War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Six, Part One

Welcome one, welcome all, to the sixth of my weekly progress reports  for War and Peace. You may have seen my previous weekly post summarising my week 5 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 6 went, which covered Volume II, Part V and Volume III, Part 1 of War and Peace…

All right stop (collaborate and listen) – I have a confession to make. I seem to be falling into an unhealthy cycle of falling behind on the reading schedule, so speed-reading to try to catch up, and then forgetting to take notes so it makes the weekly summary wrap-up posts harder so then I re-read and… wash, rinse, repeat. This week I decided to take as many notes as I wanted whilst I read and it turns out that doing this (AND participating in Tome Topple, which ends Thursday, AND signing up for The Reading Quest, which started yesterday) isn’t the best idea, on reflection, and the upshot of it all is that I’ve only read half of what I’m meant to have read in the past week. However, I’ve decided to just roll with the punches and split last week’s wrap-up into two sections, this is part one which will cover Volume II Part V and part two with Volume III Part I will follow… at some point… hopefully soon. I took waaaay too many notes on this section but I guess I must have been really invested in what was going on so that’s not exactly a bad thing!

  • As this section opens, Pierre shuns his fellow masons and consorts with the bachelor gang again – quelle surprise. He does it so much so that even Helene is like ‘this is unacceptable’, so Pierre abandons her for Moscow instead so as not to “compromise her” – how about you just stop doing the bachelor thing instead? No? Oh, ok…
  • Everyone loves Moscow Pierre, except himself, it seems because he’s become everything he used to hate; he’s now “wealthy husband of an unfaithful wife, a retired gentleman-in-waiting, fond of his food and drink […] a type he had found so profoundly repellent seven years ago”. It’s ok, Pierre, we’ll love you all the same.
  • But he’s having an existential crisis again because we can’t go for a part without one. But he takes time out of his busy schedule of crisis-ing to be rude about Helene, again, ugh – “My Helene has never cared for anything but her own body and she’s one of the stupidest women in the world […] yet everyone thinks she’s the last word in intelligence and sophistication, and they all bow down to her”
  • “It was too horrible to be ground down by life’s insoluble problems, so he latched on to any old distraction that came along, just to get them out of his mind” – he turns to wine and books which I think we can all agree are pretty good choices.
  • Moscow is the place to be – Pierre’s back in Moscow, and now ol’ Prince Bolkonsky and Marya head there too. As well as a new locale, Bolkonsky has a new fondness for Mademoiselle Bourienne and I so do not want this plot-line. Nope, no sir, please no.

  • I don’t care if Bolkonsky is “old and feeble”, he’s still aggressive and manipulative and I don’t like it, it doesn’t excuse his behaviour towards his children, especially his daughter – “[Marya] went about that morning like someone staring down the barrel of a locked and loaded gun and waiting for the inevitable big bang”, that’s not a healthy father/daughter relationship by any stretch of the imagination, especially not when he yells at her that it’s all her fault and she should just move out already
  • Pierre and Boris get invited to Bolkonsky’s birthday dinner and, wow, that dinner party sounds like a laugh… During the dinner, Pierre points out to Marya that Boris is interested in her – “he’s wondering whether to mount an assault on you or Mademoiselle Julie Karagin” – I understand that the tradition for comparing courtship to warfare, or to hunting, is an old one but it doesn’t make it any less ew.
  • However, Marya seems to be more interested in getting Pierre to dish the dirt on her future sister-in-law, Natasha. I wouldn’t be so bothered about this were it not for Pierre’s attitude in his response, when asked if she’s clever: “I don’t think she is […] And yet, you know, perhaps she could be. She doesn’t think it’s worthwhile being clever… No, no, she’s just fascinating is all.” – I get that Pierre has some feelings for Natasha and this is why he finds her fascinating but it doesn’t mean he has to be an utter douche about her.
  • It’s not a good night for men, Boris comes out with this corker of an opinion about Julie Karagin, who is, you know, ‘over the hill’ now and more approachable because of it: “A man who, ten years ago, would have been reluctant to visit a house with a seventeen-year old girl in it for fear of compromising her and tying himself down would now call in cheerfully every day, treating her not as a good match but as a sexless acquaintance”

  • Yay, a brief reprieve in which Anna M. is back and scheming and I love her – more of her, please! (Spoiler alert: there was no more of her in this part, boo!)
  • Obviously, in a plot point that no one saw coming, Boris and Julie get engaged, begrudgingly on Boris’ part, but as he very sensibly persuades himself, “I can always arrange not to see much of her” – idk man, I’m no expert on marriage but I’m not sure that’s a good basis for a marriage. Case in point: Pierre and Helene.
  • Some of the Rostovs are in Moscow because everyone is apparently. But it provides a good opportunity for Natasha to meet the future in-laws. She remains a sweet summer child, so optimistic (read: naive): “They’re bound to like me […] Everybody does […] There can’t be any reason for them not to like me!” – I’m sure Prince Bolkonsky will find a reason.

  • It turns out Marya can find a reason too: “She took against Natasha at a single glance, seeing her as a creature of fashion, frivolous, flighty and vain.” – obviously she’s jealous of her and how much Andrey likes her. It’s ok, Marya, I’m sure your brother has plenty of room in his affections for two.
  • The Rostovs go to the opera, as you do, and everyone looks at Natasha because now she’s hot?? Natasha, meanwhile, oggles Helene when she sits in the box next to them, admiring her neck and shoulders, thinking “It would be easy to fall in love with her” and never before have I wanted a plot twist so badly that it turns out Natasha is actually in love with Helene and pursues her. I know it won’t happen (maybe in fanfic? Do people write War and Peace fanfic?) but I can amuse myself with it.
  • Anatole shows up at the opera and Natasha stares at him too, because the Kuragins are an attractive pair. Apparently “[h]e walked with a jaunty little swagger that would have looked ridiculous if he hadn’t been so handsome”… man, pretty people get away with anything, and it’s not fair.
  • During the intermission, Anatole stares at Natasha and she senses he’s talking about her – she secretly feels “a thrill of pleasure” because of it and shifts how she’s standing so that he can see her good side – uh oh, this is not going to end well. Side note: I like how easily Natasha forgets how madly in love she is with Andrey because some other pretty boy stared at her.

  • “She was delighted to see that he was so taken with her, and it never entered her head that there could be anything wrong with this.” – oh Natasha, honey, no. Clearly the problem is that Andrey has been away for too long so no one is checking her out and admiring her and when Anatole does, she’s so flattered she mistakes hormones for feelings. It’s easily done, friend.
  • You know what, I think I love how despicable the Kuragins allegedly are. “Countess Bezukhov’s reputation as a woman of great charm was well founded. Saying what she didn’t think, especially when it was flattering, came so naturally to her it was simplicity itself” – ohhhhh so Helene is the Regina George of Moscow’s society.

  • Plot twist!: Anatole is married already. He was doing his usual sleeping around (I presume), the usual fun and giggles, then some guy took exception to him messing around his daughter like that and forced him to marry her. I did not see that coming, well played, Tolstoy, well played.
  • “He had no capacity for reflecting on how his actions might affect other people, or what the consequences of this or that action might be.” “What he loved was having a good time and chasing women, and since, according to him, these tastes were in no way dishonourable, and he was incapable of considering how his gratification of them might affect other people, he genuinely considered himself beyond reproach” – there’s something really weirdly admirable about someone being so deluded about themselves and their actions that they 100% believe they’re doing nothing wrong and Anatole is one of those people.
  • Helene invites Natasha to dinner because “she found the thought of bringing her brother and Natasha together most amusing” – the Kuragins are unapologetically despicable and I love it.

(read: Some women just want to watch the world burn too.)

  • Anatole confirms that he’s a douche by saying this, even though he knows she’s engaged: “I’m in love with you, madly in love. Is it my fault you’re so irresistible?…” yes, it is. Resist it!
  • Natasha and Anatole kiss and she’s SO TORN because she loves Andrey but, like, Anatole is right there and Andrey isn’t and MAYBE SHE LOVES ANATOLE TOO and wow this is all getting SO DRAMATIC!!1
  • Natasha tells Sonya about the Anatole Situation. And, if you want a one sentence reason as to why Natasha/Anatole is squicky then Tolstoy presents it right here: “The moment I set eyes on him, I knew he was my master and I was his slave, and I couldn’t help loving him. Yes, his slave! I’ll do whatever he commands.” Well, that sounds like a sensible and measured and totally balanced relationship dynamic, doesn’t it? But Sonya sensibly tells Natasha that Anatole’s secrecy is weird and she says she’s worried that Natasha is going to be ruined. Sonya is perceptive and caring, be more like Sonya.
  • So obviously Natasha and Anatole plot to elope, duh. But you know a plan is a bad idea if even Dolokhov is like ‘dude, this plotting was funny while it lasted but be serious now’
  • Sonya tells Marya Dmitriyevna about Natasha and Anatole and obv Marya stops Natasha from sneaking out which produces SO MANY TEARS AND TANTRUMS. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that Natasha is still young. At moments like this it isn’t though – “[Natasha] sobbed with the kind of despair that people feel when they weep for troubles they know they brought upon themselves.”
  • Count Rostov is back at home and obviously he ought to be told about the fact his daughter nearly eloped with some rogue but everyone’s wary of telling him and he’s wary of asking why Natasha looks so ill. That’s all well and good but Rostov then pulls a Mr Bennet and doesn’t ask because it’s easier to not know what’s going on with his daughter – “he valued his present good humour and peace of mind so much that he shied away from further inquiries and tried to reassure himself that nothing very unusual could have happened”
  • We flip back to Pierre, because he always has an important role to play otherwise why would Tolstoy have bothered to have him come back to Moscow handily at the same time as all these shenanigans. But, first, let’s bash Helene a little more: “Ever since the day of his wife’s arrival in Moscow Pierre had been intending to leave town, if only to get away from her.” – I like how Pierre isn’t even trying with his marriage any more, he’s just accepted it’s terrible, and tries to not be under the same roof as his wife as often as he can.
  • But, thank god, Pierre is finally starting to realise he maybe might possibly have some feelings for Natasha… and it only took us 600+ pages to get here, people!

  • Marya D. confides in him about the attempted elopement and he’s so gobsmacked that he becomes his douchey self again “The lovely image of Natasha that was so dear to his soul – and he had known her since childhood – didn’t fit with this new picture of her as someone depraved, stupid and cruel” … it’s almost sweet but then, oh no, he ruins it “He thought of his own wife. ‘They’re all the same,’ he told himself, reflecting that he was not the only man to be tied by the unhappy hand of fate to a dreadful woman.” idk Pierre if you’re that unhappy like get out of it?? You married her, it was you, not fate, you could’ve got out of it, if you’d really wanted to but, I know, I know, she had great boobs, it was easy to be distracted by them.
  • Pierre, fuelled by how much he clearly loves Natasha, confronts Anatole and shakes him so hard “until a sufficient degree of terror had registered on his face” – it turns out Pierre is capable of actual action sometimes, but it tends to be quite terrifying because he wants to brain Anatole with a handily close paperweight.
  • “When all’s said and done surely you can get it into your head that there is such a thing as other people’s happiness and peace of mind beyond your own pleasure – can’t you see you’re ruining someone’s whole life just for a bit of fun?” – I guess Pierre didn’t get the memo about Anatole’s MO
  • He tells Anatole to “Go and amuse yourself with women like my wife” – don’t worry, Pierre, he does.
  • Omg whaaaaat… Natasha tried to poison herself with arsenic after Pierre confirmed that Anatole is already married!
  • And now, of course, Andrey is back in town and his father’s positively skipping he’s so delighted that he gets to show him Natasha’s letter to Marya breaking off the engagement and he fills him in on all the goss about Natasha and Anatole and makes his son miserable and oh happy days!! This is straight-up soap opera stuff and I live for it.
  • “Pierre now recognised in his friend something he knew only too well, a need to get involved in a heated dispute about some neutral topic, purely to drown out thoughts that were too near the heart and too painful.” – Tolstoy peppers War and Peace with moments like this, turns of phrases that I just go damn…
  • And we end this part/volume on the comet of 1812 and I’m sure this has some kind of deep metaphorical significance but I’m just so shook by the events of this part that I don’t have the brain power left to puzzle it out. Overall, my feelings can be summed up thus:

Phew, well, that ended up being along one – and it’s only for half of last week’s reading! Aren’t you glad I feel behind and had to split this post into two now? I know I am! Stay tuned for part two of this wrap-up which will cover Volume III Part I, it’ll be up… mumbles sometime… soon!

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