Reading for Sunday 19/10/08

And so now Helene has risen in favour, especially in the new French circles.  And poor old Pierre is just stuck with it.  It shows that while Pierre and Helene might be back together again, things are no better (including the ongoing spectre of Boris Drubetskoy, still conducting his affair under Pierre’s nose).

I love that what is highlighted here is that despite Pierre’s lack of sophistication, and his misguided attachment to Masonic principles, the things he stands for (justice, virtue, change, etc.) are all things that are worth pursuing.  And while the “clever” circles that formed around his wife may have the funny lines, the witty sayings and the poems – ultimately, they’re a shifting, vacillating group of people who don’t care about anything.  They were happy to be against Napoleon at the beginning of the book, now they’re happy to socialise with the French.

It’s important to remember that this rather long stretch of peace time that occurred after the treat of Tilsit is meant to be read in light of the fact that, to most Russians looking back, the war with Napoleon never really ended.  He was never really a friend of Russia.  So in many ways, I think Tolstoy is heaping scorn on the aristocrats who were quite happy to change their allegiances at will – of which Boris and Helene are a prime example.

All of this will be quite a different matter in a few years’ time . . .

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 6.9 – Helene’s Rise

  1. For me, what I saw in this chapter most of all was what it tells us about pride and jealousy.

    Tolstoy paints a very unflattering picture here not only of Helene, but of hers and Pierre’s marriage and, indeed, of all those marriages for appearance, which, I suspect, are every bit as much a part of today’s life as they were back then.

    The thing here that I find particularly interesting is the way that Pierre still feels, in spite of himself, so uneasy about Boris. Pierre has lost all feelings of love for his wife, and is only with her because his Masonic beliefs persuade him to, and yet he still feels this enormous jealousy towards Boris. I think when Helene was out of sight, Pierre didn’t give a second thought to what she might or might not be doing, or who she might or might not be seeing. But now that they have returned to having an appearance of a life together, he seems to have fallen into all the old feelings of male pride that took him over, with such disastrous consequences with Dolokhov, before. I suspect that’s how a lot of people react and feel, even once their relationships have finished. The thought of the other person moving on without them (or, more to the point, with someone else) is still a blow to their pride. I know I’ve felt that, even when it’s been a relationship which I didn’t want to continue anyway. Pride can be such a powerful thing sometimes.

  2. Well that’s just exactly what it is – pride. And he says so – he calls it ‘egotism’. It’s his ego that’s bruised. He feels like a silly fool, and that’s what he’s being made to look like.

    He doesn’t really care about her – if they were on some deserted island with a third party – say it was Boris – I don’t think he’d really care if she was having an affair with him. It’s what other people can see, that’s what he cares about.

    And that, in itself, his caring about the opinion of other people – that bothers him. He’s trying to shed that pride, that ego.

    Caulaincourt –

    The largest of these was the French circle of the Napoleonic alliance, the circle of Count Rumyantsev and Caulaincourt.

    De Ligne – Prince de Ligne –

    The distinguished Prince de Ligne wrote her eight-page letters.

    553

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