Reading for Saturday 15/11/08

Actually, now that I’ve read 7.10, I can see more clearly how 7.9 works.  I’m not sure what it is about being a teenager, but you feel everything much more intensely than you do as an adult.  And life swings from one extreme to the other so much more quickly.

So at the start of the chapter, Natasha and Nikolai are both describing that sensation of being utterly miserable, when the rest of the world goes on around them.  While it’s the kind of thing that can be felt by someone who is suffering from depression, it’s also quite scarily just part and parcel of being a teenager.

However, also part and parcel is feeling the high points of life much more dramatically.  Which is what this chapter captures so beautifully.  Natasha goes from being in a total gloom, till by the end (and it is quite a long chapter), the night is magical.

Granted, it sounds like a really fun night.  Play-acting, dress-ups, and a night-time sleigh ride.  Tolstoy describes it, making it sound like such exhilarating fun, that you wish you were there.  And, if you’re really on his wavelength, it might cast your mind back to awesomely fun activities you undertook with your friends when you were young.  Do you remember parties, camps, beach trips?  The kind of stuff that was super-fun and exhilarating.

I don’t think it was so much the activities that were fun as just this constant swinging back and forth between utter depression and utter exhilaration on the other.  (Studies show that this is a common teenage emotion, especially for girls.)  So I think Tolstoy is taking us into the emotional world, as well as just describing some great Christmas fun.

Anyway, if that’s all too deep, seeing as we’re on our way to Christmas, I hope you enjoyed all the usual stuff like the sleigh ride and the deep snow.  (Not that we get any of that here in Australia.)

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7 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 7.10 – Lows and Highs

  1. You’re probably right, Matt – maybe Natasha’s mood in the last chapter was much more a teenage thing than a depression thing: although, of course, those depressed times that are, as you point out, part and parcel of being a teenager are nothing to be taken lightly, as the teenage suicide rates so disturbingly tell us.

    But you’re right, as we see in this chapter, that, serious as it might be, it’s ultimately a transitory thing.

    I don’t think I have come across quite so drastic a contrast of mood in the one chapter anywhere in War and Peace as here. The move from the poignant nostalgia that seems to be enveloping everyone for the first part of the chapter, to the crazy almost hysterical revelry of the second part, really comes as quite a jolt – and yet it seems to work very well, maybe precisely because it is such a dramatic shift.

    I loved both parts. The scene where Natasha and Nikolai and Sonya are talking about their childhood memories, and never quite sure which are memories and which are dreams, was just magical. And then the moment where Natasha sings came across to me as like a little oasis of joy, albeit a sad, poignant sort of joy, in what has been, for the Rostovs, a time of growing hardship, change and uncertainty.

    But then when Petya just bursts in with his news about the mummers it all changes. Suddenly everyone gets into the spirit of this crazy party and Tolstoy’s descriptions of the magical moonlit, snow-covered night just carried me away with it.

    So it was a long chapter – but a wonderful one!

  2. You bring up a good point; why do we see things more intensely as teenagers? Well, I have thought about this a lot – were I to be given the chance to re-live any part of my life, it wouldn’t be my teens. I was so frustrated during those years – too young to do this, yet too old to continue doing ‘that’ . . . that’s how it was.

    Now, you have me thinking – why we did we see things more intensely? Well, I might be ‘thinking’, but that doesn’t mean I have an answer – if I figure it out, I’ll be back with my illustrious findings, you can be sure.

  3. The reason . . . might be that we are given more responsibility as teens – when we are young children – from birth to the age of twelve, we have to ‘do’ things, keep our rooms clean, manage our own allowance, keep our mouths shut, be seen and not heard kinda’ thing.

    But when we become teens, graduate into high school, more is expected of us – there’s all that homework! And we are expected to ‘understand’ more. We are asked to read books, write book reports – and I don’t mean copying the inside leaf of books, which I tried to get away with – we are expected to not only colour the maps of the world, use the right shades for oceans and different types of soil, but we are expected to learn things about the people who live in those lands.

    We are expected to know the names of the Canadian provinces and their capital cities; we are expected to know the names of the American states and their capital cities. We’re expected to know that Africa is not a ‘country’ and that the British Isles is NOT just England!

    We are not expected to know those things, we have to remember them when test time comes and when it comes time for the term exams, we are expected to pass them.

    When we begin to date, we develop feelings for people, and have to live with the disappointment if those feelings aren’t reciprocated. We have to face up to the fact that life isn’t always fair.

    We learn to ‘think’ and in doing that ‘thinking’, we are encouraged to ‘think deeply’ and we do.

    As children, little children, we don’t think that deeply – we don’t have to – someone makes our decisions for us.

    Now, these kids in ‘War and Peace’, they have to take life a little more seriously than we did as teens – at fourteen, for instance, a girl is actually thinking about marriage – she’s not going to get married right there and then, but she knows it won’t be long before she is expected to choose a mate.

    My grandmothers were married at 16 and thought nothing of it. I remember taking a high school boyfriend to visit my paternal grandmother – when Popper took John out to look at the peach trees in the back yard . . . John was really hung up on trees . . . Nana asked me if we were thinking of getting married.

    I said ‘Nana! I’m only 17! And John was in the Air Force – he’d be away all the time!’

    She told me she was 16 when she married Popper and he was away for a year. She didn’t see what the big deal was. She did, in fact, have no idea why it was important for me to get a job in an office that summer. She couldn’t imagine why I should go out and enter the work force – didn’t I want to be a housewife?

    When I think of that, I wonder how it was for these women who married young and had children right away; it must have been difficult for them to playing with other girls one day, and thinking about changing diapers six months later.

    So there you have it – I thought about it and did come up with something.

  4. Sleigh rides . . . the last sleigh ride I was on was in 1985 – I went with a group from Belleville, Ontario. One of the fellas had Clydesdales at his parents’ farm . . . we hooked them up and took a ride through the fields – it was wonderful!

    But contrary to popular opinion, Canadians don’t have sleighs everywhere – that’s just up north in the wilder lands . . . what used to be small dopey towns with one general store have become bigger towns and have been done up to look like the big city – a shame, really.

    And no – Toronto isn’t that cold . . . we don’t have sleds and dogs – it’s amazing how I was asked by a kid when in Florida if we had our own team of dogs. Ha Ha!

    I enjoyed that chapter – especially the sleigh ride.

    ………………………………….

  5. Sleigh rides . . . the last sleigh ride I was on was in 1985 – I went with a group from Belleville, Ontario. One of the fellas had Clydesdales at his parents’ farm . . . we hooked them up and took a ride through the fields – it was wonderful!

    But contrary to popular opinion, Canadians don’t have sleighs everywhere – that’s just up north in the wilder lands . . . what used to be small dopey towns with one general store have become bigger towns and have been done up to look like the big city – a shame, really.

    And no – Toronto isn’t that cold . . . we don’t have sleds and dogs – it’s amazing how I was asked by a kid when in Florida if we had our own team of dogs. Ha Ha!

    I enjoyed that chapter – especially the sleigh ride.

  6. Here are the notes I made after doing this chapter . . .

    This is such a wonderful chapter – it’s so nice the way they all go out, as mummers, taking some of the servants with them.

    It’s just the lift Natasha needs.

    Did you notice how Sonya replied ‘timidly’ to Nicolai and Natasha when they asked her if she remembered the incident with the ‘Negro’?

    I don’t know if Tolstoy meant the reader to pick up on this or not – my take was that she was feeling ‘on the outside’ of the sister and brother reminiscing, as if she wasn’t part of their history together.

    Which she was . . .

    ………………………………

  7. Character count . . .

    Field –

    “Mr. Dimmler, please play my favorite nocturne by Field,” came the old countess’ voice from the drawing room.

    Maid –

    While they were talking a maid thrust her head in at the other door of the sitting room.

    “They have brought the cock, Miss,” she said in a whisper.

    Melyukova –

    “No, why disturb the old fellow?” said the countess. “Besides, you wouldn’t have room to turn round there. If you must go, go to the Melyukovs'”

    Melyukova was a widow, who, with her family and their tutors and governesses, lived three miles from the Rostovs.

    Negro –

    “A Negro,” chimed in Nicholas with a smile of delight. “Of course I remember. Even now I don’t know whether there really was a Negro, or if we only dreamed it or were told about him.”

    Old Women (2) –

    “And do you remember how we rolled hard-boiled eggs in the ballroom, and suddenly two old women began spinning round on the carpet? Was that real or not? Do you remember what fun it was?”

    Brings us to a count of 624!

    (Think we’ll hit 1000?)

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