One-Year War and Peace 4.12 – Denisov’s Mazurka

The amusing thing about reading Book 4 of War and Peace is that all the soap opera aspects that disappeared after Book 1 (and makes most people stop reading at Book 2), all come back with an absolute vengeance in this Book 4.

Here we go, with buds of romance starting to blossom between Denisov and Natasha.  Well, okay, he’s head over heels, and she’s 14 and in love with everybody.  It may not work.

But they’ll dance some great mazurkas in the meantime . . .

I’m not really much of a dancer at all (I had a few weeks of lessons before my wedding with Rachel), but I often wish I was.  I especially notice this when the old community hall next to us fires up on ballroom dancing nights. The sounds of the old crooners and the dance tunes from the 40s and 50s float across the night air, and even though the dancers at the evening are mostly well into their 60s, there’s a sense of enjoyment and fun that I’ve never felt at any nightclub that I’ve ever visited in my time.

Denisov’s mazurka just reminded me of all that . . . Ah well . . .

One-Year War and Peace 4.11 – Sonya’s Refusal

I feel quite sorry for Sonya.  While formal proposal of marriage and refusals are perhaps a bit old-fashioned in today’s day and age, nonetheless, I can’t help but notice that her plight is quite modern.

I’m sure there are many single women out there today who will agree that they are caught between Mr I-Can’t-Commit and Mr I’m-No-Good-For-You.  Sonya has at least had the sense to stay away from Dolohov, but really – is there any good to be had by waiting on Nikolai Non-Commital Rostov?

Also amusing is the ever-present Natasha in the Rostov house.  She’s smart enough to know a) that Dolohov is a no-good and b) that Sonya and Nikolai probably aren’t destined for each other – but she never really offers serious moralising or relationship advice.  She’s got the observational skills of an adult, without really the judgment or maturity.

But then again, from all we’ve read about the adults in the book, what is maturity?  The Kuragin family (Anatole, Ippolit and Helene) are all very sophisticated in public, but have little in the way of maturity or decency.  Pierre can’t seem to work out how life works at all.  Andrei (at least up until his brush with death) viewed all life through a very dark pair of sunglasses.

So, in the end, Natasha is probably getting closest to the voice of wisdom out of the lot of them.

One-Year War and Peace 4.10 – Dolohov’s Mum

And now, we jump back to Moscow, and Nikolai is spending a lot of time with Dolohov and Dolohov’s Mum.  Due to Dolohov’s life policy of only being kind to the three or four people that he likes, we now have a pretty good understanding of what makes him tick.

There are actually some people like this – I remember being similar to this in my teenage years – where there were a few people that I was intensely loyal to, and I didn’t really care about much else.

I must say that I didn’t find it a very workable strategy as I got older, so I don’t really recommend the Dolohov approach to life.  But it is quite possible that he is a genuinely caring son and sister, while using and abusing everyone else around him . . .

All of which makes for a fascinating twist, when he sets his eye on young Sonya.  (Who would have seen this coming back at the beginning of the book?)  More soap tomorrow!

One-Year War and Peace 4.9 – Death

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 . . .

One-Year War and Peace 4.8 – Birth

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!

One-Year War and Peace 4.7 – Grief

You may have noticed that the chapters are getting shorter.  This is not a bad thing, actually, because it makes the reading move along that much faster.

What a moving chapter this one is – I especially love the inner strength that Marya shows in the face of the  bad news from her father.  Tolstoy does kind of hint that it’s all based on an overblown faith, which he doesn’t take so seriously, but he does take her strength seriously.

Anyway, you may all have guessed (or already know) what happens in the next chapter, but we can enjoy this moment of poignance.

One-Year War and Peace 4.6 – A Marriage on the Rocks

This particular round of peacetime is where all the wheels fall off.  Nikolai is home, but is not really turning into a likeable young man.  (Well, I didn’t like the way he treated Sonya and the contemptuous tone he was taking with Pierre.)  Andrei, after we invested so much time getting used to him, went down in his blaze of glory at Austerlitz, leaving behind a pregnant wife and a crazy father.  And now, Pierre’s marriage is all gone to pieces.

Granted, we could see this one coming from before he proposed, but still – it’s never fun to see this kind of thing happen.  It’s also a tribute to Tolstoy’s writing that when he removes the good things that used to shine through (Andrei’s friendship with Pierre, Natasha’s enthusiasm, Kutuzov’s nobility, etc) that life starts to seem a bit grim.

Anyway, we’ll see what unfolds tomorrow . . . because even I can’t remember exactly what happens next and will be interested to see how it all unfolds.

Oh, yeah, and I will post my response to the meme that cafedave tagged me with a few days earlier – I just need to find a spare moment.

One-Year War and Peace 4.5 – The Duel

Well, here we go – possibly one of the most bizarre duels ever fought.  I could describe it, but really – it’s such a short chapter, read it for yourself.

And who couldn’t help loving the twist at the end of the chapter? (Which again, really, is too good for me to describe – read the chapter yourself!)  This whole chapter is one of those great distinctively Tolstoy scenes that stand out.

See you tomorrow.

One-Year War and Peace 4.4 – Pierre’s Challenge

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!

One-Year War and Peace 4.3 – Pierre the Outsider

As this party gets completely underway, I realised that I forgot to comment on the revelations about Pierre’s marriage in yesterday’s chapter – his wife, at least as far as the rumours go, has been unfaithful to him.

And does it surprise us in the least that it’s Dolokhov that is the Other Man?  Not really . . .

Unlike the stories about the battles, where Tolstoy shows us the reality and the exaggerations in the drawing rooms afterwards, we are left to wonder how much truth there is to the rumours about Helene.  But, seriously, is she capable of cheating on him?  I think so.

Is Dolokhov capable of being that much a rogue? Absolutely!

So, with both men (but no Helene, unless I missed something) at the same party, and the vodka flowing freely, it could be an interesting night . . . but then if you’ve read ahead, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

But that’s for tomorrow.

I was also going to comment on the fact that poor old Pierre, despite his new-found riches, is still the odd one out at social functions.  Too rich to hang around with the young men, too naive to really hang around with the old rich.  Always an outsider.

But my really big questions from this chapter is – why did glass-breaking never pick up in the West but seems to be really big in Eastern European countries?  Apart from the fact that you’d want pretty solid shoes, and the catering stuff would absolutely hate you, there seems to me something immensely satisfying about knowing that that toast is the last thing that glass will ever be used for.

Or maybe you think it’s a crazy Russian thing.

Throw in some bad poetry, the irony of Bagration being introduced to Nikolai (the very young man he was happy to send down to Kutuzov on the front line at the Battle of Austerlitz) and even more alcohol, is it any wonder that Count Rostov is in tears by the end of the chapter?

And there’s more to come tomorrow . . .