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 . . .