If I was to point to a defining section in War and Peace that sums up Leo Tolstoy, it would have to be Anna Scherer’s aunt. She’s wheeled out, all the guests are introduced to her and “performed the ceremony of greeting the aunt, who was unknown, uninteresting and unnecessary to everyone.”
There’s just something so inherently true about that scene. Haven’t you ever been at a social gathering where you’re all introduced to someone, but you really have no interest in them, and you can’t wait to finish your polite small talk and avoid them for the rest of the event? It may not be very kind, but I’m sure we’ve all been there at some stage or other. And it’s the fact that I can relate to those little scenarios that makes me enjoy this novel so much.
Of course, if you thought the scene with the aunt was totally unnecessary and you’re waiting for something tohappen in the book – I’d suggest that this may not be your novel.
As for the soireé itself, now in full swing – I realise now how spot on Tolstoy was in this scene, now that I’ve been to an elite gathering. The politeness, the importance of being seen, and the horror of having people who speak their mind . . .
A mention should also be made of Lise Bolkonsky, the young pregnant princess who just arrived. Her husband (soon to go off to war) is Andrei (we’ll meet him soon) and it is Andrei’s sister, Marya (who lives at home with her filthy rich father) that Anna Scherer was planning to hook up with Vasili’s son, Anatole, in the last chapter. Does that all make sense? I hope so . . .
And, last, but by no means least – Pierre. He immediately stands out – a Russian with a French name (except for one fairly ordinary translation I saw that translated it as Peter). Illegitimate, no standing in society – and no understanding of the social conventions of the aristocracy. The interesting thing about Pierre is the changes that he undergoes throughout the novel (especially since he becomes one of the main characters). So what you think of him may vary as you go through the book.
But to start with, we’re given Anna Scherer’s impressions of him, which is that he’s rather dangerous to let loose in a high society room . . .
So has anyone else been at a schmooze-up like this?