What a great chapter this one is, bringing the whole engagement subplot to a close, while opening up the major events that are about to shake the world of War and Peace.

I can still remember this chapter quite clearly from the first time I read it.  There’s something incredibly moving about Natasha’s apology for all the trouble she has caused, and Pierre’s declaration of love.

It doesn’t take a Hollywood twist – she doesn’t get keen on Pierre, and he doesn’t start cheating on his wife (though that said, there’s been enough hints that he’s into drinking and prostitution on the side, so let’s not assume that he’s a complete innocent in his marriage).  But he’s said what he thinks, and that’s enough.

It’s slightly different in every translation, but I think this paragraph works in any of them:

“If I were not myself, but the handsomest, cleverest, best man in the world, and if I were free I would be on my knees this minute to beg for your hand and your love.”

Or am I just a bit soppy?

Anyway, then we finish with the comet.  The novel, by the way, is now starting to feel a lot less random and a lot more planned than it has when we first started, but I don’t know whether that’s just because I’m used to its style and the way everything unfolds or what.

But you can’t really miss the epic feel of the comet – symbolising joy for Pierre and fear and terror for many others.  And in the context of the novel, everyone’s right . . .

See you tomorrow for Book 9!


2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 8.22 – “If I Were Not Myself . . .”

  1. No, Matt – you are not in the least bit soppy. Or, if you are, it’s a good thing and it’s exactly how we should react to this chapter, I believe. It really is one of those pivotal pieces of writing where Tolstoy seems to capture defining moments in people’s lives with such tremendous eloquence and beauty. I can’t imagine anyone getting through the scene between Pierre and Natasha and still having a pair of dry eyes – and just as the last Chapter showed us the different ways in which people respond to tragedy and sadness, in this Chapter we see the different ways they respond to goodness and beauty: so much at the core of who Pierre is, and still there, deep within Natasha, despite all that has happened. She comes out of this chapter not as the irresponsible vile woman that Marya Dmitrievna first saw her as, but as a young girl, who made a mistake and who, through it, has learned the true value of love – not from Anatole, not from Andrei, but from the fat, bumbling Pierre. So, this essential goodness in Natasha, inspires such loving tenderness in Pierre and this, in turn, inspires such loving humility in her. It’s just wonderful!!

    This is how that passage is translated in Pevear/Volokhonsky: “If I were not I, but the handsomest, brightest, best man in the world, and I was free, I would go on my knees this minute and ask for your hand and your love”. So it’s very similar – but I note that the “If I were not I” phrase at the beginning is exactly how it appears in Russian, too.

    And of course the scene with the comet is wonderful, too – and another great example of how Tolstoy marries the individual struggles of men and women with the bigger, vaster picture of which they are all a part. And here the sky transforms Pierre, much as it transformed Andrei when he was on the battlefield.

    I know we’re about to go through a massive gear shift now – but this really was such exemplary writing, I thought, that the only way to follow it would surely be with something completely different.

  2. I listened to all this in the summer when I was gardening; I don’t remember the comet being seen.

    I’ll be listening more carefully when I come to Book 8 again.

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