I know I’m not supposed to find this chapter funny, but I couldn’t help it.  Those who know our family, know that Rachel is rather keen on natural birthing techniques, as opposed to hospital intervention.  So when the old midwife tells Marya that they’ll do just fine without the doctor, I couldn’t help but give a chuckle.

The other thing I found amusing was the superstition that if you don’t acknowledge that a woman in labour is giving birth, then nothing will go wrong.  I know we’re not anywhere near that superstitious now, but then again I was thinking about how, if a couple is pregnant, they’ll often wait weeks (sometimes months) before they  tell other people.  There is partly a good reason for it – if something goes wrong, you don’t have to face being constantly reminded of it by the whole world.  But I wonder if there’s a hint of this superstition: if we tell everybody, something’s bound to go wrong.  (A little bit like that other feeling I sometimes get that if I make too many jokes about death, I’m probably going to die that week . . . okay, is that just me?  Maybe ignore this paragraph.)

Of course, as if the birth wasn’t dramatic enough, Tolstoy pulls the old melodrama favourite – bringing a loved one back from the dead.  (But I’m sure you all saw that coming . . . really, you didn’t?)  Anyway, we expect the doctor – but, no, it’s Andrei!

And we shall rejoin this very melodramatic (but, let’s admit it, pretty exciting) section of the book tomorrow.

See you then!


4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 4.8 – Birth

  1. Well, Matt, given your “hints” in the previous Chapter, I imagine no one was very surprised to see Andrei arrive in this Chapter – but I seem to recall, on my first read, that it really did come as a shock, even though I was not actually thinking of him as being dead.

    Anyway, I do think this was (as always) a beautifully written chapter, and the mix of fear, awe and solemnity at the coming birth (mixed in with that bizarre but, yes, amusing superstition) was all just so wonderfully captured – especially in the descriptions of Marya and the nanny sitting in the room together, trying to pass the time, going through all the motions of trivial activity, but in fact totally overcome by the magnitude of what was happening. I love the way Tolstoy can both write about what is going on in a person’s soul and, at the same time, illustrate in the way he describes a person’s movements, or what they’re doing with their eyes or hands or hair. He does all of this particularly well in this chapter, I think.

  2. I wasn’t surprised when Andrei walked in the door – just kinda’ knew it, all along.

    There wasn’t any reason for the reader to believe he was dead – had he been dead, we would have known it, would have been told.

    As for the birthing superstitions, ’twas more than ridiculous . . . had there been somebody ‘sensible’ and with some experience in charge, we wouldn’t have had a death.

    Hope I’m not saying too much there. But surely the reader knows by now.

  3. Hi Carly,

    Welcome back! I’m not so sure about whether there would have been any change if somebody experienced had been in charge . . . by the time the death occurred, there was a doctor there. These things just tended to happen back then, and there wasn’t much anybody could do about it.

  4. Yes, they did happen . . . that was just the ‘times’, I guess.
    Anyway, Lise’s gone – guess Tolstoy chose to write her out of the story – she wasn’t that interesting a character anyway . . .

    Andrei’s far more interesting. (Besides, he’s a man – Tolstoy finds men more important – ha ha!)

    Don’t ya’ just love that word for breakfast? Fruschtique (Fruhstuck).

    And it surprises me to see ‘Philip’ as a Russian name.

    Bogdanovna – Mary Bogdanovna

    “Your excellency, should not Mary Bogdanovna be sent for?” said one of the maids who was present. (Mary Bogdanovna was a midwife from the neighboring town, who had been at Bald Hills for the last fortnight.)

    Demyan –

    “Gone to bed,” replied the voice of Demyan the house steward, who was downstairs.

    Foka –

    “Dearest, I’m afraid this morning’s fruschtique* – as Foka the cook calls it- has disagreed with me.”

    German Doctor –

    A relay of horses had been sent up the highroad to meet the German doctor from Moscow who was expected every moment, and men on horseback with lanterns were sent to the crossroads to guide him over the country road with its hollows and snow-covered pools of water.

    Maid –

    “Your excellency, should not Mary Bogdanovna be sent for?” said one of the maids who was present. (Mary Bogdanovna was a midwife from the neighboring town, who had been at Bald Hills for the last fortnight.)

    Moldavian Peasant Woman –

    Nurse Savishna, knitting in hand, was telling in low tones, scarcely hearing or understanding her own words, what she had told hundreds of times before: how the late princess had given birth to Princess Mary in Kishenev with only a Moldavian peasant woman to help instead of a midwife.

    Philip –

    On the landing below, Philip, the footman, stood looking scared and holding another candle.

    Savishna – Praskovya Savishna – Old Nurse

    Suddenly her door opened softly and her old nurse, Praskovya Savishna, who hardly ever came to that room as the old prince had forbidden it, appeared on the threshold with a shawl round her head.


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