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.