, and when, had this young countess, educated by an émigrée French governess, imbibed from the Russian air she breathed that spirit, and obtained that manner which the pas de châle would, one would have supposed, long ago have effaced?' p. 404
This is a beautiful little description of Natasha, who despite all her elegance and attempted sophistication also has the wild spirit of Russia in her heart. I wish not everyone in this cast had been aristocratic because I think Tolstoy would have excelled at writing about us normal people.
'But here is a fairy forest with black moving shadows, and a glitter of diamonds and a flight of marble steps and the silver roofs of fairy buildings and the shrill yells of some animals.' p.416
I absolutely loved Nicholas' description of the landscape when him, Natasha and Sonya went on a late night trip. It's utterly magical and Tolstoy keeps chasing after these magical moments for his characters, giving them a little bit of hope and inspiration for all that is to come.

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