Reading for Wednesday 15/10/08

We meet another real historical character in this chapter – Speranski.  If you had trouble keeping up with this chapter, basically, the Russian aristocracy is undergoing a bit of an upheaval.  From its strongly defined class sytem, with many people serving as slaves to the aristocracy, and promotions being passed around based on class (ie money), things were moving to a more equal status.

Serfs were being freed.  Promotions for certain positions were being based on examinations – on who was suitable for the job.  Now, mind you, we’d think of all this as things that should be taken for granted in a democracy, but this would have been quite radical at the time.  Or, more particularly, for the aristocracy in Russia, you would have found this most French.

I think it’s quite clear that Speranski, now advising the Tsar, is drawing a large amount of his ideas from the French model.  Granted, they seemed to be bringing this thing in without having to resort to a French Revolution, so that’s all good.

Anyway, even if you don’t enjoy this little political sideline, and want to get back to either a) the soap or b) the war, this chapter is worth it for the description of the new fascination with Andrei when he returned to society and this quote, which is might favourite:

“As is often the case with men, particularly with those who criticise their fellows severely, Prince Andrei on meeting a new person . . . had always a hope of finding in him a full perfection of human qualities.”

Far too true . . .


2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 6.5 – Speranski

  1. This Chapter is certainly a very humanised look at what were some fairly major political issues for Russia in the early part of the 19th Century. The French influence hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned it, Matt, but that does make a lot of sense given the relationship with France – not only because of Napoleon, but the entire French influence over St Petersbrug life and culture.

    As I understand Russia’s political history, the political issues we see here continued to be important and to evolve and to shape Russia right up to the 1917 Revolution. I don’t know much about Speranksy himself, other than that he played a fairly pivotal role in moving Russia towards liberalism, and, consequently, in starting the ball rolling that would bring the issues of the peasants, the monarchy, and the nobility, and Russia’s feudal history, all to a head.

    So it’s good to see Tolstoy humanising this character, and these politics, in a way that only he could ever do. As always, his descriptions and observations about the ways people behave in these circles is just so brilliantly convincing.

    I sometimes think how interesting it would have been if Tolstoy had have lived much later, and written a novel, like War and Peace, set in the times of the Revolution. It would have been a sensational read!!

  2. You two fellas are far too eloquent . . . I can never think of anything to add to your opinions as you express them here.

    The thing that impressed me about this chapter was the way Tolstoy (as the omniscient viewer) observed other people through Andrei’s eyes . . . how Andrei studied the ways of Speransky.

    Do we do that ourselves? Are we impressed by the way someone walks into a room, looks at absolutely no one else but the person we are about to address?

    Try it next time you walk into a roomful of people; see if you can ignore the distraction of others and concentrate on one thing.

    He notes the way Speransky said he’d been detained at the Palace – didn’t say anything about the Emperor, in order to be ‘modest’.

    I remember having a boss once – she was a rich person, and let you know it with every move she made – she never once said she was ‘going to use the washroom’, and certainly never said ‘I’m gonna’ go have a pee’ . . . she always said, I’m going to go and wash my hands.

    I didn’t admire this woman – I thought she was a first class pompous twit, but I did admire her for the ‘polish’ she carried off.
    So I understand what Tolstoy means by ‘observing’ someone like that.

    That’s about the only thing I have to say on that chapter . . .

    Other than that, I will merely fork over the names I am going to add to my count . . .

    Magnitski –

    “The chairman of the Committee on Army Regulations is my good friend Monsieur Magnitski,” he said, fully articulating every word and syllable, “and if you like I can put you in touch with him.”

    Montesquieu –

    “I am an admirer of Montesquieu,” replied Prince Andrew, “and his idea that le principe des monarchies est l’honneur me parait incontestable. Certains droits et privileges de la noblesse me paraissent etre des moyens de soutenir ce sentiment.”*

    * “The principle of monarchies is honor seems to me incontestable. Certain rights and privileges for the aristocracy appear to me a means of maintaining that sentiment.”

    Old Man – Old Man of Catherine’s Day

    “Oh, is it you, Prince, who have freed your serfs?” said an old man of Catherine’s day, turning contemptuously toward Bolkonski.

    Pryanichnikov –

    “Well, I have Pryanichnikov serving under me, a splendid man, a priceless man, but he’s sixty. Is he to go up for examination?”


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