One-Year War and Peace 10.10 – Regaining Strength

Reading for Wednesday, 14 January

One of the questions that readers of War and Peace may have had is what Marya would be like if her father wasn’t around.  In this chapter, we find out.

While she’s clearly grief-stricken, it only takes the threat of French occupation and she’s all action – getting ready to move out and feeding the peasants.

It’s funny, actually, because her strong anti-French position could be taken, not just as a general Russian feeling of not wanting to be conquered, but also a last instance of the personal grude against Madame Bourienne.  Either way, we feel that Marya, while she may have some strange ideas, is only just starting to live for the first time.

One-Year War and Peace 10.9 – Peasant Uprising

Reading for Tuesday, 13 January

Here’s another chapter that I’m sure would hit the cutting-room floor in an abridged version, but only helps to build a more realistic period of Russia in 1812.  And add to the suspense.

The Bogutcharovo peasants, and their superstitions are all conspiring to delay the safe escape of Marya from the Bogutcharovo estate . . .

It’s at this point that the actions of this chapter are most interesting.  A few chapters ago, Alpatitch was something of a passive character.  He just did whatever his master told him to without questioning anything.  And in his relationship to Old Bolkonsky, that’s where he sat.

But when dealing with these peasants, Alpatitch steps right up and is much more assertive in dealing with the situation in the village.  And I couldn’t help but be impressed by the little detail of him selflessly giving up the means to his escape to help Marya get away.  I think that’s why war stories are always so interesting – we see how different people react in situations of extreme turmoil.  In Alpatitch’s case, I’d say he acted like a hero.

One-Year War and Peace 10.8 – All Over

Reading for Monday, 12 January

Phew! Finally, made it back – but only for one chapter today.

All I can say with this chapter is – you all need to read it for yourself, because it’s absolutely brilliant.  I’m not saying that because I don’t have time for a longer post.  It’s just simply the way it is.

If you’ve read the chapter, I don’t need to tell you how utterly moving it is.

If you haven’t read the chapter, but are hoping that I’ll give it away in my blog post – hey, I’ve got to leave you something to read in this book, definitely one of the greatest ever written.

Marya’s hope and devastation – it’s exactly what we’d expect someone in her situation to be thinking and I empathised every step of the way.  Life – you only get one crack at it, so use it wisely.


Hi everyone,  I’m sorry about what happened to those posts.  I just found out this morning that they were missing and they were in my Drafts, but not posted.  I’m sure I posted them earlier but then they all disappeared.

And I’m still behind. Ah well . . . I will try and catch up soon.

One-Year War and Peace 10.6 – Kutuzov?

Reading for Saturday, 10 January

And we return for a brief flash across to the ever-churning machine that is the salons of Anna Pavlovna Scherer – with a bit of competition from Helene.

Tolstoy, as always, is open to a bit of comedy, and here it’s provided by Prince Vassily, the man with no scruples at all, switching sides on the value of Kutuzov as a commander-in-chief.

There’s a certain level of Absolutely Fabulous bitchiness in the closing paragraphs where Vassily and Scherer smirk at the “man of great abilities”, who puts his foot in it by saying something directly, rather than dropping clever jokes in French about it.  No wonder Pierre and Andrei can’t stand these guys . . .

One-Year War and Peace 10.7 – Lavrushka and Napoleon

Reading for Sunday, 11 January

In a very Forrest Gump-style cameo, Tolstoy takes a historical reference to a simple Russian Cossack meeting Napoleon and not realising who it is, and completely undermines it by casting Lavrushka, Nikolai’s sneaky servant, as the the Cossack.

I won’t say any more, because it’s too much fun to spoil.  But I thought this was an amusing chapter.

One-Year War and Peace 10.5 – Chaos

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.

One-Year War and Peace 10.4 – Journey into Madness

In this rather long and surreal chapter, Prince Bolkonsky’s servant, Alpatitch, ventures to the village of Smolensky.  I won’t go into all the details – after all, you do have to do some reading yourself – but notice how the details multiply.

First it’s a few sounds of gunfire in the distance.  Then it’s a panic and people heading out of town.  And then it just keeps building up until it becomes the madness that it is by the end of the chapter.

The unusual thing in all of this is that Alpatitch, so devoted to his master, doesn’t really think outside the box and so seems rather surprised by everything that is going on.

All of this serves to highlight the danger that is now facing the inhabitants of Bald Hills . . .

One-Year War and Peace 10.3 – The Realisation

In this chapter, astonishingly, we continue the tale of Old Bolkonsky, as he goes about sending his servants on errands and trying to decide where to sleep.  And, finally, as he is dropping off to sleep, he knows there’s something he needs to think about in that letter . . .

If he’d read the letter and been terrified and worried, that I think would have been a powerful piece of writing from Tolstoy.

But it’s sheer genius to have his mind turn back to him as “a young general, without one wrinkle on his brow”.  Another brilliant, brilliant chapter.

One-Year War and Peace 10.2 – In Denial

This chapter is very sad.  Old Bolkonsky, now in the direct line of march of the invading French troops, cannot bring himself to admit that the French have invaded and that the Russians are losing.

The denial is so bad, it’s almost the onset of dementia, and Marya, with her innocence, doesn’t realise the situation either.

You hear tales of old folks who refuse to go to retirement villages and give up their independence, but become very difficult to live with.  This would be the time to suggest a retirement village – but let’s face it – the old Prince would never go.