Reading for Thursday 6/11/08

I think this is possibly the funniest chapter I’ve read so far in the book.  I always get a chuckle from Tolstoy’s tongue-in-cheek reading of the Bible that man’s natural state was meant to be one of idleness.  It’s not actually correct.  If you have a look at the first few chapters of Genesis, you will see that Adam and Eve were created to do work in the Garden of Eden.  It just wasn’t going to be hard and frustrating.

Which is very true – after all, I think the problem most people have with work is not that they have to do any work – it’s just that the work they have to do is hard and many jobs seem utterly pointless.

Anyway, back to Nikolai – enjoying his time of guilt-free idleness in the army.  But then, as we see, forced to deal with the terrible financial situation his family is in.  Now you and I know, of course, that Nikolai has exactly the same temperament as his dad when it comes to money (his Dad’s just better with people), so this is not going to be the most effective financial clean-up the world has ever seen.

But it will be amusing . . . and so Nikolai returns home.  (And for a brief moment, we see Tolstoy the mathematician, with his line about the force of attraction and the square of distance.)

I was the first sibling to move out of my house, so I can relate quite well to that bizarre feeling of coming back to your house, and finding that youngest brother’s voice has broken, sister has a fiancee, etc.  But Tolstoy captures it rather well.

I didn’t realise quite how sick Andrei was when I read this the first time, but obviously that’s part of what’s keeping him away.


7 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 7.1 – Idleness and Mathematics

  1. I suspect there’s a touch of intentional irony here in Tolstoy’s description of military life, and his characterisation of its “obligatory and irreproachable idleness” (I don’t know enough about the Bible or Tolstoy’s view of it to know if the same irony is intended there or not). This is not how we tend to think of the military, but it makes perfect sense as Tolstoy goes on to talk about a life without confusion, compared to all the things that a person has to take responsibility for in ordinary life. I suspect this is the very thing that attracts a lot of people to the military – being part of something ordered, where someone else calls the shots, all of which is kind of frightening when you think how much power the military wields.

    The other thing I found interesting in this chapter was the way Nikolai’s return home contrasted this time to the last time. It might have started this time with that same childlike run up the front stairs, but he soon discovered that everything has changed now, subtly but profoundly. People are older, more serious, his little brother is becoming a man, his little sister is becoming a wife, his parents have started to bicker. It’s all so different – they’re still the same Rostovs, but the innocent, carefree high spirits of his childhood have, it seems, gone forever.

  2. I wonder when Natasha’s going to face the same realities – seems nothing touches her . . . she’s always the same exuberant young girl . . . party, party, party!

  3. That’s what I’ve always liked about Natasha, actually. There are some people out there who are always happy. (Just like there are some Andrei’s who are always miserable.)

    I wish we had a few more Natashas and a few less Andreis . . . but then again, the Andreis will get more stuff done.

  4. I seem to have a lot of ‘thought’ on this chapter and what you folks have said here . . .

    Oh, I wonder about that . . . surely God expected us to work – why be here if we’re not going to use our minds and fine bodies? I am of the belief that there certainly is a ‘Creator’ and the word ‘God’ is just fine for me.

    I am also of the belief that we are meant to work through our difficulties – it’s all part of our path to enlightenment . . . that’s the Buddhism studies showing up.


  5. But Tolstoy was probably right about ‘his’ military life . . . maybe that’s how it was – a lot of sitting around doing nothing. In our modern day lives, we understand military training to be something much different. It’s an education, in itself.

    We at one time thought (back in the 50’s to say the 60’s) that was the answer for some kids – send ‘em to the army! They’ll straighten ‘im out!

    And with some kids it might have been the best thing . . . then Viet Nam came along and we didn’t want anybody going into the army!


    As for the ‘mathematical’ and ‘force of attraction’ line, yes . . . I liked it. But I’m going tell you, I don’t really understand what he’s saying. Funny how you can like something, but not really understand it.

    At any rate, I’m not asking you folks to educate me, so whether you explain it is entirely up to yourselves.


  6. I too was ignorant of Andrei’s being sick – I thought he’d been sent away to work at a post his father arranged for him, in the war office. I didn’t know he was sick . . . I guess Mr. T. didn’t think it important to get into it in any depth.


    As much as I admire the Rostov couple for their loving ways, their funloving energy, I see them as being weak people – what’s the matter with the father than he cannot see his way to standing up to people who are robbing him?

    Why would they need their son home?


    Oh, those times when we were young . . . don’t worry, Matt – it doesn’t last forever . . . heh! Heh!

    Being young can be so frustrating – we are enjoying our childhood, then realize we are expected to grow up, to take responsibilities – we are actually given things to worry about!

    Were I given the chance to live any part of my life over, I don’t think I’d choose my teens – seems most of the time I was ‘too old’ to do things I wanted to do, or I was ‘too young’.

    Old enough to get out and earn some money, to look after the family wash, see to my younger brother, see to my homework for school and course – impress some future employer that I was competent. I was old enough to drive, get married if I wanted and raise kids, yet I wasn’t old enough to sit down in the tavern and order a beer!

    Didn’t make sense.

  7. Now, about these new characters that have been introduced . . . stand up here and be counted!
    Basov – Major Basov –
    Rostov danced the Trepak with Major Basov; the tipsy officers tossed, embraced, and dropped Rostov; the soldiers of the third squadron tossed him too, and shouted “hurrah!” and then they put him in his sleigh and escorted him as far as the first post station.
    Borzozowska – Mademoiselle Borzozowska
    (See below)
    Dozhoyveyko – Rostov’s Quartermaster –

    During the first half of the journey- from Kremenchug to Kiev- all Rostov’s thoughts, as is usual in such cases, were behind him, with the squadron; but when he had gone more than halfway he began to forget his three roans and Dozhoyveyko, his quartermaster, and to wonder anxiously how things would be at Otradnoe and what he would find there.

    Driver –
    At the last post station before Otradnoe he gave the driver a three-ruble tip, and on arriving he ran breathlessly, like a boy, up the steps of his home.
    Golukhovski – Count Golukhovski

    (see below)

    This is apparently a real person . . .

    Is this ‘Count’ the same as in our story? Did he really exist?

    The palace that used to belong to the Counts Golukhovskis is situated several blocks away at 16 Lystopadovoho Chynu Street. Its former owner, Count Agenor Golukhovski, was governor of Halychyna, a man of rigidly conservative views; he was remembered for causing a great controversy in the then local community by his attempt to forcefully introduce the Latin script for the Ukrainian language. Strangely enough, the idea has not died completely.

    Przazdziecka – Mademoiselle Przazdziecka

    Difficult and strange as it was for him to reflect that he would go away without having heard from the staff- and this interested him extremely- whether he was promoted to a captaincy or would receive the Order of St. Anne for the last maneuvers; strange as it was to think that he would go away without having sold his three roans to the Polish Count Golukhovski, who was bargaining for the horses Rostov had betted he would sell for two thousand rubles; incomprehensible as it seemed that the ball the hussars were giving in honor of the Polish Mademoiselle Przazdziecka (out of rivalry to the Uhlans who had given one in honor of their Polish Mademoiselle Borzozowska) would take place without him- he knew he must go away from this good, bright world to somewhere where everything was stupid and confused.

    This brings my count (including the ‘count’) to a total of 583!

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