Reading for Thursday, June 11

Here we have another bizarre chapter, where Natasha is waiting for Pierre to return from business and gets all upset when he doesn’t come back. Is this because him being away reminds her of the time that Andrei went away for a year and she betrayed him? I don’t know, it’s not mentioned, but it could be . . .

I must admit, it was hard to concentrate too hard on the subtleties of this chapter, because I was too busy noticing the interesting cultural understanding of breastfeeding that we get from this chapter (and the previous one). In the previous chapter, Natasha is portrayed as being quite radical for breastfeeding her own children instead of having a wet nurse.

And in this chapter, she “overfeeds” her baby and makes it ill. Certainly, if you give a baby too much breastmilk, you can give them a stomach-ache and they might start throwing up a bit more . . . but you can’t give an illness to a baby by giving them too much breastmilk.

How do I know all this? My wife is training to be a counsellor for the Australian Breastfeeding Association, so I’ve heard a fair bit of info about breastfeeding over the last few years . . . in fact, I’m hearing a fair bit as I write this.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a digression, but it goes to show the shifting and changing attitudes towards breastfeeding in society. (It went completely out in the 50s, when formula came in and now it’s starting to come back in again.)

Meanwhile, Pierre arrives back home and proves that he is good with the kids – which you’d kind of expect. Nikolai can’t see the value in babies, which slightly irks me – but hey, this is Nikolai . . . would he really act any differently?

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4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace E1.11 – A Husband’s Return

  1. I guess for me this chapter, like most of the chapters in the first Epilogue, serves mainly to paint for us a picture of what ultmately became of the lives of these people with whom we were so closely, intimately, involved over the course of this epic. Some of their lives have turned out perhaps differently than we might have expected (Natasha’s plainness, Nikolai’s surliness) and yet others have turned out almost exactly as we might have imagined (Pierre, Marya). But, as always with Tolstoy, he makes it seem so believable. I like these chapters, I think, because of their simple domesticity and the way they allow us, ultimately, to see all these characters, in their different ways – sometimes likeable, sometimes not; sometimes expected, sometimes not – as somehow “settled” … and this scene, showing their relationships with their children, and with each other. By the way, am I right in detecting just a hint of gentle sexual innuendo in Pierre’s last line?

  2. Not sure about that last line. I’ve read it in two different translations (Maude and Garnett) and it’s a bit vague in both. You could be right, though. I’m not actually sure what he’s talking about.

  3. Breastfeeding . . . yes, it’s something that goes into fashion and out of fashion. My daughter thinks it’s terrible that I didn’t breastfeed them. Well, they were born in the early seventies – some women were breastfeeding, some were not. And no one thought a thing of it.

    The only thing that raised eyebrows about breastfeeding was when women did it in public. It was a long time before society in this part of the world fully accepted that.

    Now a woman can breastfeed anywhere – I recently saw somebody do it at a library meeting. Just whisked it out, popped it in the baby’s mouth and went on discussing the book of the month.

    At one time she would have been arrested – ha ha!

  4. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the same ambiguous line, as my version isn’t divided the same, but if you’re talking about Pierre’s hand and the baby seat, I assumed the baby suddenly needed a change. For him holding the baby like that, it could have been sudden, obvious, and hilarious. That’s what I read into Pierre’s comment and his immediately handing the baby to the nurse.

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