Reading for Friday, 20 March

In this chapter, Tolstoy tells us how Petersburg first thought everything was good, and then suddenly realised that Moscow was lost. However, in the midst of all that information, the one detail that is most shocking to us as readers is to find out that Helene is dead under rather sordid circumstances.

It’s rather a nasty way to go – but we certainly get the feeling that Tolstoy is telling us she deserved it . . .

It certainly frees up Pierre, doesn’t it? If he can get out of prison . . .

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4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 12.2 – From Good News to Bad

  1. I found this whole chapter pretty unsettling, I must say – the way the news of Helene’s wretched, rather horrific, death seems to be interwoven with the Petersburg society’s fickle allegiances concerning Kutuzov – where everything, it seems, is relvant only insofar as it provides fodder for more gossip. No one emerges from this chapter looking particularly honourable. The description of Helene’s death is particularly gruesome, and even all the more so now the the light bulb has come on for me regarding her “condition”, and the meaning behind the medicine prescirbed by the Italian doctor, and the “particular effect” it was intended to produce.

    The thing that is left in my mind about this, though, is what ultimately drove Helene to bring about her own death in this painful, horrific way. The Petersburg gossip tells us that it was all to do with the old count’s suspicions, and Pierre’s failure to answer her mail. But I think Tolstoy has painted a full enough portrait of Helene for us to know that probably neither of these would trouble her all that much. So could it be the loss of her unborn baby, something, it seems, that was forced upon her only by the way her “condition” would be viewed by the society which was so central to her identit? Obviously, we will never know – but I can’t help wondering if Tolstoy intended us to feel at least a little tinge of sorrow for Helene here, or at least to feel sorrow for the futility of her death.

  2. Hmm . . . I hadn’t thought of that. I didn’t read it as being a suicide from Helene. (She doesn’t seem the suicidal type.) I just thought that in her desperateness to get rid of the baby that she took more drugs than she was supposed to and died of an overdoes.

    So I read it as an overdose situation, which the nobility of Petersburg – rather than blame it on Helene – saw as a good opportunity to blame it on Pierre, for not answering her letter and putting her out of her misery.

    Of course, this is one of those cases where Tolstoy deliberately blurs the details a little bit, and adopts a facetious tone, so you could read it a number of ways.

  3. Well, like you, Ian, I just didn’t see it as being an ‘abortion’ . . . of course, it had to be something, didn’t it? And abortion was just as likely to have happened then, as it does now. It just wasn’t legal then.

    (Whether it should be legal now, is another topic which I’ll pass on)

    But now that it’s been brought to my attention, yes – it all stands to reason, of course.

    Maybe I am naïve, ‘cause I didn’t think she was actually ‘sleeping with’ those two men.

  4. Hey – for you guys in Australia, happy April Fools Day!

    April 1st is already ‘here’ for you – we’ve got another hour and a quarter to go.

    Now – have you seen any sign of the virus that’s supposed to hit on this date?

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