Well, this is probably going to be the only time that I get to combine the Beatles with Tolstoy . . .

And here’s another redundant chapter plotwise – but who would scrap it?

We get a great deal of food, an awesome balalaika recital, followed by dancing.  I wish I was there, I don’t know about the rest of you.

I think also it’s unusual because I’m not sure that “uncle” or his house ever makes an appearance again in the book – but it’s such a memorable experience when it’s described.

I’m not sure how I was meant to read Natasha and Nikolai’s conversation on the way home.  I’m not sure if they’re getting rather more attached than brother or sister, or whether they’re just realising how close they are as siblings.  I think you can read it either way.  What’s interesting is that Natasha is trying not to think too much about Andrei being away and just focusing on the moment.

And so should you, gentle reader.  If you’re getting a bit sick of all this wolf hunting, guitar-playing and what not – it might be worth remembering what I said right back at the beginning – don’t worry about the plot here.  Just enjoy the journey, take in the details.  The more you take in the details, the more you’ll enjoy the book.

See you tomorrow.


7 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 7.7 – Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out

  1. Oh no Matt – I can assure you that I, for one, am not in the least bit sick of this stuff. This really is, for me anyway, a wonderful, wonderful chapter – in fact Orlando Figes wrote a whole book on it. Well, not exactly – but, at least, a book about Russian culture whose title “Natasha’s Dance” was indeed inspired by this chapter, and the wonderful scene of Natasha dancing to her uncle’s guitar, and Tolstoy’s superb description of the way that the whole thing was just in her blood, as it was part of the soul of every Russian. It is that concept of a Russian soul that Figes examines in his book – and while I’m sure many people are somewhat sceptical about that sort of thing, here, under the hand of Tolstoy, it is very, very alive and real. It’s terrific writing, and in a sense the whole story of the hunt seemed almost to be a prelude to this earthy, rustic scene in a little house in the Russian countryside.

    It is, of course, written with Tolstoy’s trademark attention to detail – right down to his description of every dish on the platter which Anisya Fyodorovna brings out for them to eat.

    I didn’t see anything in the least bit incestuous in the discussion between Nikolai and Natasha on their way home – just a deep, deep sense of nostalgia for the brotherly/sisterly love that they have grown up with but which both of them knows will be put behind them, in a sense, as each of their lives moes forward to new stages.

    But, anyway, for me this chapter is just so rich in delightful descriptions – the food, Anisya, the Uncle, the house, the music and, of course, Natasha’s Dance.

  2. Yes, but wasn’t there something that happened with another girl? Nicolai made his decision about Sonya? Wasn’t this ‘on the way home’ thing supposed to be ‘Sonya’s’ moment?

    The evening at the Uncle’s house was wonderful; the uncle and the people in his household, including his ‘housekeeper’ (common law wife) were the soul of the earth.

    Yet Tolstoy chose to make Natasha the centre of attention . . . no one else in the house was interesting, as far as Tolstoy was concerned.

    The women – the Uncle’s wife, the household staff, who seemed to live with them as ‘family’ . . . were none of them interesting people? Were not one of those girls capable of dancing to the uncle’s guitar music?

    Was this really the time for Nicolai to be ‘bonding’ with his sister? Did he not just commit himself to Sonya?

    If my brother had just proposed (committed) himself to his girlfriend, I wouldn’t expect him to be hanging off me the rest of the way home. I’d expect to entertain myself while they smooched in the backseat of the carriage.

    Anyway . . . that’s the way it is with Tolstoy – guess I can’t change it.

    Toward evening Ilagin took leave of Nicholas, who found that they were so far from home that he accepted “Uncle’s” offer that the hunting party should spend the night in his little village of Mikhaylovna.

    I can just imagine the Uncle as having that little village, with all its people – they seem to live ‘as one’, as a ‘community’, each caring for the other.

  3. I apologize – for 2 things – one, I did not give my recent count – it was 606 . . .

    And, I didn’t realize – the Nicolai and Sonya decision doesn’t happen in this chapter – not sure when – it’s around this time though.

    So please excuse me for my little ‘rant’ about Tolstoy not giving Sonya her due . . . she doesn’t get her due yet . . . if she still needs it, I’ll defend her when the time comes.

  4. Isn’t it odd that the ‘housekeeper’, Anisya Fedorovna has the same surname as the Emperor’s mother?

    Character count . . .

    Arinka –

    “Arinka! Look, she sits sideways! There she sits and her skirt dangles…. See, she’s got a little hunting horn!”

    Bare Footed Girl –

    Soon after “Uncle’s” reappearance the door was opened, evidently from the sound by a barefooted girl, and a stout, rosy, good-looking woman of about forty, with a double chin and full red lips, entered carrying a large loaded tray.

    Fedorovna – Anisya Fedorovna

    Not only Nicholas, but even Natasha understood the meaning of his puckered brow and the happy complacent smile that slightly puckered his lips when Anisya Fedorovna entered.

    Mitka –

    “That’s Mitka, my coachman…. I have got him a good balalayka. I’m fond of it,” said “Uncle.”

    Serfs (5) –

    Some five male domestic serfs, big and little, rushed out to the front porch to meet their master.

    Total character count is now . . .


  5. I just applied for a Blog of my own!

    I was wondering what I might write on that blog . . . maybe little stories concocted from between Tolstoy’s lines? Maybe something about the Uncle’s ‘housekeeper’?

    Maybe I could make a real person out of Sonya!


  6. Sorry to raise a little slightly pedantic point, Carly, but the “Feodorovna” in both Anisya’s name and the Empress is not actually a surname, it’s their patronymic – which is the Russian replacement for a middle name. The patronymic is based on the person’s father’s given name with “ovich” added in the case of a male and “ovna” added in the case of a female (sometimes either of these can be shortened or changed a little). So all this means is that Anisya and the Empress both have a dad whose first name is Feodor (whic is a very common male Russian given name).

    And I have to slightly disagree with you about the focus on Natasha’s dance in this chapter. To me, the whole point was that it was Natasha doing the dance, and not Anisya or one of the household. They were the ones you’d expect to do the dance, because they had grown up in the rustic environment; but Tolstoy’s point in having Natasha do the dance is that, ven though she had grown up in the sanctified, Europeonised atmoshpere of the Petersburg aristocracy, all that Russian folk culture was still there in her blood, in her soul.

  7. Ah! Yes . . . I keep forgetting about that name system. It involves the father’s ‘first’ name – it doesn’t mean that Anisya is possibly related to the royalty.

    I know, I’ve made that mistake before.

    And yes, you’re right – I see what you mean about the ‘dance’ being ‘culture’ . . . that’s why it was so amazing that Natasha did the dance.

    Had the dance been something done in her own ‘class’, it wouldn’t have been anything to write about. Had Anisya been able to do one of those dances from the ‘balls’, it would have been just as amazing, I guess.

    OK . . . alright! I’ll leave Natasha alone on that one.

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