I have made the rather radical decision to just stick to reading one version of War and Peace for the duration of the financial year. While it’s rather fun to compare the two versions, if I fall behind (as happened), it’s diabolical. Especially on days with longer chapters.
And so, because I’ve read it before – much as I prefer it – I’ll put my Maude aside and finish my Garnett. I will make sure that I check chapter numbers so none of us gets caught out, but other than that, I’ll stick to the one version. Hopefully, the only people who will notice a difference is Rachel, who will have slightly more of her husband each day and myself.
But anyway – let’s get stuck into this chapter here. In case you thought the wolf got off lightly, we have a fox that gets killed by hunting dogs and then used as a blunt instrument to bash someone with. Followed by a hare that gets dismembered and its foot fed to a dog.
But still – what a great chapter, eh? I read somewhere online by some reviewer for a newspaper in England somewhere that Anthony Briggs (who translated War and Peace just a couple of years before Pevear/Volkhonsky – it was sometime just in the last few years, I believe) wrote to this reviewer to say that if he really wanted to get into War and Peace, just skip over all beginning stuff and go straight to Book 7. If you liked that, Briggs said, you’ll like all the rest. I can’t find the particular article to link to, but the reason Briggs suggested that you should try this approach is that Book 7 contains the essence of what Tolstoy is all about.
Nothing in particular happens – the family goes wolf-hunting (and a few other frivolities that we’ll cover in the next week) – but it all feels familiar, comfortable. Something we can easily identify with.
That may not be true for loving the fox hunt, but haven’t you ever felt that envy that someone has something you don’t? To watch Nikolai, Ilagin and Uncle all desperately trying to show off their dogs is hilarious. And the twist in the tale (which I won’t spoil) is classic.
In a plot sense, this chapter is completely redundant. And it’s like Tolstoy, after Book 6 was so plot-heavy (setting up a romance, a time apart, etc) has decided to give us a book where nothing much happens at all. But it will be an enjoyable nothing. (It’s not just Tolstoy who decided this. The Belgian creator of Tintin, Hergé, did exactly this same approach in one of Tintin’s very last adventures, The Castafiore Emerald. Every page almost ends with a cliffhanger – but nothing of much consequence at all happens throughout the entire story.
There are times when it becomes about the journey rather than about the destination, and this is one of them.
In the meantime – for those of you who are getting a bit sick of War and Peace – here’s an amusing blog post by a guy who gave up without ever getting through Book 1.