The sad thing is that despite the fact we’ve read about two major battles, none of the major characters in this novel have died until now.  And who would have thought it would be Lise?

I think what makes it so terrible is that all of the superstitions came true – she was always worried that something would go wrong in childbirth (thus why they had a doctor, etc.) and it did.  Everybody was wandering around the house hoping that if they said nothing that it would be a good birth – and it was the worst kind possible.

I checked with Rachel (who is more the expert on these types of things) as to what would have gone wrong, and she said that back then, before cesareans, if a baby got stuck or in the wrong position, it could take hours to get out, and there was a good possibility that the woman die of blood loss or exhaustion.  We certainly have a much better rate of successful childbirth now than we did back then.

So, yeah, all nightmares come true for Lise there.  (Note to self – never give War and Peace to any expecting mothers to read.)

However, it’s mainly with Andrei that this chapter is concerned.  The one thing we’ll never know is whether he would have treated Lise differently after his brush with death on the battlefield.  We know it shifted his outlook on life somehow, and he may have made a better husband – but we’ll never know.

That’s my explanation for why his grief is so great, and his guilt is so strong in this chapter.  And can anything be more pitiful than Andrei not being able to be in the same room for his son’s baptism, for fear that he might see his son accidentally drowned?  This, from the man who was quite happy to grab a flag and run straight into the French army.  Death impacts people profoundly . . .

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 4.9 – Death

  1. Not surprisingy, this was another chapter that resulted in tears. For such a short chapter, it captured so much – that innocent, childlike, almost pathetic suffering of Lise, those pangs of guilt that both Andrei and his dad saw in her, even after she had died, and then, against all of that, the joy of a new life.

    There was so much here that felt so recognisable – even though I haven’t experienced either a birth or a death close hand like this. Right down to Andrei’s momentary question “why have they brought a baby in there?” where he first hears a baby crying through the door. But it was Tolsty constantly returning to the desperate, plaintive plea that everyone read into Lise’s experession that, for me, was the real stroke of brilliance in the chapter – showing, as it did, everyone else’s sense of guilt and regret and responsibility, indeed culpability, not by talking about them, but by talking about what they saw in a dying woman’s eyes.

    Incidentally, according to my Pevear/Volokhonsky footnotes, the reason Andrei was in another room during his baby’s baptism is because parents at the time never took part in the baptism – so it seems, although he was afraid of the baby drowning, that wasn’t his reason for not being there.

  2. Well, like I said before, it didn’t surprise that it was Lise the writer chose to take out – she wasn’t that interesting as a character and I doubt Tolstoy was going to make an effort to make her so.

    Adding to my count of 449 . . .

    Priest –
    The wet nurse supported the coverlet with her while the priest with a goose feather anointed the boy’s little red and wrinkled soles and palms.
    Prince Nicholas Andreevich – newly born

    Another five days passed, and then the young Prince Nicholas Andreevich was baptized.

    Wet nurse –
    The wet nurse supported the coverlet with her while the priest with a goose feather anointed the boy’s little red and wrinkled soles and palms.
    452

  3. I still don’t understand how Lise died. True, before Caesareans mothers who couldn’t push the baby out often died of exhaustion, but in such cases the baby died first of foetal distress. Literature is in fact full of unexplained deaths in childbirth – a good way of wasting time would be to compile a full list.

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