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?

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8 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 1.2 – The Old Aunt

  1. Never been to a schmooze-up like that, but sometimes dealing with customers isn’t much different… lots of paying homage goes on (same with govt. ministers, or so I’ve heard.)

    You’re right though, this scene is a lot more “true”. And I’m starting to see what you mean about the value of reading it slowly.

    As far as all the names etc go, I wonder if anyone’s done a website that shows a sort of family tree of how all the characters are related…. hmm, maybe Fish could animate it to reveal new characters/links as they’re revealed in the book.

  2. When Pierre is described as big does it mean tall or rotund or both?

    I also found the description of Lise interesting in that she is very beautfiul and yet the only details Tolstoy picks out about her are those often associated with being unattractive – a very faint moustache and a short upper lip.

    I liked how Tolstoy notes that all the men felt good about themselves after talking with her.

  3. To Dave:

    Next post, mate . . .

    To Damien:

    Excellent – hope we’ll see her commenting around here as well.

    To Chris:

    I’ve always assumed that Tolstoy meant that Pierre was both tall and rotund – but then maybe the movie prejudiced me a bit on that one. That is a good point about the Lise description, and I also found it amusing . . . it reminds me of my younger days when I was a teenager . . .

    If there was a pretty girl at a party or a gathering, and you wre privileged to be part of the circle of guys that were talking to her or making her laugh or whatever, you went home pretty proud of yourself . . . Maybe it is a universal thing?

  4. I think Anna uses that ‘move’ in order to put her guests ‘in line’ as they arrive. It’s sort of an initial judgment of them; it tells her who they are, if she doesn’t really know, what kind of people they are – it also provides an indication of just what kind of mood the individual is in.

    It struck me as humorous, when Pierre dumbly passed the old girl over; it was an ‘introduction’ to the reader of Pierre. The reader can see right there that Pierre isn’t the pretentious sort; he doesn’t put on airs, doesn’t express feelings he doesn’t really feel.

    Rude, though it may have being, his obvious disinterest in this old aunt, gave a true indication that he wasn’t going to be led by the nose – he was ready to feed his mind at this event, and the small stuff was of no interest to him. He wasn’t going to pretend it was.

    SPOILER ahead here . . . mind the wheel, and go straight on to my next comment, if you’re only just starting W & P.

    Strange though . . . after that little party, Pierre seems to ‘go-with-the-flow’, especially once he comes into his own and Vasily gets his old claws into him.

    ……………………………………………………

    Yes, I can relate to places and events where folks are horrified if you actually speak your own mind . . . I used to attend a regular poetry reading where a lot of the people there were so ‘up on human rights’, you were afraid to say anything for fear it might offend somebody.

    One of the girls there – a self-appointed activist of the group – gave somebody a good bawling out for making the mistake of calling a certain type of footwear ‘Mukluks’ . . .

    Well, me just being in the kind of mood for a little ‘sheet distributing’, piped up . . .

    “Y’know” I said “I didn’t know that about Mukluks either – and frankly? It wasn’t exactly the first thing on my mind when I got up this morning!”

    Well, the Mukluk defender was furious . . . she went flouncing up to the counter and told the cafe owner she was no longer attending the event if I wasn’t reprimanded immediately!

    He just brushed it off, btw . . . only a few – her faithful followers – were actually offended by my statement.

    But I never really felt comfortable at that particular poetry event again.

    ………………………………………………………

    Lise . . .

    (Matt, you are amazing! Your blog is so in-depth and you do it all without coming off as some boring intellectual, up on the stage feeding your audience a lot of fifty-cent words!)

    Yes – and thanks for reminding me who is who . . . I know, now that I’m well into Book 3, I lose track of who these people are, what family they belong to and who is connected with who . . . or what.

    ……………………………………………………….

    Pierre . . .

    Now, that’s the first time I’ve thought of that – he’s a Russian and he has a French name! I don’t know if it was actually mentioned in the story, but I didn’t realize it. It is kinda’ strange, this name . . . why was he named so? Is his mother French?

    Maybe it tells us in the story, but again, I wouldn’t remember it.

    (I can’t even think of who his mother was, right now . . .)

    ……………………………………………………………

    Responding to Dave:

    Well, isn’t that what Matt’s map is all about? Tells us who’s who, and all that.

    I don’t actually refer to the map – I get a bit intimidated by ‘maps’ – heh! heh!

    I’m finding, just reading the blogs on these first few chapters is putting my mind straight on who’s who and what their names (and various spellings) are.

    …………………………………………………………….

    Responding to Chris:

    The slight moustache on the upper lip . . . guess the ladies didn’t go to electrosis (or whatever that is) parlours in those days. Maybe it was considered to be ‘attractive’ . . . dunno’. And there’s a thought for y’all . . . why is it that we find these features unattractive in women, yet in men, they are perfectly acceptable.

    Guess it’s all to do with whatever turns your crank . . . I once had a boyfriend (many moons ago and certainly not in current time, seeing as how I’m married and way past the age of ‘boyfriends’) who had a slight growth of downy hair on the cheekbones. I loved it! Don’t know why; it gave me the impression of a certain ‘wildness’ . . . not that I needed anything to give me that impression – he was a wild one . . . I mentioned to his mother that he’d told me he was an actor when a young boy. She, an old Scotswoman replied ‘Trust me, Lass – he’s still an actor!’

    If you’ve been following the Russian film clips on You Tube, you’ll see the actor that played Pierre is kinda’ stocky . . . not really fat, but seems to have ‘unnecessary mass’, if you know what I mean. I haven’t seen any other versions of the film . . . there’s the BBC series, that I vaguely recollect watching years ago and there’s an English version – I’m not really sure. So I don’t really know who plays Pierre in those and what he looks like.

    Guess I shouldn’t be so lazy and ‘google’ it up, but I don’t really care what he looks like. It’s enough just figuring what he’s all about, being exasperated with his ‘go-with-flow’ attitude, that I don’t need to put a face to him.

    I don’t find him attractive in any way . . . he’s dull and boring, I think. Even when he goes out, gets drunk . . . well, that’s further on, of course.

    Yes, the men feel good when talking to Lise . . . men! Ha! Ha! Sorry – don’t mean to be offensively ‘sexist’, but I do find men love these ‘wee bits of fluff’, as an old Welshwoman I once knew described the Lise’s of this world.

    Y’know when I first read of her and Helene, I thought it was Lise who was going to be the ‘blonde’, not Helene.

    (I find Lise has more substance in further chapters though – she’s not what I’d call brilliant, ready for the Nobel Prize or anything, but she’s more interesting to me later in the story)

    ………………………………………………………………

  5. Hope you didn’t think I was putting down all the work you did on the ‘mind map’ . . . I know you did a great job – everyone’s using it at B & N . . . it’s just me – I haven’t caught on yet, but I will apply myself and use it, eventually.

  6. My post – September 26th, 2k8

    The Old Aunt
    Does anyone, at any time, mention this woman’s name? I do not recall seeing it yet. Who is she? Is she ‘indeed’ the Emperor’s mother? Is that something we’re going to find out near the end of the book?

    Is this a surprise for me, when I finally start back on Book 8? Or sometime onward from there?

    Oh, don’t tell me . . . just let me wonder till I get there.

    (Maybe she’s just what Tolstoy says she is – the old aunt. Anna’s aunt, I guess . . . somebody needs to write a story about the old aunt . . . maybe it’s me – maybe I’ll use that theme for my next ‘flash write’ at WBBS, or Poetry Train . . . whatever.

    I hate the way these old writers’ view older women as being too unimportant to spend any time on – in their opinion, 60 is ancient in a woman – even though they have their 180 year old characters marrying young girls.)

    ………………………………………………………………………….

    I’m going to continue with the list . . . you will find a more detailed list at WC’s book discussion board . . .

    http://wildcity.proboards14.com/index.cgi?board=Books&action=display&thread=3127

    I’ll be working on that, as I’m re-reading and studying Book 1 again, but for now, I’ll just add the names as they’re introduced to the story. I won’t enlarge upon them in any way, just keep the count . . . just ta’ drive ‘ya all nuts – ha ha!

    Helene, the old aunt, Count Bezukhov, Monsieur Pierre – Count Bezukhov’s son . . .

    Plus the 22 names I already have . . . that makes 26 people, all told, who have been introduced as characters in this story.

    Not all of them are ‘main’ characters, of course . . . some are just ‘mentions’.

    ……………………………..

    This is so curious, this thing about the aunt. I guess I’ll find out eventually.

    ……………………………………………………………………………………….

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