Reading for Monday, June 15

Now this is a strange sensation – this is the very last chapter in which we shall read about Nikolai and Marya. Which actually means that yesterday’s chapter was the last with Denisov, now that I think about it …

But this is it. After this chapter, we don’t come back to them.

So I guess what makes it so interesting is that there’s nothing to really indicate that Tolstoy is about to stop the book. Marya shows her child-rearing diary to Nikolai, he talks about how he was treating Nikolai Bolkonsky a bit badly (and apologises for it), and it ends with them both the same – Marya spiritual and transcended, Nikolai not really getting his wife, but loving her just the same – his interests in much more of the real world.

It was kind of nice that  Nikolai is shown in slightly a better light than yesterday – but even then, it doesn’t feel like a final chapter for them.

Which is exactly what it should feel like. For Tolstoy’s view of history, there is no magical beginning or ending moment when you can say an event really happened. There is just the flow of history.

So we began by being dropped into Anna Scherer’s party. We didn’t know anyone, and as readers, we had to put a fair bit of work in for a couple of books just to keep up. (It’s like moving to a new job or a new church and trying to learn everyone’s name.)

But we did – or else we dropped out of reading a long time ago – and we started to catch up with a history that was well and truly flowing before we joined in. And now we suddenly are lifted out of it by the end of the book – but we know that it’s going to keep on going without us.

That is War and Peace. That is life.

Tomorrow, final chapter of narrative, and our farewell to Pierre and Natasha. If you’ve gotten really attached, you might need to bring tissues.

One thought on “One-Year War and Peace E1.15 – Nikolai & Marya’s Last Bow

  1. I agree totally, Matt, with what you say about the way the narrative goes in War and Peace – its lack of beginning at the beginning, and its lack of ending and the end. I think I remember being a bit disconcerted by the lack of any real ending when I first read War and Peace, but now it really does seem that it could not have possibly been otherwise – not only because of Tolstoy’s views about history, but also simply beause of the way he has told this whole story all along (which of course is driven by his vews on history anyway). But even though this final chapter involving Nikolai and Marya is no ending, the sense that we are saying farewell to them here was still very strong, I thought – but then maybe that’s because I knew this was the last of them. But it was Nikolai’s observation of that deep, eternal suffering in his wife’s face, that I found the most moving here. There was perhaps a sort of irony in the way that his awareness of her spirituality made him aware of her mortality and that it was this which, despite his own feet being grounded so heavily in the physical world, drove him off to the icons to pray.

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