What an exquisitely awkward chapter this one is.  Here we’ve got Pierre, with a crush on Natasha on one hand and a friendship with Andrei on the other – not to mention a thorough working knowledge of the Kuragin family from his unhappy marriage – and he’s got to be dragged into this mess.

If it feels a little heavy-going, then that’s probably because Tolstoy has successfully destroyed the last bastion of happiness in the novel.  Despite all the misery going on at Pierre’s place, all of Andrei’s pessimism and the numerous battles that were going on – there was always joy and light at the Rostovs home.

And that’s all dried up in the space of a few chapters.  The old Count Rostov, Natasha’s father, is a terrifyingly accurate picture of a man whose kids have turned into teenagers, gone off the rails, and he’s powerless to stop it.  And he’s haunted by the fact that, with his erratic use of money, who is he to talk about being mature and sensible?  He can’t stand up and say, “Hey, grow up, kids!” because he knows that he’s never really said it to himself.

Which is what makes the character of Marya Dmitryevna so interesting – she’s like the strong parent that neither of the Rostov parents ever were.  She’s severe, but it’s only the fact that she’s in control of the situation at the moment that gives us any hope.

Oh, and of course, the last throwaway moment – as Pierre passes Anatole on the street – we observe that Anatole, far from being overly distraught at losing out on his new elopment partner, seems to have bounced back fairly well – showing how shallow his interest was in the first place.


One thought on “One-Year War and Peace 8.19 – Stuck In The Middle

  1. You’re absoltely right Matt – it’s tears and sadness all around now. You cannot help but feel that Pierre has perhaps got a point when he observes Anatole as always content because he lives only in the moment. I don’t for a moment think that that’s Tolstoy’s philosophy because, of course, we all know how shallow Anatole’s “happiness” is anyway – but it does remind us, as Russian novels do so well, that sadness, tragedy and angst are very much a part of life, whether it be on the epic scale of war, or on the private, personal scale of a broken heart.

    I was particularly moved in this chapter by the image of Natasha, described like this in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation: “As a wounded animal at bay looks at the approaching dogs and hunters, Natasha looked from one to the other”. I guess throughout this whole sad, sorry affair, I have felt enormously for Natasha, her vulnerability, her lost innocence – and, while everyone seems so eager to pounce on her for “her baseness, stupidity and cruelty” as Pierre himself puts it, in these lines we see it from her side: not a “vile woman” at all, but a wounded animal, who everyone else seems intent on tearing to shreds.

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