First of all, in this chapter, we see the return of Boris – he who no longer seems to hold much sway over Natasha’s heart (well, not as much as Pierre and the Italian singing teacher – but then again, as my wife always says – girls have a crush on all guys when they’re 12).

And Berg.  I must admit – I had been keeping up okay with most of the characters in this novel, until Berg reappared and then it actually took me a few minutes to remember who he was.  I may be the only stupid one among us here, but for anyone else who shares my level of forgetfulness, Berg was the young man we last met at the Rostovs, who was rumoured to be Vera’s “boyfriend” and had the memorable habit of only talking when the conversation was about himself.  Flick back to Book 1 if you really, really can’t remember at all . . .

Not that Berg features too heavily, because Nikolai shows up, gets nostalgic reading his family’s letter, and then manages to get worked up into a state with Andrei.

Now, I’ve got to say a word here about duels – what is it with the 19th century mind and fighting duels?  (Well, probably more of an 18th century thing, but still . . .)  In case you missed it (it was a bit subtle), when Andrei showed up, he was unimpressed with Nikolai because he could tell right off the bat that he was completely just making up his war story as he went along.

Nikolai was ticked off with Andrei because a) he knew that he was being a bit of a faker and b) his own strongly-held notions that soldiers are the “real” army and adjutants and commander’s staff are all just nancy boys getting paid to do nothing.

So when Andrei didn’t look impressed, he was getting fired up at him and making comments about adjutants in the hope that Andrei would get all upset, and challenge him to a duel.   Which Andrei wisely sidestepped, recognising that there would be enough bloodshed in the battle that was to come.  (Oh, did we tell you that they’re still fighting the French and there’s going to be another battle soon?  Sorry if you missed that . . . )

But how could a young man who was utterly petrified of getting shot by the French in the last battle suddenly want to fight a duel at close quarters?  Who knows?  I will never understand duels . . . but it’s not the last duel we’ll come across in this book . . . but more of that later.

The moment I enjoyed (apart from Andrei calmly defusing Nikolai) was the way that Nikolai both hated Andrei and wanted him for a friend.  Have you ever known people like that?  You hate their guts, but you’d give anything to have them as a friend . . . what a strange world . . . nothing much has changed in 200 years, really.

3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 3.7 – Boris, Berg & Duels

  1. It’s funny that you mention flicking back to check who Berg was. I did exactly the same, but couldn’t find him – so thanks for the extra info. The even funnier thing is that I now remember when I read about Berg and Vera that this time around I would remember who Berg was because, last tme I read W & P, the same thing happened. There’s clearly something very spooky about Berg!!

    I, too, find the whole duel thing pretty hard to comprehend. Two of Russia’s greatest writers (Pushkin and Lermontov) were both killed in duels. I think they were illegal, but there seems to have been this honour thing, at least in some echelons of Russian society, that transcended all logic.

    Anyway, as for this chapter – for me it was yet another example of how acutely defined Tolstoy’s characters are, and the show-down between Andrei and Nikolai was just brilliantly portrayed, I thought. I can certainly relate to that feeling of detesting someone (especially someone who is sure that they are superior) and yet secretly longing to be their friend. It’s these contradictions of human nature that Tolstoy seems to be able to hone in on so well. I never stop being gob-smacked at some of his observations, and at how simply he captures them.

    Hope everyone has a terrific weekend. Think I might get out the Bondarchuk DVDs again – it seems forever since I watched them. And the Prokofiev opera isn’t at all bad, either, so I might give that another listen over the weekend, too. Only being allowed one chapter a day is creating all these insatiable War and Peace cravings, you see.

  2. Yes, I remember who Berg was. But I too, had to think about it.

    As for wanting a duel with Andrei . . . methinks Nikolai is a bit . . . oh, what’s that word? Idealistic? He wants all this adventure, but don’t you notice how thoroughly shocked he is when it actually happens? Like when he broke his arm and the French nearly captured (or shot) him. He was so scared . . .

    He’d be the same way in a duel . . . Andrei was the smart one there.

    But yes, I understand how he feels about Andrei . . . he’d like to be friends, even though they’ve rubbed each other the wrong way. And I have a sneaking suspicion they will be friends at some time. I hope so; Andrei would make a fine mentor for Nikolai.

    (I didn’t really like Andrei much till I got to Book 3, but now I consider him to be one of the more solid characters)

  3. Went through this again this morning and have thought about Andrei and Nikolai – I think they could be good friends eventually. Both men are in a ‘transition’ of sorts – Nikolai’s growing up, for one thing. Andrei’s starting to actually feel something, besides contempt, for his peers.

    Adding to my count of 313 . . .

    Caroline the Hungarian –

    The Pavlograds held feast after feast, celebrating awards they had received for the campaign, and made expeditions to Olmutz to visit a certain Caroline the Hungarian, who had recently opened a restaurant there with girls as waitresses.

    (Isn’t that a gobsmackin’ remark? A restaurant there ‘with girls as waitresses’. They’d have a hell of a time using boys as ‘waitresses’. Funny to think of it, but in today’s world, one refers to waitresses and waiters as ‘waitstaff’.)

    Fellow Officer –

    On receiving Boris’ letter he rode with a fellow officer to Olmutz, dined there, drank a bottle of wine, and then set off alone to the Guards’ camp to find his old playmate.
    Gabriel –
    “Well, have you sent Gabriel for some wine? All right let’s have some!”
    German Landlady –
    The German landlady, hearing Rostov’s loud voice, popped her head in at the door.
    Tsarevich –
    And the Tsarevich was very gracious to all our officers.”

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