One-Year War and Peace 15.15 – A Reunion

This chapter gave me a bit of a shock coming when it did, only because – believe it or not – this is where the Bondarchuk film actually ends.

In a way, that might seem abrupt, but this reunion between Pierre and Natsha pretty much tells you everything that you need to know.

But those of us going for the full experience will be happy to know that this is just the beginning (of the end) and that – a bit like Lord of the Rings – there is a fair amount of wrapping up to be enjoyed in the meantime.

In a way, this feels like the companion piece to the time Natasha and Pierre met before the war started – when he first told her that he liked her after she’d caused the scandal with Anatole (and what a long time ago that was, eh?).

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One-Year War and Peace 15.14 – The Restoration of Moscow

Moscow does sound a bit knocked around, doesn’t it? Being plundered by both the French and the Russians . . .

But there’s no pretending that wouldn’t happen in any Australian capital city if were invaded by someone else and then abandoned.

Still, it’s the image of the teeming but destroyed anthill gradually being repaired that is demonstrated here, and I think it works well. And in a (humourous?) sidenote in the last sentence, Count Rastoptchin is back to making posters . . . Obviously not too guilt-ridden after the bloodthirsty events he caused before leaving Moscow.

One-Year War and Peace 15.13 – Winning People Over

I really quite enjoyed this chapter as people around Pierre suddenly start to appreciate him. The odd thing is, he’s finally reached a point in his life, where people are accepting him and appreciating him – however, he no longer needs people’s appreciation to be happy.

So, in a way, Pierre is just happy caring for others and observing the human condition – and it is in doing this, that he is now attractive to those who couldn’t stand him. Certainly, to have him repair the relationship between him and his cousin (who we haven’t heard of since Book I, when he gazumped her on her inheritance) is pretty impressive.

But isn’t that true of life, though? Those people we get on with best are not the needy people who desperately crave our affection – but those people who have their lives together in some way. It means they might not necessarily need us around – but they’ll make better friends in the long run. I think. That sentence made sense when I first started writing it, but now I think I have to ponder it longer . . .

One-Year War and Peace 15.12 – An Answer to the Question

And back to Pierre again, now recovering from an illness. It wasn’t actually till it was mentioned in this chapter, that I realised the cumulative death of Andrei and Ellen (Helene) really did rob Pierre of all the people that were close (if you can call his marriage close) at the time. So he is really left to work out his own thoughts all by himself this time.

But he seems wonderfully calm, as he tries on another way of looking at the world. This time, he seems to have borrowed Karataev’s way of looking at the world.

It reminds me very much of the religious debates about the nature of God and the world that have raged over the centuries. Pierre has been used to ignoring the real world for abstraction and philosophy (a very Greek way of thinking), but now he is seeing God in the real world.

It’s interesting, because Christianity (my religion) has always been somewhere in the middle – we believe there is something bigger than this world – but we believe in a world, created by God. The world isn’t God, which is where Pierre and I would differ, but it tells you a lot about Him.

We shall see where Pierre’s thoughts lead, but in the meantime, I have to run for dinner . . .

One-Year War and Peace 15.11 – Death of Kutuzov

First of all, an update for everybody who wants to know about the little fellow at home – he’s doing very well, becoming increasingly cuter by the day – but he’s also gradually depriving us of sleep day by day. It all passes, but last night in particular was horrendous . . . ah well, that’s what parental love and affection is all about.

And in this chapter, we see Tolstoy talking about what being Russian is all about – as he describes to us the Russian of Russians being made obsolete.

It’s interesting, however, that Tolstoy sees Kutuzov as being the general that Russia needed at the time to repel the French, but he was not the general to attack outside Russia. There are people like that – they’re suitable for a particular time and place but not for something else.

Either way, I thought the last major death of War and Peace was Petya Rostov – but I was wrong. This chapter here is really the ultimate death in the chapter (as much as one character can be said to be more important than another in Tolstoy’s philosophy), even if it’s only conveyed in a few words.

One-Year War and Peace 15.10 – The Standing Down

Shows how fast I read this book last time (and the Bondarchuk movie doesn’t really show what happened to Kutuzov), but I don’t remember this standing down that happened to Kutuzov.

It’s quite sad, but it also lifts Kutuzov up to the ranks of those great military film characters who do great things in the service of war, but are ultimately unappreciated for it.

I’m thinking particularly of two films here – the one and only Lawrence of Arabia, which I’ve loved since I was a teenager. The ending (sorry, if this is a spoiler, but really, where have you been?), where Lawrence gets a promotion for his work, but sent back to England for ignoring the British and trying to “free” the Arabs, is very similar to this.

And then there is Patton, where George C Scott plays the feisty, unpredicatable general during WWII. It’s quite clear as the movie unfolds, that Patton achieved many great things, but his personality is so abrasive, that ultimately, the army can’t deal with him – and he is sent home.

And here we see it happening to Kutuzov. He’s done so much, and yet he won’t give the final few fights the Russian commanders want to see, and so he knows he’s about to be stood down.

Of course, it could be that he really did nothing while he was a commander and that the Tsar was quite right to give him the boot. Even reading Tolstoy’s version of events and reading between the lines, it does sound like he was quite happy to just let things happen without committing to too much action.

But I’ll put my cynical voice aside, and just accept the sad, reality in this novel of Kutuzov not being recognised for his victory.

One-Year War and Peace 15.9 – Another Reunion

And here we have the two Frenchmen who stumble out of the dark. And it’s none other than Ramballe, the French officer who befriended Pierre in the occupation of Moscow.

However, most of the attention is on Ramballe’s singing offsider. In fact, the rest of the chapter is pretty much a bad round of karaoke, but the important point is that it’s a non-hostile encounter between the French and the Russians – so rare throughout this book.

Thus, it’s not surprise that in the Bondarchuk film, this little throwaway moment becomes a musical highlight of the film, as the voices of several soldiers swells to become a mighty chorus, overlaid over images of the surrendering French.

One-Year War and Peace 15.8 – Campfire

I must admit, I find the tangents that War and Peace takes towards the end more noticing than at the beginning of the novel. At the beginning, everything is new, and you don’t know who will be a main character or what you should pay attention to.

By the end, you’ve got your main characters that you’re following, and you’re interested in their welfare – and yet here we are sitting around a campfire with a bunch of soldiers that we’ve never met before.

Why? It would kill an ordinary novel.

But this is life. This is one of the places that Tolstoy wants us to visit to understand the effect this war had on the soldiers. What’s amazing is that the conversation is so jovial, when the topics are starvation, mass death, and the need for shoes . . .

One-Year War and Peace 15.7 – Knowing It’s Almost Over

The contrast in this chapter (at least the way I read it) is just between the ordinary soldiers, who are happily thinking about cooking food and staying warm, and the commanders, sitting around sipping tea and planning strategy.

Knowing Tolstoy’s philosophy as we do, it is of course the soldiers that are on the right track – they know the war is over, and so they can relax. Granted, I feel sorry for the guy who owned the barn that they dismantled, but this is real life, after all.

One-Year War and Peace 15.6 – Deeply Moved

This is one chapter that I’ve always been able to remember really clearly from the first time I read the book. I think if, for nothing else, it’s the first example of swearing in the whole book (or at least in the translation I have).

What’s more, it comes from someone as important as Kutuzov! But his line “Who asked them to come here?” followed by his swearing and his crying later, really sums up that this was had been a lot more emotional for him than any of us realised.

I thought it was a great moment – but I understand also, it has given translators a headache from there on in, because I think they’re trying to translate a word that is blanked out in Russian into something that is blanked out in English . . .

I must admit, if I’m checking out a translation of War and Peace, I tend to flick to this chapter to see how they handle it. I’m not saying I’m looking for swear words, but some of the earlier translators had a tendency to tone down the feeling of this chapter to be a bit more polite to their readers. The problem with that is, you miss the strength of emotion that Kutuzov is feeling, especially in light of viewing the pale, emaciated captives that they have captured.