Well, here we go – you haven’t really lived in the 1800s until you’ve challenged someone to a duel, have you?
Cafedave expressed some concern about keeping all the names straight. I’ll address that briefly.
First off – don’t worry about most of them. You’ll either eventually work them out because they’ll appear a gazillion times or they’ll die out and you won’t have to worry about them.
Secondly – on a positive note, most of the major speaking parts have been introduced by this stage. I know it seems like there’s heaps of random characters, but they’re actually just re-used versions of one that Tolstoy introduced ages ago. However, it is bizarre where some of them pop up.
For instance, Nesvitski, who is sitting next to Pierre and has become his second in his duel – has never really been mentioned in relation to Pierre at all in this chapter. We first met him at the beginning of Book 2, when he was on Kutuzov’s staff. You might remember him as one of the officers who laughed at General Mack when he showed up wounded (and who got severely reprimanded for it by Andrei) or you might remember him being the soldier who was stuck on the bridge that was being bombed by the French and couldn’t get across because of the all the soldiers going back and forth. Quite how he came to be on the invite list for this party that Count Rostov is throwing for Bagration is never quite explained, but these little character crossovers become more common in the novel from now on. (Rather than new characters being introduced.)
Bagration – the man of the hour is the general in Book 2 who wandered around the battle of Schöngraben pretending to give orders without really giving any at all. And at the Battle of Austerlitz at the end of Book3, he wussed out on the right flank of the Russian army, and sent Nikolai Rostov off to find General Kutuzov so as to delay ever having to go into battle at all.
Denisov – is Nikolai’s fellow officer who has a speech impediment (if you have the right translation)
Dolokhov – is the rogue who never ceases to cause a scene whenever he shows up. You might remember the vodka on the windowsill, the blue coat in the army of grey-coated men, leading a desperate run across the ice, etc.
And here we have Dolokhov in fine form yet again. If he hasn’t had an affair with Pierre’s wife, Helene, he’s certainly enjoying letting poor old Pierre sufffer about it. And, finally, as always happens when someone with a long fuse loses their temper – it happens over something small. Dolokhov takes Pierre’s piece of paper and Pierre loses it completely.
So that is how this chapter winds to a close with a duel about to be fought between the Russian army’s biggest rogue and an incompetent guy who doesn’t know how to use a loaded gun . . .
But the firing will have to wait for tomorrow. See you then!