One-Year War and Peace 1.22 – Maths Abuse

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.22

Maude: 1.25

As a person who owns a degree in mathematics, I do remember thinking in my younger days that if everybody studied maths, we’d all think really logically and have a clear head to apply to all other areas of life.

However, I might have to disown that sentiment in light of Andrei’s dad . . . in this chapter, the scene shifts to the estate of Bald Hills, miles outside of Moscow, and the home of Andrei’s Dad, Prince Bolkonsky.  In case you didn’t pick up the significance, a man who still wears a powdered wig (like everyone did in the 1700s) in the early 1800s (when they’d well and truly gone out of fashion) is really quite stuck in a time warp.

When you add what would probably be defined nowadays as “emotional abuse” (via maths lessons . . .), then we have a fairly unlikeable old man.

Oddly enough, however, this might give you a bit of sympathy for why Andrei is the way he is, considering who he grew up with.

Or you might think the whole family is weird.

Certainly, the one that our heart goes our for is Princess Marya, condemned by Tolstoy, not only to have a geometry-wielding father, but to have an ordinary face except for her eyes.  And they want to pair her up with Anatole “Ratbag” Kuragin.

(Just in case you got confused here, by the way – Prince Vassily’s family is the Kuragin family.  The Julie that Marya is writing to here is Julie Karagin – she who made Sonya jealous a few chapters ago, and whose mother drove Countess Rostov up the wall.)  Make sense?

Anyway, I have marked Count Bolkonsky as a MATHS ABUSER on the MindMap and indicated the pen-pal relationship between Julie and Marya.

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.23

Maude: 1.26

One-Year War and Peace 1.21 – Battling Heirs

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.21

Maude: 1.24

. . . and so Count Bezukhov is dead (“at last,” some of you may be saying . . .).  The motivations in this chapter are rather complex and fascinating.  Did Anna Mikhaylovna just help make sure Pierre got his fortune so that she could get some money for Boris? (Considering the Rostov’s had helped her out.)  Or is she less of a scab and more of a kind soul than we think?

When Vassily is overcome with the horror of death  – and realises that it comes to get us all – is he truly grief-stricken and shocked, or is he just trying to divert attention away from the fact that he very nearly ripped Pierre off of an amazing fortune?

What do you think?

Whatever the motivations – this key chapter sets up Pierre with money for the rest of the book.  Will the money change him?  What will this newfound life of aristocracy lead to?

The story continues – change of scene tomorrow, for those whose patience has run thin . . .

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.22

Maude: 1.25

One-Year War and Peace 1.20 – A Dying Man and Russian Choral Music

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.20

Maude: 1.23

And so now we move into the final reunion between Pierre and his father.  Like all Tolstoy, it’s understated.  No words pass between them.  Is his father really glad to see him?  Is he past all that?  It’s never really made clear (though, obviously, the background from the last couple of chapters has made us realise how much the Count does love Pierre).  In fact, the whole scene is a bit surreal – but I’m sure that those of you out there (and it’s never been me yet, fortunately), who have waited by the bedside of someone who’s life is measured in days or hours, may have found that experience to be like that.  You don’t know, in those last hours, how much that person comprehends or understands.  Such is aging and death . . .

Should also say, while I’m at it, I appreciated the mention of the “subdued, deep bass singing” (or chanting) of the priests.  If you’ve never heard it, Russian Orthodox church music is quite an experience.  It headed in completely different directions from Western church music.  It all consists of one single melody line, with a lot of low, quiet harmonies underneath – so there’s none of the flashy parts intersecting in and out, like they do in baroque music.  There is no accompaniment from any instruments.

It rarely gets loud or fast.  It’s always slow and contemplative.  And this musical style continued well in
to the 20th century, until the introduction of Communism removed the Church from being part of Russian life.  Anyway, so if you get a chance to find a track or two of Russian Sacred Choral Music on iTunes, I’d give it a try.  You may not want to listen to heaps of it, but it’ll certainly be a different experience from anything you hear in churches in the West.  It’ll also give you the feel of the singing that was going on here in Count Bezukhov’s bedroom.

Anyway, my breakfast is ready . . . so I’ll see you all tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.20

Maude: 1.23

One-Year War and Peace 1.18 – Vassily’s Dark Side

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.18

Maude: 1.21

Well, those of us who were happily tripping along reading about Natasha’s dolls and Count Rostov’s dancing may not have been quite prepared for the shift we get in this chapter.

With a brilliant segue, which works only on paper – the sixth dance at the Rostov’s coinciding with Count Bezukhov’s sixth stroke – we transfer to the awe-filled atmosphere of a house holding its breath – waiting for the death of the master.

But it is in a side room that the real secrets come out: Prince Vassily, never a particularly likeable fellow, now reveals his true nature – knowing full well what the Count’s death will mean for Pierre, he urges Katish to join him in a vicious piece of double-dealing.  The irony of this scene is that Katish, in her half-distraught state, doesn’t want to be drawn in to Vassily’s plot.  She’d rather just play the martyr – but with enough pushing, she’s persuaded to go along because of a hatred for Boris’ mum, Anna Mihalovna.  What will happen next?  If you’re like Dave E or Bruce M, you obviously can’t restrain yourselves, and you’re probably 10 chapters ahead of me by now . . . but for the rest of you – we’ll find out more tomorrow.

Either that, or you think that this is all completely “Days of Our Lives” and would rather turn to more substantial literature like Barbara Taylor Bradford.

One-Year War and Peace 1.17 – More Teen Romance and a “Daniel Cooper”

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.17

Maude: 1.20

And yet again Vera does her best to make her brothers and sisters miserable.  Is she jealous?  Who knows . . . By the way, if you’ve got a copy of the book without footnotes or endnotes, the thing that Sonya is so upset about is that she technically can’t marry her cousin, Nikolay, unless she gets a special exemption from the Church.  Of course, to do that, she’d have to  Nikolay’s mum, and she’d feel like a freeloader.  So she can say nothing – except to suffer in silence.

We then move into the singing and dancing part of the book (really, if Tolstoy was around now – he’d be writing for Bollywood), including the lengthy description of the count dancing his Daniel Cooper.  In any other book, this would be redundant.  But could you really imagine cutting this out?  (Well, maybe you could – but I wouldn’t want to read your version of the book.)

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.18

Maude: 1.21

One-Year War and Peace 1.16 – Cossacks and Hussars

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.16

Maude: 1.19

First off, I should plead complete ignorance – I’m nearly 30 years old, and I still have not been entirely sure what a “cossack” or a “hussar” is.  If all the rest of you knew – good for you.  But for me, I was never quite sure.  (Except for a vague notion of horses and that funny dancing where you fold your arms, kick your legs out and wear a tall fluffy hat.)

So, I went hunting for a definition – for some reason, the Macquarie Essential Dictionary didn’t think that these words were essential knowledge for Australians, so I had to go digging deeper into the two-volume Shorter Oxford English.

So, here we go:

Cossack: Name of a group of peoples of the southern USSR noted as horsemen from early times, when they had the task of guarding the frontiers of south-east Europe and adjoining parts of Asia.

Hussar: One of a body of light horsemen organised in Hungary in the 15th c.; hence, the name of light cavalry regiments formed elsewhere in Europe in imitation of these.

So, to clarify a bit of the conversation – when Marya Dmitryevna refers to Natasha as a young cossack, she’s basically likening her to a rugged horseman.

And, we read earlier that Nikolay is off to join the hussars – so that means he’s going into the Russian cavalry.

So that should make the conversation in today’s chapter a little bit clearer, as the old German colonel gets worked up about war.

I’m on babysitting duty tonight, so I’ll have to leave it at that for the moment, but if there were any bits you particularly liked from tonight’s chapter, feel free to let me know.

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.17

Maude: 1.20

One-Year War and Peace 1.15 – The Meal Begins

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.15

Maude: 1.18

There are so many great characters and moments in this chapter that I don’t really have time to go into them all. I’m sure you can enjoy them all for yourself. But what with le terrible dragon, Marya Dmitrievna, and the cynical Shinshin, even if they’re minor characters – they’re all completely familiar and large as life.

I don’t know about you, but the quote that made me laugh out loud (and also cringe with a big of self-recognition) had to be the introduction of Berg:

Berg talked very precisely, serenely, and politely. All he said was always concerning himself. He always maintained a serene silence when any subject was discussed that had no direct bearing on himself. And he could be silent in that way for several hours at a time, neither experiencing nor causing in others the slightest embarrassment. But as soon as the conversation concerned him personally, he began to talk at length and with visible satisfaction.

Absolute Tolstoy gold . . .

Second place would go to the description of the dinner. It only takes a few paragraphs but it rises off the page . . . the musicians playing during dinner, the domestics rushing around, the men getting drunk and loud up one end, the women nattering at the other. In the middle, the kids, struggling to contain their crushes on one another. And, of course, poor old Pierre, awkward as usual, but welcome this time – not like Anna Scherer’s. This is a much different household.

Oh, yeah, and I’ve updated the MindMap.

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.16

Maude: 1.19

One-Year War and Peace 1.14

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.14

Maude: 1.17

Another exercise in subtlety today.  We’d heard rumours that Count Rostov was a gambler, and that the expenses were getting to him, what with the Club (presumably headquarters of such gambling) and the cost of balls, the theatre, etc. (And, of course, the cost of serfs that are capable of cooking amazing meals, if you picked that up . . .)

But it’s when the servant, Dmitri, is asked to fetch seven hundred roubles and awkwardly tries to tell Count Rostov something that you just know their finances are up the creek . . .

How up the creek remains to be seen as we go on.

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.15

Maude: 1.18

One-Year War and Peace 1.13 – Money and Loneliness

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.13

Maude: 1.16

I don’t know about you, but I found this chapter to be rather sad. In the conversation between Boris and Pierre, Tolstoy masterfully portrays a subtle irony: both of these boys are on the poor end of the aristocratic scale (we’d probably still say they’ve got life pretty good), but the way they treat one another is quite different.

Boris is cold, impersonal and sarcastic. He’s quick to come out and say that he and his mother are not after any of Count Bezukhov’s money, knowing full well that the opposite is true. Pierre, meanwhile, completely sympathises, because everyone treats him as if he is after his father’s money – thus the reason that everyone keeps telling him to go away while seeing his dying father. But Pierre’s attitude is quite innocent – he’s not after the money.

In fact, in this chapter, Tolstoy beautifully reveals that he is actually quite lonely. Of all the people trying to access Count Bezukhov, it’s quite clear that Pierre is the only one who is interested in seeing the man himself, not just trying to angle himself into the old man’s favours.

But to me, the poignant moment was at the end of Boris’ and Pierre’s conversation, where Pierre has been glad of the chance to talk to someone and looks forward to talking to Boris more – even though Boris couldn’t care less about Pierre. As Tolstoy puts it, “As so often happens with young people, especially if they are in a position of loneliness, he felt an unreasonable tenderness for this youth, and he firmly resolved to become friends with him.”

I think Tolstoy is spot on with his characterisation again. I would argue that if you’ve never known what it is like to be a lonely person desperately wanting to be friends with someone else who really doesn’t care less – I would argue you’ve somehow blanked out your teenage years. Or is that just me? Can you relate to this chapter?

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.14

Maude: 1.17

One-Year War and Peace 1.12

Today’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.12

Maude: 1.15

This chapter, which recounts the visit of Boris and his mum to cadge some money off a dying man is a subtly painted portrait of awkwardness.  Anna Drubetskoy puts on all the airs of being concerned for Count Bezuhof’s health . . . but we all know she’s there to scab a bit more.

Prince Vassily is suppressing his impatience as best he can because a) he’s already pulled a favour for Anna and now he’s watching her go for another one and b) it might not be so obvious, but he’s related to Pierre’s Dad as well, and he’s hanging around waiting for him to die – so how noble are his motives?

Nothing like seeing somebody obviously pulling off the same shonkyness that you’re performing yourself to make you annoyed . . . but we shall hear more of Count Bezuhof and his money (and his relatives) over the next few days.

Tomorrow’s Chapter:

Garnett/Edmondson: 1.13

Maude: 1.16