Reading for Thursday, 19 March

We return again to St Petersburg, where not a lot has changed. In fact, it’s almost bizarre – Moscow as we know it has been completely turned on its head, but here is St Petersburg, still with Mme Scherer and her shallow dinner parties, and Prince Vassily and his hypocrisy.

However, in what is perhaps one of the most stunning pieces of poetic justice in the book, Helene is out of the picture, dealing with an inconvenience caused by her having two lovers (that’s not counting her husband).

Tolstoy chooses his words carefully (or at least Constance Garnett does), but it’s quite clear that she’s trying to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy . . . Despite that, everyone talks as if she is ill.

Pierre may be in prison, but he was in one anyway, if he’d stayed in these aristocratic circles . . .

Despite all this, Tolstoy still manages to have a bit of fun at Vassily’s expense by talking about his elocution – famous because it’s all about emphasising certain words, regardless of what the actual meaning of those words might be.

2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 12.1 – Petersburg Hypocrisy

  1. You know, Matt, at times even I am amazed by my naivety. The nature of Helene’s “condition” went completely over my head, until you mentioned it – but now, as I read it again, it really is very obvious and very cleverly worded by Tolstoy (an “inconvenience” is the word as it is translated in Pevear/Volokhonsky).

    To me this only adds even more to the cleverness, and the bite, of this chapter – after all the horrors and devastation that we have just been through, this manufactured, contrived world of St Petersburg society, concerned with nothing othr than appearance and supeficialities, becomes all the more jarring and, at least for me as I read it, a strange mixture of offensive and comical.

  2. ? ? ? ? ?


    I never caught that – the pregnancy?

    I’d better have another look at that chapter . . .


    They all knew very well that the enchanting countess’ illness arose from an inconvenience resulting from marrying two husbands at the same time, and that the Italian’s cure consisted in removing such inconvenience; but in Anna Pavlovna’s presence no one dared to think of this or even appear to know it.


    I thought she was arranging to get divorced through the church! I took it to be Pierre who was the ‘inconvenience’ being ‘removed’.

    I didn’t for once think she was pregnant!

    Guess I’m naïve too . . . ha ha!

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