Friday, 5 August 2016

War and Peace #12: II.x.24 - III.xi.18

Yup, I decided to speed up the process a little bit which was a partly tragic decision since I've been told off by my dissertation supervisor that I need to refocus my attention... but how can I when Napoleon and the French army are at the gates of Moscow and my dissertation only leads to nervous breakdowns in the middle of the night? This isn't the biggest and most complex of posts because I've been busy. Naturally there is quite a lot to get through so let's get started!



Summary of Chapters:
With Pierre having well and truly arrived at the front, Tolstoy takes us into the preparations for the Battle of Borodino. Prince Andrew is frustrated at the constant arguing by generals about positions and plans, when it is not them or their plans which will determine the outcome of the battle. Tolstoy then switches to Napoleon and gives us a fascinating insight into what he imagines his mind to be like. Convinced of his own magnanimity, he cannot imagine anything but a French victory. This allows Tolstoy another chance to talk about how unimportant he thinks a single person, even if that person is Napoleon, is to the course of history. When the actual Battle starts Tolstoy manages to shift perspectives in such ways the reader truly feels they get an understanding of what happens. Pierre's initial amazement turns into slow horror at the bloodshed, Napoleon's initial pride turns into shock, and Prince Andrew is shook out of his reverie by a mortar shell. Wounded, he is carried to a medic tent where he witnesses Anatole Kuragin's leg being amputated. The Battle of Borodino falls onto these characters like a bomb, shaking up how they look at the world and themselves. The Battle ends with a moral victory for Russia but with the certainty that Moscow will still have to be surrendered.

Meanwhile Helene in Petersburg has decided she can do better and converses to Catholicism and plans to remarry. Pierre makes his way back to Moscow, still shocked, and has once again been told that Prince Andrew is presumed dead. It's becoming a habit with that man. In Moscow the Rostovs are finally packing up their possessions for an escape to the countryside, while wounded soldiers start streaming into the city, the French army hot on their heels. Still adorably self-involved, they don't seem to notice until it awakens something in Natasha who has recovered from her illness, post-Anatole. She reorganises the packing, until she decides to fill the carriages with the wounded rather than the china. One of these happens to be Prince Andrew, who is in fact not dead, but the two don't meet. Pierre meanwhile needs an escape from the world and hides at the house of his deceased Masonry-tutor.

Feel of the Chapters:
Most of the chapters for this week centre around the Battle of Borodino. Tolstoy definitely has a knack for describing battle scenes. By switching between different characters' perspectives the reader definitely gets a more complete view of the Battle and how it can affect different types of people. While those in charge get to walk around and make decisions without actually putting themselves in danger, Tolstoy also shows us how the soldiers themselves actually cope with the fighting. There is real humanity in those chapters as well as some beautiful moments of camaraderie.

The switch from the Battle to Moscow at times felt a bit jarring but I think that was the purpose as well. To see the upper classes taking their casual time fleeing when people are dying only a few miles away is off-putting but that is exactly the point.

General Points:

  • Natasha has slowly become a really interesting character. On the one hand she feels very child-like and easily excited, but she has an incredibly good heart. Easily distracted, but usually dedicated to the right cause.
  • It's so interesting how important Napoleon is to European narratives. He had a major impact on European culture, from a sense of nationality to seemingly random yet crucial things like registration of civilians. 
  • Pierre still rubs me the wrong way. His insistence at being at the Battle and his subsequent lack of, well, action just doesn't work for me. On the one hand he provides an amateur window into the Battle, but he is also so full of prejudices from his own class that I can't accept his opinions.
Quotes:
'War is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept this terrible necessity sternly and seriously. It all lies in that: get rid of falsehood and let war be war and not a game.' 64%
I very much agreed with Prince Andrew's opinions about war, his annoyance at those in charge as well as the concept of heroism.
'But Helene, like a really great man who can do whatever he pleases, at once assumed her own position to be correct, as she sincerely believed it to be, and that everyone else was to blame.' 69%
After so long of Tolstoy talking down about Helene I was very pleased to see him sort of crediting her as well as pointing out the double standard regarding genders.

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