Well, if you’ve made it this far, give yourself a big pat on the back.  This is probably as hard as it gets.  Most people I know who drop out of War and Peace do so in those first few books.

If you’re still reading it at this stage, then it’s probably safe to say that you’ll make it through to the end of the book.

Why do people drop out?  Sometimes it’s because the book doesn’t really provide what they want.  That’s quite okay.  I love hearing all the little details, and the little human moments – you might be just wanting more action.  Or perhaps you wanted more romance and ballrooms, and you were sick of all the cannons.  There’s infinite regions.

But I think it’s safe to say that if you’re really hating it so far – I don’t think there will be much to change your mind in the rest of the book, so I’d probably give it a rest.  You can say you gave it a fair crack, and it’s not really the book for you.

However . . . for the rest of you . . . we’re just about to move into new levels of brilliance here – so hold on to your hats for Book 3.

As for this final chapter of Book 2, wasn’t it nicely wrapped up?  Firstly, by some intersection of characters.  The wounded Nikolai Rostov, who has had nothing to do with any of the other characters in this war – gets connected to Tushin, when he is offered a lift on Tushin’s cannon as they pull out.  I think the thing that most was driven home to me was the effect of daylight and nighttime on soldiers.  Think about it – in 1805, you’re not really going to have a whole lot of lights to see by at night except for fires.  So everything would be absolutely pitch black.  Notice how Tolstoy describes the night and the stars.

And then, of course, the meeting of the generals – humorous, as each general tries to claim victories – even though we know that most of them had no clue what was going on.  And then, finally, in the confrontation between Tushin and Bagration, it is Prince Andrei who cuts through the drivel and egos and speaks the truth.  It is a great relief to Tushin, of course, but Andrei walks off depressed.

Why is that?  My theory is that here he was, hoping to escape the fakery of the Russian aristocratic world – with, perhaps, noble dreams of victory and honourable men.  And instead – he finds the same hypocrisy and flawed human beings in the army as well.

But isn’t that life?  We all the time think that if we were just in a different job, a different church – and in extreme cases, different relationships.  But do we really find the perfection in people we’re looking for?  I don’t think so.  And it’s how we react to that, defines us as people.  For Andrei, it makes him bitter.  Oddly enough, for Tolstoy himself, as a narrator, it seems to just make him smile.  If there’s any tone that the narration in this story takes, it is one of a gentle poking humour at the foibles of these characters.

And, finally, we finish up with Nikolai, longing for home and comfort, something which we could all relate to.

I think the most interesting thing is that this book finishes with a simple sentence about how the French were repulsed – which would be about as much detail as you would expect to get in a history book about this skirmish at Schöngraben.  But hasn’t the experience been so much more detailed?  Don’t we feel like we’ve lived through it?

All right – see you tomorrow for Book 3, where we return to the social scenes of St Peterburg and become reunited with Pierre, Count Vassily, Anna Scherer and friends . . .

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 2.21 – The End of Book 2!

  1. Firstly, I think you are absolutely right, Matt, in suggesting that if someone has got this far in War and Peace and is really not enjoying the journey, then it’s probably time to call it quits. But it really is fascinating, for me anyway, to see how different the journey is when it’s taken at this pace – so much more of things that I seem to have rushed through before I am now noticing anew, and it’s an amazing experience. So I hope not too many who have started along the path with you have jumped ship (which is meant to be as judgmental as it possibly sounds – I just had to keep the travel metaphor going!!)

    Anyway, onto this final Chapter of Part Two (well, Volume 1, Part 2, to be pedantic). It really is a pretty gloomy chapter – but, of course, magnificently written. The descriptions of the dark and gloom are just so evocative – the river of soldiers that settles and becomes “a gloomy sea subsiding and quivering after a storm”. How much everything has changed since all the adrenalin and excitement and at the beginning of this battle. And everyone’s hopes and optimism, it seems, have been dashed – Tushin is fighting off tears, Andrei has become disillusioned (I think, probably, for precisely the reasons you mention) and Nikolai just wants to go home to the warmth and happiness of his family.

    And I couldn’t help notice the contrast with the little snippets of conversation that Nikolai hears walking past and around him, from those that Nesvitsky heard on the bridge a few chapters ago. Everyone has now become so jaded and angry and exhausted and lost.

    And, yes, it certainly feels like we have lived through it.

    It has been a gruelling journey, especially over these past few chapters with so much bloodshed, death and futility. I suspect the brilliance of the Petersburg ballrooms in Part 3 are going to seem just that little bit more shallow now.

  2. Dead Officer –

    “And where is the wounded officer?”

    “He has been set down. He died,” replied someone.

    General –

    The general whose regiment had been inspected at Braunau was informing the prince that as soon as the action began he had withdrawn from the wood, mustered the men who were woodcutting, and, allowing the French to pass him, had made a bayonet charge with two battalions and had broken up the French troops.

    Infantryman –

    An infantryman came to the fire, squatted on his heels, held his hands to the blaze, and turned away his face.

    Infantry Officer –

    The jaunty infantry officer who just before the battle had rushed out of Tushin’s wattle shed was laid, with a bullet in his stomach, on “Matvevna’s” carriage.

    Infantry Officer With Bandaged Cheek –

    With the soldier, an infantry officer with a bandaged cheek came up to the bonfire, and addressing Tushin asked him to have the guns moved a trifle to let a wagon go past. After he had gone, two soldiers rushed to the campfire. They were quarreling and fighting desperately, each trying to snatch from the other a boot they were both holding on to.

    Little Old Man –

    The little old man with the half-closed eyes was there greedily gnawing a mutton bone, and the general who had served blamelessly for twenty-two years, flushed by a glass of vodka and the dinner; and the staff officer with the signet ring, and Zherkov, uneasily glancing at them all, and Prince Andrew, pale, with compressed lips and feverishly glittering eyes.

    Petrov –

    “Not hurt, Petrov?” asked one.

    Soldier –

    With the soldier, an infantry officer with a bandaged cheek came up to the bonfire, and addressing Tushin asked him to have the guns moved a trifle to let a wagon go past. After he had gone, two soldiers rushed to the campfire. They were quarreling and fighting desperately, each trying to snatch from the other a boot they were both holding on to.

    Soldier –

    Then a thin, pale soldier, his neck bandaged with a bloodstained leg band, came up and in angry tones asked the artillerymen for water.

    Soldier –

    Then a cheerful soldier ran up, begging a little fire for the infantry.

    Soldiers (4) –

    Next came four soldiers, carrying something heavy on a cloak, and passed by the fire. One of them stumbled.

    Staff Officer –

    “I think I sent you?” he added, turning to the staff officer on duty.

    292

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