Reading for Monday, 16 March

This chapter is really just an elaboration on the last sentence of the previous chapter. I was struck, in reading it, by all Andrei’s thoughts of a divine love above all others.

That concept comes up a fair bit in 19th century books and music. I especially think of the last movement of the Mahler’s Third Symphony, which is a 25-minute picture of divine love. But it’s not romantic love, like we think of it. It’s a majestic, huge thing – really it’s another way for the Romantic artists to describe God.

What’s interesting is how that concept (and thus the music and words to describe it) seems to be so achingly missing from 20th and 21st century music and literature.

With the “death of God” in the latter half of the 19th century, there went the music that described him and with two world wars, it seems that we humans are much more skeptical about the idea of humans loving one another as well.

But in Tolstoy’s world, it’s the middle of an invasion, a man is dying, and a divine love conquers all. Or at least between Andrei and Natasha, and that’s all that matters for the moment . . .

2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 11.32 – Divine Love

  1. I hadn’t made the link with the last movement of the Mahler 3rd that you make here, Matt – but it is certainly an apt link, and I think you are spot on in your observation that Mahler and Tolstoy seem to be describing the same, pure, spiritual love here – albeit in very different ways. In Mahler it is told to us in music that swells in its beauty and ultimately envelops us, carries us away. But here, it is told with such quietness, and we can hardly help but think that, for Andrei at least, that love is found somewhere on the threshold of death (as I guess it was, in a way, for Mahler too). It’s actually interesting, as I stop and think about it, that Mahler’s music about death and his music about love are often very, very similar. Think, for example, of the last movement of his Ninth Symphony.

    But, in any case, the genious of both Mahler and Tolstoy is seen in very similar ways in this sort of writing – the ability to express something of such enormity, something so eternally profound, in a way that seems to us instantly recognisable, as if it is describing something that, for all its greatness, lies somewhere within each of us.

  2. Well, I can’t relate to that – as you boys know, I’m not an opera or symphony person – not that I don’t like the music . . .
    I don’t turn it off when I hear it or anything like that, but I don’t really know one symphony from another.

    I know the Johann Strauss waltzes and stuff like that, but that’s about as far as it goes for me.

    This thing about love at the end of Andrei’s life . . . I guess everyone at that time in Russia, in that devastation, was thinking the same way – things that seemed so damned important before, were dust once this invasion came about. It must have been terrible for people – the rich and poor – to be giving up their homes, their possessions and to have their loved ones dying all around.

    They probably started thinking about God and love in an all told different way.

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