Reading for Saturday 27/09 – 5.8

It’s back to Bald Hills again and to the Bolkonsky mansion.  Rather amusingly, old Bolkonsky has been made one of the heads of the local militia that is being raised to fight the French.  (Well, it is rather amusing as long as you weren’t one of these subordinates to whom he is described as being “severe to [the point of] cruelty”.

However, this chapter is mainly an interesting glance back into Andrei’s world to see what has become of him since losing his wife.  He’s sunk back into his old gloom and pessimism again.  However, he doesn’t really find joy anywhere now.  Previously, he looked to the battlefield to give glory and fame – and that was where he hoped to find his satisfaction.

But his near-death experience has embittered him, and now he doesn’t want to fight, but feels useless otherwise.  (Note the reaction to his dad’s letter.)

Then, on top of this, he has the worrying problem of his son’s fever.  Anyone who’s had a baby can tell you that a baby feeling hot is a rather terrifying thing.  And I can only wonder how terrifying it would have been back in the days of the rather primitive medicine of 1807 (can you believe we’re now two years into the book?).

Every time my daughter has had a fever, it’s always been a pain, because you need to feed her some sort of medicine to get the temperature down, but the last thing a sick child wants to do is take any gross-tasting medicine . . . you can’t really win.

Anyway, this rather grim situation is interrupted by a letter from Bilibin, who you might remember as being the diplomat with the rather expressive wrinkles on his face that Andrei met when he was sent to deliver a message to the Austrian Emperor.  If you can’t remember him, don’t worry.  All you need to know is that he’s rather dry and cutting.  But you can enjoy all that tomorrow.

See you then!


2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 5.8 – A Domestic Scene

  1. Here we go again, Matt … another copy and paste job from something I wrote a few days ago …

    Well I have to admit that, for me, the tears welled up yet again in this chapter. I just found something unspeakably poignant in that whole image of Andrei, sitting forlornly on the little infant chair in the nursery, pouring out his son’s medicine. How much he has changed since Austerlitz, when he felt ready to trade all his family for a moment of military glory! Now it’s the reverse and everything, even his father’s orders to the army, take a back seat to his little son’s health. This great hero, who was going to save the entire Russian army, has become so fragile and tender. And I think the pathos of the scene is made only all the more potent by the way Tolstoy describes the statue of the angel over Lise’s grave – and how Andrei sees in the angel’s face the same expression that he saw on the face of his dead wife. I don’t think the Andrei we met at the beginning of the book would have felt nor done any of this.

    I never cease to marvel at Tolstoy’s ability to describe these things in such simple, direct and unaffected ways. We don’t get paragraphs a florid language spelling out every nuance of Andrei’s emotions – but we still find ourselves somehow experiencing and feeling exactly what he is experiencing and feeling, just by a few simple images. I really can’t think of another writer who does that so well.

  2. Yes, this chapter is very sad . . . poor Andrei – just as we start seeing him as a really good caring human being, he starts losing it, becoming an eccentric worry-wart.

    Here are the characters I am adding to my count:

    Bennigsen –

    Bennigsen seems to have obtained a complete victory over Buonaparte at Eylau.

    Coachman –

    The coachman who had driven the old prince to town returned bringing papers and letters for Prince Andrew.

    Doctors (2)

    These last days, mistrusting their household doctor and expecting another for whom they had sent to town, they had been trying first one remedy and then another.

    Ivanich – Karl Ivanich –

    “Still the same. Wait, for heaven’s sake. Karl Ivanich always says that sleep is more important than anything,” whispered Princess Mary with a sigh.

    Khandrikov –

    I can’t make out what the commander at Korchevo- a certain Khandrikov- is up to; till now the additional men and provisions have not arrived.

    Korchevo –

    I can’t make out what the commander at Korchevo- a certain Khandrikov- is up to; till now the additional men and provisions have not arrived.

    Maid –

    He threw the mixture onto the floor and asked for some more water. The maid brought it.

    Petenka –
    Have received another letter about the Preussisch-Eylau battle from Petenka- he took part in it- and it’s all true.

    Petrusha, the valet . . .

    “If you please, your excellency, Petrusha has brought some papers,” said one of the nursemaids to Prince Andrew who was sitting on a child’s little chair while, frowning and with trembling hands, he poured drops from a medicine bottle into a wineglass half full of water.


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