It is rather amusing to consider that, in some literature, a proposal of marriage is like the climax of the whole book – think Pride & Prejudice or Jane Eyre.

But what do we have here? Pierre is floating through life so amazingly well, he manages to get himself married without even having to pop the question! It just happens, and he goes with the flow.

I must admit, though, that this is where I must add on to what I said yesterday. Going with the flow is perhaps not Tolstoy’s suggested course in life. Pierre is an example of someone who does something and goes with the flow, but as we can see quite clearly, people like that get taken advantage of by people who do scheme and plan.

In this case, Prince Vassily, who starts the chapter by planning a trip to marry his son Anatole (the ratbag – if you can remember all the way back to 1.1) to Andrei’s sister, Marya (she of the plain looks but amazing eyes).

And, look, if that plan goes anything like his scheme with Pierre, he’s got a career made in positive cash flow marriages . . .

Actually, I think it’s today’s chapter that has so far given me the only slight quibble with Tolstoy’s writing. And that is – what is going on with Ellen? Tolstoy zooms around the dinner table at this chapter’s name-day party, giving us little soundbites of what is running through people’s heads – but he never explains what is happening with Ellen.

Is she happy that her father wants to marry her off for money? Does she really like Pierre? The glasses comment at the end of the chapter doesn’t seem to indicate that she does? If she doesn’t, then why is she going along with all of this? Is she stupid? Or does she like money as much as her father does, and is a willing accomplice to the whole scheme?

It’s never quite clear, because Tolstoy never once lets us inside her head. So, like Pierre, we’re kind of stuck wondering who or what she is. In fact, in all the chapters she’s appeared in so far, I don’t think we’ve found out much about what makes her tick at all.

For me, she always remains a bit of a mystery character, but people may have other thoughts?  (No spoilers, please, if you’ve read further than this . . .)


10 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 3.2 – Wedding Bells

  1. Well, first, let me say that today’s chapter really did vindicate much of what you said yesterday, Matt, about Pierre just “going with the flow”. I actually think this chapter is one of the funniest in the whole book – that crazy story about Sergei Kuzmich, which everyone laughs at but, it seems no one quite gets the point of it. And then the whole scene with Pierre and Helene, and Mum and Dad waiting for something to happen (don’t you just love that bit where Dad tells Mum to go and see what’s happening, and she tries to walk past with a “significant, indifferent look”? Now, haven’t we all done that before!!) But then the best bit of all is when Prince Vassily gets sick of waiting and just barges in and congratulates them on their engagement anyway. It really is a hoot.

    But as for Helene – well, I think Tolstoy deliberately keeps her as a bit of an enigma because that is, after all, how she appears to Pierre. We certainly know that she is ravishingly beautiful, but that seems to be all that ayone knws her for. I think Tolstoy is mainly showing her to us through Pierre’s eyes, because that’s the story he’s wanting to tell us at the moment. He doesn’t really know if she is stupid, and is trying desperately to convince himself that she is not – but neither we, nor he, are seeing too much evidence to the contrary. She is, after all, the sister of Anatole and Ippolit!

    I do seem to recall, though, that there is rather more of her still to be discovered.

  2. That’s true, actually. Ippolit is pretty vacant, but I never thought of questioning what makes him tick . . . okay, we might just assume the Kuragin kids are the Russian aristocratic equivalent of some celebrities we hear about nowadays. Vacant, simple, and over-indulged . . .

  3. “No spoilers if you’ve read further than this”… darn it – after a week of inspections at work and then being sick for a few days, I’m still only at 2.8, and you guys are up to 3.1 already!

    Guess I’ll have to keep avoiding the blog for another fortnight at least…

  4. Hi Dave,

    We’ll be waiting for you when you get back . . . maybe if you take it two chapters a day till you get back on board?

    Anyway, I’m always alerted when people comment, so feel free to comment on earlier posts if you want to.

  5. I didn’t realise, Matt, that you would be alerted to comments on older posts. Because I joined this marathon a few weeks after it started, I had to read the first few chapters (and all the blogs and all the comments) quite quickly to catch up. There were some great comments along the way – and, needless to say, I would have loved to have thrown in my two bob’s worth on pretty well all of them. Maybe one day!!

  6. 3.2 – Wedding Bells

    Matt’s Blog

    OK . . . sorry, I blathered on about Helene in my response to your notes on 3.1 . . . but I can go further on Helene. Your question – does she ‘think’? Does she ‘desire’?

    Like I said earlier on, I liked Pierre and Helene in the early part of the story – in Book I, I mean . . . but they’ve both let me down here.

    If anybody’s more ‘blah’ than Pierre – which I’m beginning to see him as – it’s his ‘Helene’ . . . I thought she was going to be a super character and when Laurel (our lovely moderator at Barnes n’ Noble) chose her for ‘my character’ to analyze and zero in on, I was pleased. I thought I’d have a wonderful time with Helene . . . thought I’d write little segments, giving her ‘a life’.

    But now I find that in as much as Pierre sees her breasts as being marble, that’s how she’s coming off in Book 3! A statue of some kind!

    The only thing she really asks (so far) is that Pierre takes off his glasses before they kiss.

    And no – I’ll say it again, just as I did in my previous response – I can find nowhere in this part of the story where he actually asks her to be his wife, or she actually says she’d like to be.

    I cannot help but wonder if these two are going to become parents and if so, pity their offspring. It would be up to Vasily, or Anna the Social Director, whether they are going to be loved and how much.

  7. Actually, you’re quite right, Carly. Pierre didn’t actually propose. But he knew that there was so much social pressure on him to propose, that when Vassily started treating him as being engaged, he just went along with it – because it was what was “expected”. (Of course, Vassily knew that Pierre would do this as well – which is precisely how he pulled the whole marriage thing off.)

    Helene does start to show a bit more personality later on, but that would be getting ahead of myself here, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

  8. Interesting to be reading back on these discussions – from Carly and again from you, Matt. A good feminist friend of mine mentioned to me that she thinks Tolstoy never gives his women characters any really enduring strength – they might show it to some extent, or for a while, but always end up falling into one of the more negative or complacent stereotypes of women. I still can’t quite decide if I think that’s true and, if it is true, whether it’s more true of his portrayal of women than it is of his portrayal of men. I think Tolstoy shows us the weaknesses, as well as the strengths, in all his characters: although I have little doubt that, as a man writing in 19th century Russia, Tolstoy did not probably have a particularly enlightened view of women. Obviously, he gives his women enormous humanity – but, of course, that’s not quite the same thing.

  9. I’m still cynical of the way Tolstoy views women (even now that I’ve finished Book 7). This shows especially with the way he treats older women – it’s like he considers them just so much garbage . . . look at the way he has it that Helene’s mother is ‘jealous’ of her daughter.

    It may be that she ‘resents’ her daughter; that I can understand. I would resent a daughter like that myself. She’s no more than a pretty bird being put on display.

    It doesn’t seem that Vasily pays any more attention to his daughter, than he does to the mother – it’s not for that reason that I think his wife resents Helene.

    Every older woman he introduces with some cynicism . . . like a lot of old goats, he considers women over the age of 40 to be old dowagers. Like they have no real place in life.

    Look at the pictures of himself and other men connected with him at that time – they’re all old goats themselves.

    Oh, I’m ranting . . . guess it’s just ‘cause I happen to be an ‘older woman’. I’ve always noticed that in men . . . especially single men, men who are divorced or widowed – all the women their own age are considered to be old women – they all seem to think it’s their God-Given right to court a woman half their age.

    I don’t feel sorry for them when they get burned.

    Sorry – guess I’m not popular with you men now – ha ha!

    (This, by the way, isn’t something you understand about people till you get older yourself.)

  10. OK – I blathered on again – sorry.

    Here are the characters I’m adding to my list of 296 . . .

    Baroness – At one end of the table, the old chamberlain was heard assuring an old baroness that he loved her passionately, at which she laughed; at the other could be heard the story of the misfortunes of some Mary Viktorovna or other.


    Chamberlain – see above quote re Baroness


    Kuragina – Princess Kuragina – Aline

    Vasily’s wife, Helene’s mother . . . Princess Kuragina, a portly imposing woman who had once been handsome, was sitting at the head of the table.


    Kuzmich – Sergey Kuzmich Vyazmitinov

    With a facetious smile on his face, he was telling the ladies about last Wednesday’s meeting of the Imperial Council, at which Sergey Kuzmich Vyazmitinov, the new military governor general of Petersburg, had received and read the then famous rescript of the Emperor Alexander from the army to Sergey Kuzmich, in which the Emperor said that he was receiving from all sides declarations of the people’s loyalty, that the declaration from Petersburg gave him particular pleasure, and that he was proud to be at the head of such a nation and would endeavor to be worthy of it.


    Old General and His Wife – (2)

    On either side of her sat the more important guests- an old general and his wife, and Anna Pavlovna Scherer.


    Old Lady –

    The old princess sighed sadly as she offered some wine to the old lady next to her and glanced angrily at her daughter, and her sigh seemed to say: “Yes, there’s nothing left for you and me but to sip sweet wine, my dear, now that the time has come for these young ones to be thus boldly, provocatively happy.”


    Viktorovna – Mary Viktorovna – see above quote re Baroness



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