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 . . .

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 6.18 – A Very Boring Dinner Party

  1. I have to confess that I, too, am not sure of the significance of the changes that Alexander was referring to here – other than seeming to fit in with the general new trends that Speransky was introducing, trying to create a more functional bureaucracy around the monarchy. Even back then, as I understand it, the problems facing Russia, especially in relation to the peasantry, were bubbling away and the ineffectiveness of the feudal system were probably becoming more and more apparent. The need for stronger, more decisive government was a growing concern. The first revolution was still almost 100 years away, but the discontent with an ancient system of government by nobility, was already astir. But that’s all I know!!

    But, aside from all that, I also think the juxtaposition with Natasha’s unaffected exuberance makes this dinner party stick out all the more like a sore thumb. And yet, I have certainly been at events like that, and recognise all that affected, contrived, in-house humour all too well, especially in political circles, where, like here, there is often no awareness of how far removed they are from the real lives of real people – which in fact is a particularly potent irony here, given that that very dislocation of the Russian monarchy from the people is what ultimately led to its overthrow a hundred years later.

    But it is all those typical Tolstoyesque observations about such an event that, for me at least, make even a boring party interesting.

  2. I dunno’, Matt . . . I don’t think I’d be inclined to bum through the chapter – I more or less identify with Andrei’s feeling here. How it is when you first ‘get interested’ in somebody – this is the kind of ‘falling in love’ that sneaks up on you. It isn’t just BANG! I’m in love! It’s just that something exciting has been happening, and now everything else looks dull!

    After that ball, him dancing around with Natasha, he’s bored – he’s looking for more.

    The kind of humour at that party is the ‘had to be there’ kinda’ humour – it wouldn’t seem funny to you unless you’d been at the office that day and experienced the goings-on first hand.

    It’s like standing out on your lawn one summer night with a couple of neighbours and laughing at the way the guy across the road cuts his grass – if you were to try to relate the humour to somebody at work the next day, it wouldn’t seem so funny.

    And Andrei’s right – he’s starting to suspect that Speranski’s just so much hogwash . . . we could see that when he met him – he was all show.

    …………………………………………….

    Here’s the characters I’m adding:

    Bitski –

    The visitor was Bitski, who served on various committees, frequented all the societies in Petersburg, and a passionate devotee of the new ideas and of Speranski, and a diligent Petersburg newsmonger- one of those men who choose their opinions like their clothes according to the fashion, but who for that very reason appear to be the warmest partisans.

    Deaf Dignitary –

    Speranski related how at the Council that morning a deaf dignitary, when asked his opinion, replied that he thought so too.

    Dron –

    Then he vividly pictured to himself Bogucharovo, his occupations in the country, his journey to Ryazan; he remembered the peasants and Dron the village elder, and mentally applying to them the Personal Rights he had divided into paragraphs, he felt astonished that he could have spent so much time on such useless work.

    Gervais

    The other guests were Gervais, Magnitski, and Stolypin.

    Speranski’s Daughter –

    There were no ladies present except Speranski’s little daughter (long-faced like her father) and her governess.

    Speranski’s Daughter’s Governess –

    There were no ladies present except Speranski’s little daughter (long-faced like her father) and her governess.

    Stolypin –

    The other guests were Gervais, Magnitski, and Stolypin.

    573

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