This chapter we have more of the Andrei/Natasha romance – but this time from the viewpoint of Pierre.
I love the way this is described. Pierre feels both sad and happy at the same time. He can’t quite put his finger on why, but I think it’s because of two things:
1) First of all, Andrei finding happiness just reminds him of the unhappiness he’s going through with his own relationship. (And his wife is still well and truly alive – not something that Andrei has to worry about, thanks to Leo’s twist.)
2) But, secondly, Pierre has been friends with the Rostovs and Natasha for a long time. It’s never been said that he’s been in love with her – but sometimes you don’t know what you really like until it’s out of reach . . .
Anyway, it’s just a throwaway moment before being dominated by Vera’s hilariously unsubtle interrogation of Andrei. But . . . has she shown the seeds of jealousy by mentioning Boris? Is she being a troublemaker on purpose?
We don’t know, because Pierre’s been interrupted by Berg calling him over to join the argument – the one that all good parties have to have . . .
Now this chapter is gold. Firstly, because I don’t remember it at all from the first time I read it. (I must have been reading really fast by this stage, and taking less stuff in.)
For some reason, I thought Berg and Vera were just going to drop out of the picture.
But no! Here they are, opening their home for a soirée/card game – and it’s comic genius on Tolstoy’s part.
The feeling of superiority that both have over the other. The great desire to have their party look exactly the same as everyone else’s (that point hammered home repeatedly by Tolstoy). The argument over what they will discuss with their guests.
And who couldn’t help but be amused by the asymmetrical room?
I found much to chuckle over in this chapter, and to my delight, this particular soirée continues into tomorrow’s chapter. See you then!
This chapter is another very short one, so there’s not a lot to say. Again, because the action is completely from inside Andrei’s head, it develops an ambiguity that feels very human.
When Andrei feels like crying hearing Natasha singing, he feels it’s because of realising the gap between something “illimitable” and humanity’s own limited self.
It could also be that the music moved him.
Not to mention that he’s madly in love with Natasha as well.
All of these things play around in his head, all happening at once. But the interesting thing is that the book’s most pessimistic character is having a turn around. We’re seeing a new Andrei emerge . . .
Which is what’s so amazing about this book. The only thing comparable with a story running this long is a TV series, and in TV series, characters usually stay the same, rather than really change. But here’s Andrei, completely reinventing himself. Fascinating stuff.
And that’s probably it from me . . . until tomorrow.
The beauty of this is that, unlike a conventional romance, Andrei doesn’t straight away realise that he’s in love. He just notices that the rest of the world is boring.
I’m not sure whether Tolstoy deliberately did this, but the contrast between this exceptionally boring toffee-nosed dinner party of Speranskis and the exuberance of Natasha and the ball is immense. It’s just so fake and artificial, with jokes that aren’t very funny, that you can’t help but wish you were back hanging out with the Rostovs.
In fact, it’s one of the funny things about reading this one chapter at a time is that we have to stop and think about this chapter at all. If we were going faster, this is one chapter where we’d just want to burn through it as fast as possible to get back to the romance. It’s just so jarring and breaks up the flow.
But this is precisely how Andrei felt. All the talk about reform and change seemed quite stupid by comparison. And also he realised, at the end of the chapter, how little change he was actually causing in the world.
I wouldn’t mind knowing a little bit more about exactly what the changes that Alexander announced in this chapter meant for the Russian government. It wasn’t quite clear to me. So if there are any history buffs out there that want to explain it in more detail, I’m all ears.
However, I’m also happy to agree that it’s not that interesting, and – like Andrei – would rather find out what the Rostovs are up to.
Which we will tomorrow . . .
And here we go . . . we finish the ball with Natasha on an absolute high. (We’ll find out about Andrei’s state of mind tomorrow.) I don’t know if anyone caught the throwaway remark about how she passed all her superflous dancing partners on to Sonya, but I did find that rather amusing.
There’s not a lot to say here, except that Tolstoy paints a picture of this happiness that transcends everything in the room, and then brings us back to earth with a reminder that poor old Pierre is still struggling with his doubts and dilemmas. (And we hopefully all remember the dreams and problems he’s wrestling with at the moment.)
But isn’t that the way at social gatherings? Actually, just about spending time on this planet really. At any given point in time, one person can be having the high point of their life, and for another, they can be in the depths of despair. The only thing shared is this planet and the march of time.
See you tomorrow.
This is another pretty self-explanatory chapter, but it is remarkable, because it’s the first time in the whole book (and what are we up to now – Book 6 out of 15?) where Tolstoy has given us some genuine romance.
Despite the fact that the whole book of War and Peace started with Prince Vasili and Anna Scherer conspiring to marry his kids off, we very quickly realised that the vast majority of marriages and relationships in War and Peace are not really fun places at all.
Andrei’s marriage seemed dreadfully strained, Pierre’s relationship with Helene seems to have been a train wreck waiting to happen, Boris & Natasha was a bit childish – well, okay, there is the Sonya/Nikolai romance, which is more like the genuine article – but I think Nikolai has to grow up a bit.
But when these two get together – Andrei and Natasha – for that dance, it’s like the stars have aligned. Contrast it with the rather cold mechanical description of Helen’s dance. With Andrei and Natasha, it’s much more than dance. It’s a romance. (In real life, you or I would probably gasp in horror that a man in his early 30s is hitting on a 16-year-old, but, look, Natasha’s Mum said it was okay, so just chill out, okay?)
Seriously, though, it all feels right. Or have I been watching too many romantic comedies with Rachel?
Either way, we’ll see you tomorrow.
Tolstoy’s style, which he used in the battle scenes – of starting some distance away and gradually drawing his reader into the scene, is used to great effect here again (assuming that you were noticing matters of style as we went along). We’re first of all in the carriage out on the street, so all is dark, cold and miserable. Then it’s the red carpet, the stairwell, saying hello to the hosts – then next thing you know, we’re in the ballroom and we’re getting a running commentary from Madame Peronsky (the girls’ host) on who’s who.
And it is a bit of a Who’s Who, isn’t it? We’ve got Anatole “Ratbag” Kuragin, Helene, Pierre, Andrei, Speranski (I assume that’s who he was talking to) and Boris.
In fact, because there are so many of them, I thought it might be time to relist the MindMap. I haven’t done too many updates to it (except to remove some minor characters who haven’t really featured much since the beginning of the book, so it’s probably safe to axe them). A lot of the descriptions are how the characters are first described when they appear, but that’s probably a good thing.
See you tomorrow as the action all happens.
And now we begin another great Tolstoy set-piece, every bit on the scale of one of the battle scenes we’ve read previously – the New Years’ Eve Ball.
We’re kind of going into Jane Austen territory here – and this chapter especially so, with lots of running around, getting ready, doing the hair right, getting the dress ready, etc.
I don’t think I need to explain much more, do I? But in case you’ve missed the point – it’s a big party, everyone’s going to be there and the girls want to look their best! Hey, look, if I had several estates, plenty of servants to do my clothes and money to go around – I’d want to go as well. (Actually, this is the Rostovs – after having been thoroughly cleaned out by Berg, they don’t even need money.)
This is the funny thing about Tolstoy. He can switch between providing great reams of minute detail and then cut to the chase at the blink of an eyelid.
So in this chapter, Natasha and her mother have a highly detailed conversation about Boris, with Tolstoy’s painstaking detail pointing out how Natasha is walking a fine line between being in the adult world (discussing marriage) and being in the child world (counting knuckles) at the same time.
Actually, regarding the knuckles, I was rather stoked, because ever since I read this in a book when I was about 10, I still to this day use my knuckles if I can’t remember how many days are in a particular month . . . so I was pretty stoked to find that in War and Peace, because I don’t remember it from last time.
And then, finally, after all this detail, a single brief paragraph suffices to outline the ultimate outcome of the Boris/Natasha relationship. Very cleverly done.
See you tomorrow!
Now here was something I’d completely forgot about. For some reason, I didn’t remember that Boris and Natasha had this reunion.
Still, what a great chapter, eh? (Again, all the great things about long novels are starting to pay off – when a couple like this get back together after four years – it feels like four years).
I think the most amusing thing (in a black sort of way) was the bit where Boris (happily carrying on an affair with a married woman) considers that it would be wrong to lead Natasha on if he has no intention of marrying her . . . Where’d he suddenly discover his moral compass from?
But then again – it might not be a throwaway detail. It could actually hint at the fact that while Boris takes whatever he gets (whether it be promotion, fame, women, etc.), there are things that are actually out of his reach. After all, there’s something so innocent about Natasha (compared with the shallowness and unfaithfulness of Helene) that I can completely understand how he gets drawn in.
Of course, those of you who haven’t read the book are probably all screaming at the book, “No, Natasha! No! Don’t! Don’t!”
But we’ll just have to wait till tomorrow.