One-Year War and Peace 2.6 – A Shade of Grey

This chapter is very short, and doesn’t contain any of the main characters (in the sense that any of Tolstoy’s many characters can be called “main”).  However, it does provide some fascinatingly disturbing insights into the Russian army at the time.

We see Zherkov the Giggler again, this time up with the Russian cannons, protecting the Russian army as it literally burns Austrian bridges to stop the French coming over.  Disturbingly, the Russian soldiers (far less cultivated than most of the aristocratic characters we’ve met so far) are happily discussing rape and pillaging.  More disturbing – this is not the plunder of the French that they’re talking about – but Austria.  Hey, look, the country’s in an uproar?  Why not?

Even the first appearance of the French army in the book (just a tiny speck on a hill on the other side of the valley with their own cannons) seems to spark more a sense of fun than any real worry about their comrades down below, crossing a bridge far too slowly to escape . . . If you haven’t worked it out, also, the hussars are doing the bridge burning, meaning that Nikolai Rostov is potentially in danger.

It’s a strange picture of warfare.  And nothing makes it so strange, as Tolstoy’s amazing last phrase here (as translated by Maude): “the clear sound of the solitary shot and the brilliance of the bright sunshine merged in a single joyous and spirited impression”.  Do troops nowadays find a strange joy in war, I wonder?

One-Year War and Peace 2.4 & 2.5 – Stealing and Honour

We now return to Nikolai Rostov (in case you’ve forgotten, son of Count and Countess Rostov, brother to Natasha, Vera, Petya, and rather enamoured cousin to Sonya . . .), and we see him on the battlefield.

Quite unlike Andrei, who is quite caught up in the seriousness of it all, Nikolai seems to be more in it for the fun of it and “the honour”, at this stage.  Now, I don’t know about you, but the events of these two chapters were somewhat confusing – or at least  the two different translations that I consulted made it seem that way (the Garnett and the Maude).

So tell me – is this what you think happened?  Nikolai is counting his superior officer Denisov’s money (from his gambling . . .), when in walks Telyanin, the officer, who steals the money.  Rostov realises this, and then goes to find Telyanin.  However, when Telyanin looks panicked and says that he has a poor father and mother, Nikolai gives him the money and says keep it.  That’s the end of chapter 4.

Where it gets confusing is chapter 5.  Later that day, Denisov and another officer are giving Nikolai a lambasting for telling the commanding officer about the theft.  For the honour of the regiment, he should stay silent, rather than admit that there is a thief.

But what I don’t get is why did Nikolai let Telyanin keep the money if he was going to dob him in?

Are there any Tolstoy scholars out there who might be able to shed light on what’s happening?  I would be ever so grateful.

In the meantime, I’ve added Denisov to the MindMap, because he will go on to become a more major character as time goes on.  (It helps to keep track of all these other characters as well, but I think to keep the MindMap manageable, I’ll only stick on the really, really major ones.)

Either way, all this confusion comes to an end, when Zherkov, now reduced to the regiments for making fun of loser Austraian (I wonder if he was demoted by Andrei Bolkonsky?) arrives to let them know that, regardless of who stole from whom – they’re being marched into battle . . . And so it begins . . .

Away for two days

Hi all,

I’ll be away today and tomorrow, so I’ll make one catch-up post for 2.4 and 2.5 tomorrow when I get back . . .

Talk to you then!

One-Year War and Peace – 2.3

In this chapter, Tolstoy gently reminds us how serious the war is, without actually having a battle scene.  What starts as a scene of politics, as the Austrian general tries to get Russian reinforcements for a battle he can’t admit they’re losing – all of a sudden becomes more serious as the Austrian General Mack arrives.

The heckling of the Austrians by the two Russians is a bit of an eye-opener.  It makes me wonder whether even back then, whether the seeds of the rivalry between the nations that was at its peak in WWII was present all the time.

In all of this, it is Andrei who reminds us that this is not a funny matter.  Lives are lost.   You may not particularly like another nation, you may not like their leaders – but somewhere out there, lives are lost.  I sometimes worry that war is taken a bit too lightly in our Western nations, but this highlights the seriousness of it all.

Oh, did anyone else think it was nice for Andrei finally to have cheered up, or was that just me?

One-Year War and Peace 1.2 – The Entrance of Kutozov

On the cover of my Maude translation of War and Peace, there is a vast picture of Napoleon on a rearing horse.

But really, Tolstoy would have been a bit disgusted with this.  After all, if there’s any real hero to this story (at least in military terms) – a guy that you can look up to, it’s Commander-in-Chief Kutuzov.

With one-eye, and a deceptively laid-back approach to war, he makes his first appearance inspecting the men, Austrian general in tow.  Thanks to Prince Andrei (also making a return appearance), Kutuzov makes a personal acknowledgment of Dolohov, setting him up as a special man in the forces – however, still demoted until he proves himself in the first engagement.

We’re all being set up for that first battle.  The question really is, where’s Napoleon?  What’s going on?

Take a deep breath folks – this book might take a while to answer those questions – and you’ve going to have to settle for the antics of Kutuzov’s clown sidekicks, Zherkov the mimic and Nesvitsky the giggler.

If they irritate you, that’s nothing compared with what Andrei thinks of them . . . but we’ll find out about that in due course.

See you tomorrow.

One-Year War and Peace 2.1 – A Humorous Start to the War

If we hadn’t already had Part 1 of the book, to a degree, this chapter feels more like the beginning of a book called War and Peace.  Marching soldiers – political backdrop.  The Austrian battlefield.  Even a date.  11 October 1805.

But the interesting thing about this chapter is that after all the grim buildup to the war, the chapter owns with a bit of gentle comedy.  A Russian regiment has been marching all night to meet General Kutuzov, the commander-in-chief.  He’s currently meeting with the Austrian generals, who want him to put his forces out on the field straight away.  So Kutuzov wants the men to show up looking as bedraggled as possible, so he can demonstrate that the men can’t possibly go straight into battle.  This highlights already the weaknesses between the Austrian-Russian alliance.

However, Kutuzov’s wishes were not conveyed properly to the general of the regiment, and he instead got his men tidied up for the parade ground – so they’re all looking quite neat and tidy.  Once the mixup is sorted out, all the officers have to suddenly get out their coats, so they look like they’ve just come off the March.

It may seem like a throwaway detail, but this disorganisation and lack of communication among the ranks (including the other humourous section where the message that “the general wants to speak to the captain of the third company” becomes “the captain wants to speak to the general of the third company”) is a vital part of Tolstoy’s philosophy of what goes on during a war.

But you’ll be hearing heaps and heaps about that further down the track, so there’s no need to say more here.

And, of course, to make things more exciting, the roguish Dolohov makes his return appearance in War and Peace.  This time, he’s wearing a blue coat in an army full of black-coated men.  Exactly how he got permission to do this, and quite why he got the arrogance to stand up to the general, I’m not so sure.  But, really, the guy is capable of anything . . .

One-Year War and Peace – A Few Words Before We Continue . . .

Well, I hope there’s still more than me reading Book 2 . . .

Actually, to be honest, this is the book where things get difficult.  Book 1 is not so hard.  You realise that Tolstoy really isn’t that difficult to read after all.  There’s lots of intrigue, romance and scandal.  Pierre gets his inheritance, etc.

But Book 2 puts us out on the battlefield.  There are no women to speak of in this Book.  All the  intrigue and romance is gone.

And if that’s what you liked about War and Peace so far, you may well find this a drag to read.

I would say – if you’ve enjoyed Tolstoy’s for character – which is what I hoped that I have been able to draw out in some small way in these comments – then you’ll find no problem with Book 2.  Tolstoy, whether he’s writing about the ballroom or the battlefield, has the same unerring instinct for how humans behave.

But I guess you’ll get to make your own call on that as we go through Book 2.

In the meantime, another apology – I said way back in an earlier comment that Russia was going to fight with the Prussians against France.  I was completely wrong.  Ignore that.

Prussia is actually neutral at this point in time, and Russia is, in fact, joining forces with Austria.

I hope – I’m sure it’ll all make sense as we go along.

Now on to Book 2!

One Year War and Peace 1.25 – End of Book 1 & The Shadow of Death

Again, apologies for not getting on here last night . . . but down to business, the last chapter of Book 1!

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmonds: 1.25

Maude: 1.28

Well, here we go . . . the end of Book 1.  Show of hands?  (Or comments.)  Who’s still here?  My sceptical wife is convinced that a lot of people will have dropped off . . .

Which I’m inclined to believe could be a possibility as well.  So we started with about a dozen.  Who’s still here?

Anyway, this last chapter, despite its apparently simplicity, actually has a lot going on under the surface.  It’s quite masterfully put together.  And quite sad . . . It starts with a very simple statement: “Prince Andrei was leaving the following evening.”  But what a lot is contained in that statement.

He’s not just going on a business trip.  He’s going to war.  War means he may not come back.  So, in all the conversations that ensue, the unsaid reality is that this could be the last they see of Andrei.

It comes through in Marya’s fervent religious sentiments and her giving him the icon.

It comes through in the discussion with his father – who is still unable to get the words, “I love you” out of his mouth.

But the shadow of death hangs over a couple of other people as well: to some extent, old Prince Bolkonsky is in his older years, and may pass away.  But there is also the fear (whether rational or not) of Princess Lise, that she will die giving birth to her child.

All of this floating around – and only Marya seems to be the person to be able to give a proper goodbye.  Andrei barely says a word to his wife.  And his father ends the chapter (and Book I) with the door slam that is the expression of his sorrow.

Also, as a side note, you may have noticed Andrei’s impatience with Mademoiselle Bourienne for showing an interest in him.  Even though nothing happened, did this remind him of the St Petersburg society, and the affair that may or may not have been happening between Hippolyte and Lise?  Either way, it seems his disgust with the vast majority of humanity is well and truly ensconced.

So the questions that remain are: Will Andrei find on the battlefield what he cannot find in Russian aristocratic society?

Will the shadow of death fall?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the end of Book 1.  Hope you’ve enjoyed the journey so far.  I’ll be back later in the day to blog about 2.1!  Exciting, eh?

The best thing is – in Book 2, everyone has the same chapter numbers!  If that’s not a cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.

One-Year War and Peace 1.24 – An Awkward Dinner

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmonds: 1.24

Maude: 1.27

The Bolkonsky awkwardness continues with this dinner party scene. (You may feel that all Tolstoy writes is a long string of parties and dinners strung together – and that’s possibly not a bad description of Book 1 of War and Peace.)

Marya – petrified of her father, but unable to say a bad word against him. Andrei, taking great delight in getting into arguments about politics and war with his old man, even though he can never win.

But, to me, most tragic of all, is what’s unspoken in this scene. Maybe I’m reading it through modern eyes, with a few decades worth of pop psychology having infiltrated my brain – but it seems to me that you’re dealing with a father who loves his children, but simply does not know how to show it.

He talks as if he doesn’t care that Andrei is going to war. He wants to read Marya’s letters for fear she might be “writing rubbish” – but the fact that she is locked away from all other companionship doesn’t seem to worry him. But, at the same time, Tolstoy gives us enough glimpse of his unspoken love to make the man understandable.

In fact, while this situation is rather extreme, I’m sure many of us can relate to this picture of family awkwardness.

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmonds: 1.25

Maude: 1.28

And . . . big cheer to everyone . . . you will have finished Book 1. There you go!

One-Year War and Peace 1.23 – A Chip Off the Old Block

The first thing I should do is apologise – work followed me quite severely home yesterday, so I actually didn’t get a chance to post this up yesterday when it was due.

The second thing is to apologise for the misspelled translator – it’s Rosemary Edmonds, the translator, not Edmondson. Not that it matters that much because Penguin Classics no longer publishes her translation, and instead publish the new Anthony Briggs translation.

But I know a couple of you are reading the Edmonds, so to continue:

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmonds: 1.23

Maude: 1.26

This is another chapter that brings us back to the awkwardness of the Bolkonsky’s. First off, Andrei seems disgusted by the rather affectionate interaction between Marya and Lise – but then seems rather fond of his old man – surely the man for which the word “curmudgeon” was invented . . .

Or am I misreading this scene?