Reading for Thursday, 19 February

And as Helene’s shenanigans continue, we see that the hypocrisy (to use Carly’s most apt word) of the situation is quite deep-seated and spreads throughout the Russian aristocracy.  At first, I was thinking that this was a bit much, and that surely most people wouldn’t go swapping gossip on who husband number 2 is when husband number 1 is still alive.

But then, when I walk to the train station of a morning and see all the gossip magazines lined up in a row, I think to myself, What’s changed? Nobody ever shakes their head in sadness that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt can’t seem to keep a relationship together – we just are curious to see who’s next. I’m guessing this is very much the Russian version of that.

And, of course, it doesn’t really surprise us that the vignettes detailed here of Helene’s Dad and her rarely-seen Mum show that this kind of thing runs in the family.

But, in the end, it’s the last sentence that reminds us that what is the gossip and amusement of Petersburg has been the sadness and burden of Pierre for many years.

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One thought on “One-Year War and Peace 11.7 – Runs in the Family

  1. Yes, it really is an unflattering picture of society painted by Tolstoy here – and if think you’re right, Matt, when you say that things have not really changed all that much, despite all the years and miles that separate us from the Petersburg aristocracy.

    I felt that both this chapter, and the one before it, show us, too, another angle on Tolstoy’s view about history, and people. Here we get a sense that that horrible woman Helene is in fact really just a product of her own family, her own society. Just as with Kutuzov’s orders, and Napoleon’s strategies, Helene’s hypocrisy and opportunism are really just part of something bigger – the hypocrisy and opportunism of Petersburg society, and of the Catholic church; and so, in a sense, she is as much the manipulated as she is the manipulator. That doesn’t make her an innocent, or a “victim”, of course – but nor does it mean that we can say that all that hypcorsy and opportunism is hers alone.

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