Reading for Thursday, 29 January

Sorry, I wrote the 10.24 post yesterday and I thought I’d posted it, but then I found it was just in drafts in the end.  So I apologise for that.

Now, on to 10.25.  I don’t know about you, but I found this chapter to be immensely powerful.  At first, I thought it was a bit cheesy, because Andrei was giving us the same spiel as Tolstoy about how no general is going to command the battlefield.  (I’ve never liked being preached to by characters in novels or movies.)

But as his conversation went on alone with Pierre, things took a different turn.  At first, I was finding myself more and more horrified at how brutal Andrei was being, with his “no prisoners” policy for the French, not showing them any quarter, etc.  But then, in the end, you realised, as he talked more and more about war, that what he was saying actually made a lot of sense.

The way I read it was this: we must treat war as horrible and not as “a polite recreation” or else we’ll just want to keep doing it.  And I think that’s very true.  I worry more and more that we trivialise war with all our movies and computer games, and then can’t comprehend exactly how destructive it is.

I’m not sure that I agree with Andrei that the person who is most determined will win the battle – but really, it’s not the kind of hypothesis I want to ever have to test, really.

Note also, that he finishes speaking in a shrill shriek.  If you’re paying attention, you would realise that this is a common characteristic of Old Bolkonsky, and Tolstoy is actually giving us a glimpse in Andrei of how Old Bolkonsky became the way he was.

But then, most beautiful of all, Andrei falls asleep dreaming of a little moment with Natasha, which causes him more grief than his likely death in battle.  It makes you wonder – did old Nikolai Bolkonsky (who we know was a widower) have a broken heart that drove him to his state of misery?

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4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.25 – Not A Polite Recreation

  1. Well actually, even though Andrei doesn’t exactly have the world’s best bedside manner – lacking in people skills – he isn’t stupid (like a few of the people in this novel are). He has a pretty good handle on things and I agree with him about the importance of not trivializing war.

    It is too bad he’s becoming like his father though.

  2. I had a very similar reaction to you, Matt, in this chapter – particularly in reading Andrei’s conversation with Pierre about taking no prisoners. It’s a tremendously ironic speech from Andrei, I think – telling Pierre, and us, that war would be less cruel if everyone killed everyone. But then, I guess, we also know from history and from the daily news, that human beings have always, it seems, felt that it’s worth killing each other over even trivial issues, because one person’s triviality is a die-in-the-ditch thing for someone else – so, in that respect, I think Andrei has it wrong.

    I also was quite shaken by Andrei’s comments about the way people, during war, glorify death – thanking God for all the people they have killed, inflating the numbers to make it sound better. His line, “How does God look down and listen to them!” is, for me, just so full of anguish and shame – for something which even Andrei himself felt was honourable back at Austerlitz.

    And I think that’s a very perceptive observation, Matt, about the little hint of his father that we now see in Andrei. I’ve often thought, actually, that Tolstoy puts his families together exceptionally well. Even before this scene, there was something about Andreithat, to me, made sense as the son of the Old Prince, and the brother of Marya; just as the Rostovs – even grumpy Vera – all seem to belong together; and the way Boris seems to be so much the son of his opportunistic and conniving mother, Princess Drubestkoya. It’s all just another example of the magnitude of Tolstoy’s vision, and of his brilliance.

  3. Part of what makes Andrei so bitter is, of course, his ongoing hurt over the separation from Natasha. But talking to Pierre always does him good. Not only does he get some real emotion about the war, Russia and his family off his chest in this conversation; it recalls him, for the first time since the bust-up, to the reality of his feelings for Natasha. Before, he was trying to convince himself that the whole affair was ridiculous and meaningless; after, he remembers ‘long and joyfully’ how real and true their understanding was, and of course this allows him to feel his real pain again, as the last of his thought-processes we get before he goes into battle. Might Andrei after all have been capable of humbling himself and seizing his chance of happiness? It’s teasing ambiguities like this that make Tolstoy so obsession-inducing.

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