Reading for Wednesday, 28 January

And now we switch back to Andrei, who is probably in the bleakest mood we’ve yet encountered him.  Even though he faced death five years ago in the last battle we read about, this is quite a different man.  Last time, he was hoping to die heroically and be a great hero.  However, his first close encounter with death talked him out of that one.

In fact, it made him start to value life a bit more, and the relationship with Natasha probably would have made a hopeful man out of him. But now that everything has gone pear-shaped, the face of death is even more terrible for him.

Not only does death spell the end of life, it highlights the fact that his life has been a waste.  (Or at least as far as he prefers it.)

Stephen Covey, in his famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, did ask his readers to imagine that they died in three years time.  What would they want people to say about them at their funeral? How would they want to be remembered? Which was meant to be an effective way of getting you to think about how you wanted to live your life now.

It is a very powerful question, and I’ve heard people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer talk about how it gave them an amazing perspective on the world and how they only really started living in the face of death.  And, of course, there’s the old evangelist question: Where do you want to spend eternity? designed to make us think about what happens after we die as well.

There’s definitely something in the power of death that makes us thoughtful, because we really do spend an inordinate amount of time trying to avoid thinking about it.  Our lives are fast, our work is fast, our music is fast, our movies are fast.  It’s as if we don’t want to stop sometimes and contemplate what is in store for us.  Because what if we did?  Would we be happy with the way we live our life?

It’s an interesting question.  Do we do a lot of stuff and keep ourselves busy because that’s the stuff we want to have done before we die?  Or do we do a lot of stuff and keep ourselves busy because we don’t want to think about dying?  Obviously, many people will give different answers, but that can be your take-home question to think about today . . .

I was a bit shocked at the end of this chapter the way poor old Pierre got treated.  I didn’t realise how much Andrei had been starting to give him the cold shoulder after the Natasha affair.  This was the one really good friendship in the whole book, and it’s looking a bit crumbly.  Ah well, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.24 – In the Face of Death

  1. Very poignant comments there, young feller . . . but as you and Ian have read through this book before, I might point out that Andrei will soon have no problem with bleak moods. See, that’s the problem with looking a film clips at You Tube – had I not done so, I wouldn’t have known that.

    I do not regret same, however – it’s good that I know in advance; otherwise I might be in a bleak mood. Andrei has grown on me.

    As you get older (I’m 65), you will find yourself accepting the prospect of death – not looking forward to it, of course, but it won’t seem so horrendous. And you will be able to speak wisely about it to people in their 20’s and 30’s.

    I spent a good deal of my youngers years worrying about death – now, all I ask is that I do not die in excruciating pain.

    About Andrei being kinda’ cold to Pierre – well, we know he’s ticked off with him. And he probably senses Pierre’s close friendship with Natasha and is jealous.

  2. Well, firstly, the chapter itself. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I just love this kind of bleak, hopeless, introspective writing, and the Russians really do it so well and, of course, Tolstoy does it brilliantly, with his simple eloquence. And I love the way that Tolstoy so often incorporates nature into the mood he is painting – either by the way it reflects, or by the way it contrasts, what his characters are feeling. Here it reflects it, as if nature itself has turned cold, where “everything round was transfigured for him and appeared as something dreadful and menacing”. I think most of us have, and probably all of us will, atsome time or other experienced that kind of despair and hopelessness – not just in the face of death, but when we realise how transient and tenuous everything is, either through experiencing its loss, or through seeing the loss and grief of others.

    That then brings me onto your comments about death, Matt and Carly. Dostoyevsky wrote really fantastically powerful stuff in his book “The Idiot” about how a condemned person, in the last few moments before they are executed, learn to value life, but in realising its value at a time when it is about to be taken from them, they are overcome by an unbearable torment. I guess that’s something of what Andrei is experiencing here. And I think that in a way crystallises what is, for humans generally, an ongoing condition – where, every now and then, we have a glimpse of those thoughts about our own mortality, and the transience of everything around us. Maybe we will respond to that through tapping into spiritual ideas, maybe we will respond to it by choosing to live life as fully as we can while we have got it, maybe will respond to it by pushing the whole thing aside until the next time we are forced to confront it. It’s only when we feel that things have really come down to wire, as Andrei now feels they have for him, that we realise we cannot push it aside any longer – and that’s when the real horror of this unresolved question strikes with a vengeance.

    But, of course, let us not forget that there is still a long way to go. Andrei is perhaps the most complex character in “War and Peace”, and who knows how many twists and turns his worldview will take in the pages that lie ahead!

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