Welcome one, welcome all, to the fifth of my weekly progress reports for War and Peace. You may have seen my previous weekly post summarising my week 4 progress, if not please do pop on over to it to see how it went. And for those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed.
Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly? Ok, then let’s see how Week 5 went, which covered Volume II, Parts III and IV of War and Peace…
- First off, guys, I did a bad thing – I read War and Peace for a good three or four days without thinking about the fact I was doing these vague summary posts each week. Oops, my bad. In an effort to catch up I’ve quickly went back and skim-read sections, but I apologise in advance as this week’s wrap-up is extra patchy and probably very long.
- I like how this section starts with almost an historical overview of Napoleon and Alexander’s 1808 meeting and the outcome of it, the way that Tolstoy goes from the macro to the micro in order to resituate the story is A+ – “the ordinary life of real people […] went on as usual, far removed from political considerations, such as being for or against Napoleon and all questions of reform”
- By this point Tolstoy is definitely comparing Andrey and Pierre’s characters – they both have similar goals but different approaches, and ultimately Andrey’s is the one that produces some results: “He possessed in the highest degree the one quality that Pierre totally lacked: the practical application to get things going with no fuss or struggle.” This has come as a huge shock to me because I don’t hate Andrey any more??? I’m quite glad because this section of the book seems to focus on him and it would be a shame if I spent so many hours reading about someone I hated.
- That being said, I’ve been waiting for Andrey to visit the Rostovs ever since I found out how was cast as him and who was cast as Natasha in the BBC miniseries – because obviously those two actors look like TV would put them together… yeah, yeah, I know, my obsessive knowledge of actors is why things like this are ruined but oh well
- Basically Andrey is so blown away by Natasha’s natural energy and youth that he rethinks his solitude and comes to the epiphany that “life isn’t over at thirty-one” – jeez I’d hope not dude or else I only have 6ish years of life left to live and that is one hell of a sobering thought
- “It was at times like this that Princess Marya thought how desiccated men’s minds become with all that intellectual activity.” I enjoy the use of the word desiccated, you don’t see that word often enough.
- “[Andrey] has said to have lost his old affectation, pride and caustic cynicism, and to have gained the serenity that comes with years” – yes, he has, and now I like him better for it which is weird because caustic cynicism is usually more my jam
- Now we’ve jumped back a little to 1808 and Pierre has “assumed (without seeking it) a prominent position among the freemasons of the city” – dude, that’s the story of your life so far
- Pierre tries to seek wisdom from other freemasons but when he shares it with his gang they reckon it “smacked of Illuminism” so that speech didn’t exactly go as planned, whoops
- We get a glimpse into Pierre’s diary now and, as of 23rd November, he claims “I am living with my wife again” – no one is surprised by this not-at-all shocking development
- Helene is re-integrated into society and wonderfully so, even Napoleon apparently has “spoken well of her beauty” (thanks, Napoleon), but Pierre remains less convinced and shows a frankly disgusting attitude towards women: “Pierre, knowing how stupid she really was, sometimes felt an odd mixture of bewilderment and alarm at her dinner-parties and soirées when the conversation turned to politics, poetry or philosophy” – I mean that’s your wife and you’re thinking that about her?! Ok, that’s it Nikolay and Pierre are officially tied for THE WORST PERSON. (More on that later!)
- Ok so now Boris is hanging out with Helene… so obviously we must assume that shenanigans are going on between them because a man and a woman couldn’t possibly hang out for innocent reasons.
- Uh oh, the Rostovs’ financial situation isn’t looking too good. Poor bbys, I just want nice things for them (except Nikolay) but Berg wants to marry Vera so yay (side note: I don’t remember Vera mentioned like ever, clearly I haven’t been paying attention??). Of course Berg just wants to check he’s gon get paid for this and Count Rostov promises him money that they definitely don’t even have. Well how could this possibly go wrong?
- Uh so… it’s only just really stuck me that Natasha is 16 in 1809… and Andrey is 31… ok, now I feel a tad bit icky about this.
- Luckily there’s a ball to distract me momentarily – the Rostovs go and obviously Natasha is gorgeous and radiant etc. etc. – once again, though, we come up against a description of women that I’m super uncomfortable with: “Helene had been, so to speak, varnished by thousands of eyes that had caressed her form, whereas Natasha seemed like a young girl exposing her body for the first time” – I feel complicit in this leering and it’s gross, 0/10, would not recommend
- I do, however, love this turn of phrase “the champagne of her beauty went to his head” – that’s hilarious, I mean, who even says that?? I’m drunk on her beauty!
- So because Natasha has filled Andrey’s life with hope and light again, he’s going to go away to: 1) sort out a tutor and some proper education for his son, 2) retire from the army and go visit England, Switzerland, and Italy, 3) ???, 4) profit
- Old prince Bolkonsky unfortunately isn’t as keen on this arrangement as everyone else so now I guess Natasha and Andrey have to wait a ear to get married – Nat’s a bit hysterical about the idea but agrees anyway and nothing is announced publicly about them so this is fishy and completely ripe for ruination
- We have a lovely bit of dramatic irony now as Marya basically says ‘lol Andrey/Natasha (Natrey? Andasha? wow ship names are hard) would never happen’ in a letter to a friend
- “Write and tell your brother to wait until I’m dead… He won’t have long to wait. I’ll soon set him free.” Old Bolkonsky is savage but also he keeps promising to die soon and yet here he still is, breathing, very much alive. If her outlives the entire cast of characters in this book it’s going to be hilarious.
- Marya gets in with some pilgrims that stop by the estate – “There was one pilgrim by the name of Theodosia” – ok where are my fellow Hamilton fans at? Theodosia writes me a letter every day-day-day
- We’ve made it to Part IV (yes you’re only halfway through this wrap-up, I apologise profusely), and it starts out real deep, guys, talking about humanity’s condition of idleness and The Fall (in the biblical sense, not he TV show) – “whenever we are idle a secret voice keeps telling us to feel guilty” ohhh so that’s what that voice is
- “and there is one such state of enforced and irreproachable idleness enjoyed by an entire class of men – the military class”, ouch Tolstoy
- Nikolay basically spends this section of the book avoiding his family’s letters and having to go home and face up to any sense of personal or social responsibility (or Sonya even)
- Then when he finally does go home, things aren’t looking too grand financially-speaking, so he kicks off about the ‘state of affairs’ and blames Mitenka and literally drags him outside by the scruff o his neck and kicks his arse – beautifully handled as always Nikolay
- Oh, lovely, a good ol’ hunt… and not only do we have a good ol’ hunt, it lasts for multiple chapters, ugh.
- The hunt, disgusting as it is, also proceeds to make me dislike Nikolay even more (which I wasn’t sure was possible) because he keeps whinging about his luck “I’m always unlucky – at cards, fighting in the war, everything” oh boo hoo he just wants to kill a wolf on this hunt and he can’t even catch a break, goddddd why is the world so unfair??
- “the moment when Nikolay saw the dogs struggling with the wolf […] was the happiest moment of his whole life” – that’s messed up, why is this a thing?
- “Nikolay had never set eyes on Ilagin but, never a man for half-measures when it came to judgement and feelings and having heard that their neighbour was n obstinate brute, he loathed him with every fibre of his being and considered him his bitterest foe” – that, right there, sums up Nikolay to a tree – but of course when he actually sees him properly he decides he’s not an enemy at all and that 360 degree turn in judgement was so quick Nikolay must have whiplash now
- So is this ‘Uncle’ like the friend of the family that isn’t at all related to you by blood or marriage or anything at all but you’re made to call them your Uncle?
- “Now the hunt was over and they were indoors, Nikolay felt no farther need to demonstrate his masculine superiority over his sister.” UGH. THAT’S ANOTHER STRIKE, NIKOLAY.
- The Rostovs are in deep financial shit but keep up most of their appearances as usual… this is why people hate the rich upper classes – “The Rostovs’ was not a happy household”, well no shit Sherlock
- So the only logical solution is for Nikolay to marry a rich heiress, obv. Which is going to make this plot line with Sonya super awkward.
- Completely random side note: I’ve never seen the word “vestibule” used with such frequency before.
- It’s still Christmas though so the Rostovs celebrate in style and dress up as mummers (?), lots of amusing moustaches drawn on the women and a nice bit of cross-dressing, in fact: “Nikolay never left Sonya’s side and now he looked at her in a completely new way. It was if he was looking at her for the first time, all because of that corked moustache, and seeing her for what she really was” – I mostly hate this trope of ‘seeing a girl you’ve known for years in a New Light’ because it’s kinda shitty, but it’s funny that all it took was drawing a moustache on her face with a piece of burnt cork for Nikolay to get there
- However this entire charade masks an event that made me full-on choke on my drink: “They ran over to the barn and when they returned to they house they went by different porches.” Ummm… did Nikolay and Sonya just fuck in a barn? Is that what Tolstoy is implying, is IT?!
What a way to end a wrap-up…
Now we move onto volume 2, part 5, and volume 3, part 1, so lots of reading ahead still. If I’m brutally honest, I’m getting to that point now where I’ve read 600 pages of a book and I’m like… ok but does this story ever actually end or will I just be reading War and Peace for the rest of my life? I guess that’s what I signed up for when I commited to this though, we’re in this for the long haul, folks, so I’ll see you back here next week (hopefully on schedule this time round) for more of War and Peace.