Reading for Friday, 16 January

Death sticks in the mind in a funny way.  Both my parents are still alive, but to this day, I remember when my grandparents passed away (not all at the same time, thank goodness).

The first one that I remember was my Dad’s father, who died when I was about six.  There’s something quite powerful and terrible about the rituals of death.  Funerals, burials – yes, for many funerals, we use the term “celebration of life” and there is a definite tendency for Christian funerals to be more pleasant to go to than others, because there’s a belief in an afterlife – but it’s still an awesome and shocking thing.

And so this chapter, describing Marya remembering all the little details of her father’s death, rings very true to life to me.

One thought on “One-Year War and Peace 10.12 – Memories of Death

  1. Yes, this Chapter really is a very simple, quiet, gentle picture of the contemplation of death. It’s very short, obviously, but it’s like we are taking a moment’s stillness amidst all the chaos that is happening around us – the muzhiks’ mutiny, the war. It’s still yet another example of how much Tolstoy can surprise us – we know how much violence and anger is in the air now – even, in some ways, we could feel it throughout the Old Prince’s death – but here, suddenly, for a moment, everything is still, and we are noticing the moon, the mist, the birds. These moments of stillness in the midst of so much tension can be tremendously effective, and I think it works wonderfully here.

    It actually reminds me, now that I think about it, of a wonderful tiny little scene towards the end of Wagner’s Ring cycle, in the third Act of Götterdämmerung, where, sandwiched between the violent, tumultuous Siegfried funeral march, and the big final immolation scene where the gods and Valhalla are destroyed in flames, is this little tiny quiet scene where Gutrune – a relatively minor character – wanders alone in the Hall at night, frightened and anxious. These sorts of scenes really are, I think, the classic examples of how less can be more.

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