Reading for Friday, 9 January

Sorry, behind again.  This chapter is a rather bizarre one, with Andrei returning to Bald Hills.  It’s funny, there have been many, strange quirky details so far in the novel, but this chapter seems to strike me as the most bizarre.  There’s Alpatitch, now finally realising how serious the situation is.  There’s the two little girls who’ve been stealing plums, and the soldiers all swimming in the sludge.

I couldn’t really find some overall theme to tie it all together, but then that’s kind of what made it felt so realistic.  It just feels natural that when a war descends, and everyone is living in the face of impending invasion, that behaviour that is considered “normal” goes out the window, and things become abnormal.

Every now and again, you see these rather dystopic films (usually from America) about what the States might be like if a great cataclysm fell upon society.  And you have all sorts of crazy things like roving gangs, looting in the streets, etc.  And usually, they’re sort of far-fetched because (for the most part), our Western countries have enjoyed relative peace and have kept out invaders.  (Certainly, Australia has enjoyed that peace.)

But Russia has not.  And so there’s a sense in which all of these could have been fragments of true stories which were passed on to Tolstoy – “I remember at my master’s estate that little girls were stealing plums – we never would have done that when the master was around”, etc.  This feels like what would happen when the very structure of a society is about to collapse under the weight of an invader.

We’ve experienced war in this novel.  It’s not fun, but at least it’s understandable, with is rules of attack, retreat, flanking, artillery, and so forth – and it only involves soldiers and battlefields.  But now we’re reading about invasion, and this invasion is fragmenting the very society that has risen off the pages in the first half of the book.  Truly, the year 1812, was a momentous year in Russian history.

2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.5 – Chaos

  1. It’s funny but I had quite a different reaction to the girls stealing the plums – and it’s actually another one of those little scenes that I remember having impressed me a lot when I first read W & P. To me it conveyed a sort of innocence – little kids having a bit of naughty fun – like a tiny glimmer of hope and naivete admidst all the destruction and desolation. And then, on a rather different scale, I saw something similar in the scene with the soldiers bathing in the pond – again, it seemed to me, these soldiers who were in the midst of war, possibly about to march to their deaths, sky-larking in the water, in much the way they probably would have done when they were young larrikin carefree boys.

    So, for me, the thread that held this chapter together was the juxtaposition of, on the one hand, childlike innocent carefree fun and, on the other, the dreadful destruction of war.

  2. Well, I thought about that when the two kids were introduced – do those little kids really grasp the reality of this war? Was that really the first time they were stealing fruit? I doubt it . . . it’s just that with everyone except those few peasants having been gone, it was more noticeable to anyone seeing them.

    Who doesn’t steal ‘something’ . . . if a new letterhead is created for the office, does the old letterhead not have to be used for something? Why not take it home for scrap paper?

    Ever see a piece of fruit roll off the vendors display outside a store – that vendor, according to health laws, isn’t supposed to pick it up and put it with the others to be sold – it’s supposed to be discarded. So why not pick it up?

    Maybe these kids, having heard their parents or elders speaking about it, knew that the fruit would just go to the enemy! So why not eat it?

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