Reading for Friday, June 12

In a very Tolstoy-like chapter, we get a snapshot inside the heads of all the main characters in the Rostov/Bezuhov household. The most interesting (and moving) of these is Andrei’s son, Nikolai. It’s a strange character, because Andrei (and Tolstoy for that matter) showed no interest in Nikolai for quite a long while, so all of a sudden, to find out that he’s 15 and worships the father he’s never known is quite interesting.

Was anybody else unsurprised that he much prefers Uncle Pierre over Uncle Nikolai? I certainly would . . .

Finally, a description of the ailing Countess Rostova. This could be milked for all its worth and made to be quite sentimental (for some reason, I’m thinking of Sally Field as the dying Mrs Gump . . .) but instead it’s portrayed as the cycle of life. I think we get a bit sheltered from the onset of old age and dementia, because people of that age get shunted off to nursing homes and we don’t have to think about them. So in some ways, it’s quite helpful that Tolstoy shows us that the same youth and beauty which we’ve seen in many different facets in this great novel is just one of our lives – the other end is ailing bodies and ailing minds.

4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace E1.12 – The Household

  1. I certainly agree with you, Matt, that this chapter is a very Tolstoyan snapshot of family life and, in partcular, of this family life – the family life that has become of all these people who we have known so well now for so long. The thing that strikes me in particlar here, though, is the affection that Tolstoy clearly feels and shows for all these characters. Even the grumpy old Countess is portrayed with a warmth, and a humour, that make you continue to love her (well, tat’s the effect on me, anyway).

    And certainly the attachment that the young Nikolai feels for his dead father, and kind of vicariously for him through Pierre, is very, very moving. Like you, Matt, it was kind of surprising to see such a focus on this boy who had been mentioned only in passing until now – and yet I guess that’s part of the very cycle that you talk about … the people who were once central are ageing, becoming less vibrant, or at least more settled and routined, and new people take their place in the centre of the stage.

    It has sometimes been remarked that War and Peace has no real beginning and no real end – and, in a way, for a book that is so about the whole of life as this is, it really could not have been otherwise.

  2. Well now, Matt . . .


    This could be milked for all its worth and made to be quite sentimental . . .


    Heh! Heh! As could the topic of the last chapter . . . the breast feeding.

    Sorry – just couldn’t resist slipping that one in there.

  3. And speaking of our posts in the last chapter, I feel compelled to speak on this more.

    This thing about breastfeeding does seem to change in people’s minds over the course of years. I, for one, thought it distasteful that well-to-do women gave their babies to wet nurses to breastfeed. I couldn’t imagine handing my baby to an employee/servant and telling her to feed my baby.

    I’d much rather ask her to get a pre-mixed bottle out of the fridge and warm it up for me. Or, if I was unable to bottle feed the baby myself, have her do so.

    Yet there are people who couldn’t imagine breastfeeding themselves!

    Now people want to know ‘why not’ if you tell them you are raising the baby on formula.

    But when trying to understand something that went on in a different era, such as the early 1800’s in Russia, we must put ourselves in that environment.

    It was thought to be strange that Natasha chose to breastfeed her own child – yet here we are, a couple of centuries later and it’s thought to be strange if a mother does not choose to breastfeed.

    So yeah . . . I had to ‘milk’ a bit more out of that.

  4. I agree with you that we are often sheltered from old age. What strikes me here is that she’s not really that old. I assume the tragedies went a long way in aging her. It’s sad. She’s a grandmother, but the kids don’t want anything to do with her. What if they had, could they have cheered her?

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