Welcome one, welcome all, to the seventh of my weekly progress reports for War and Peace. If you’re curious about how last week went (terribly), then you can pop on over and see part one or part two of week 6’s progress. I’ve fallen behind with the schedule, to the point that earlier today I read something close to 100 pages just so I could claw back and post last week’s weekly wrap-up vaguely on-time. I know, I know, I make such sacrifices for this readalong.
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?
In my last posts, I summarised the action from Volume II Part V and Volume III Part I but this past week I moved onto Volume III Part II and officially broke the 900 page mark. There’s no turning back now, we’ve reached the point of no return (hopefully)…
- We open this section with Napoleon, obviously, because Tolstoy hates me at this point and just wants to make me suffer.
- The note I wrote on this scene was ‘men are idiots’… I mean… ok I think I might have been a tad grumpy when reading this section but it’s not wholly inaccurate because:
- “Napoleon went to war with Russia because he could not resist going to Dresden, could not resist the adulation, could not resist the idea of donning the Polish uniform, and could not contain his petulant outbursts in the presence of Kurakin and later on Balashev. Alexander refused all negotiations because he felt personally insulted. […] Rostov attacked the French because he could not resist the temptation to gallop across a flat field.” (p. 756) Of course he couldn’t resist, stupid Nikolay.
- Meanwhile, in the Bolkonsky family, old Prince Bolkonsky is pissed off at Marya because she caused him and Andrey to fight (even though she hasn’t done anything??) and he snaps at her that he “hopes she’s satisfied” (I will never be satisfied, god I hope you’re satisfied… Hamilton anyone??)
- He also seems a tad in denial that the war is actually happening around him, even though Andrey sends him a letter urging him to move the household out of the Bald Hills as they’ll be right in the path of the advance of the war – but Bolkonsky mostly seems more concerned with his building plans and treats the war with basically a sneering smirk.
- Smolensk is bombarded by cannon fire but you wouldn’t know it as people are calmly just going about their business and shopping. When they do finally think maybe they should call it a day and, you know, take cover, the road is backed up with people trying to do the same and there’s stuff on fire and Alpatych (Bolkonsky’s steward) happens across Andrey himself who is there with his regiment and is all ‘wtf are you doing here, why haven’t you all left?’ That’s a good question, Andrey, and the answer to ‘why haven’t you left’ is ‘your father is… your father’.
- “Prince Andrey was a regimental commander, and as such he was committed to the management of the regiment, the welfare of his men, the need to receive and transmit orders. For him the burning and abandonment of Smolensk were an epoch-making event. A new feeling, a burning hatred of the enemy, made him transcend his personal sorrow.” (p. 77) – basically, if you’re feeling heartbroken or bitter or anything, take your mind off it. War is a pretty good way to take your mind off things except not dying, to be honest.
- Thankfully, finally, the Bolkonskys abandon Bald Hills. But it’s really alarmingly sad to see Andrey pass through it and see it abandoned and empty. I actually felt a genuine feeling for Andrey, this is a sure sign that I now like him as a character.
- There may be war happening but someone should tell Moscow because they’re carrying on like nothing is happening – “Salon life”, we reflect, “does not change.” except now they have a swear-box system for whenever someone speaks in French.
- It’s ok though because Vassily and Anna Pavlovna are back like the bitchy pair they are and I love the idea of them off in a corner judging everyone and gossiping – I live for that, they were excellent at this in the miniseries.
- In less excellent news, Prince Bolkonsky has a stroke and becomes paralysed down one side. Marya feels guilty about it (when doesn’t she feel guilty?) but begins to wonder what life could be like
whenif her father dies as a result of his fading health. She feels guilty about that too, obviously. Then he has another stroke and dies, but not before begging Marya to forgive him for what he’s been like. Too little, too late, sunshine.
- After an already traumatic event, Marya and the household are now trapped at Bogucharovo and expecting to be surrounded by French forces as the war marches onwards and the French advance further into Russia. Marya can’t leave because no horses can be found for the carriges and the peasants on the estate don’t seem to be in a very obliging mood. Who else should ride to her rescue but Nikolay Rostov?! OMG NO WAY!
- When Nikolay hears Marya’s plight he offers to escort her out, like any good gentleman ought to do, but I’m sure he also checks her out a little because why not – “the idea of marrying the gentle, and, as he recalled, delightful Princess Marya with her huge fortune had occurred to him spontaneously on more than one occasion” (p. 819) – well duh
- It finally seems like the war coming to Moscow but it’s met with an almost morbid sense of delight: “a mixture of excitement, indecision and delicious dread of impending doom” as the city empties and people finally leave (p. 833)
- In a lengthy section that never seems to end the Battle of Borodino happens… which I’m sure would mean something monumental to me if I knew the slightest thing about the Napoleonic Wars. However, I don’t, so this section was mostly just a slog to get through. Sorry/not sorry.
- The last person you’d want/expect to see in war, Pierre Bezukhov, comes strolling into the thick of the war to check how the troops are stationed, out of some strange curiosity, and who should he happen across but Dolokhov! Dolokhov asks for forgiveness but I doubt Pierre’s expression really counts as forgiveness so that’s left unfinished.
- He also comes across Andrey who seems to treat him with quite a lot of hostility and unease, probably because he wasn’t expecting to see someone from ‘home’ in the midst of battle. I can only assume it’s like when your work colleagues happen across you and your friends outside of work – it’s a strange mixing of people who should never interact.
- Andrey meanwhile is too busy being passionate about the fact that war is lost or won not by army positions or resources but by the gut feeling of the men who fight in it. If they think they’re going to lose, they will lose. It’s not a chess game, he continues, because that implies that in war you’d have as long as you like to consider your next move before making it. Oh and chivalry and those sorts of war traditions are all utter nonsense. Thanks for that dose of reality, Andrey.
- Pierre has accidentally become involved in the battle, watching it from afar and becoming strangely fixated on the sight of the smoke rising from the battlefield. But, of course, he ends up on his horse accidentally walking into the battlefield. We’ve all done that, haven’t we?
- Pierre sees the horrors of war as he’s right in the midst of an enemy bombardment and returns to his previous position upon the hill to find that all the people who were previously so kind and welcoming to him that morning are now lying dead in pools of their own blood. Them’s the breaks, kid, this is war. (You know, I’m beginning to think Pierre isn’t strictly cut out for this war lark, idk just a hunch I have.)
- Now Andrey is injured and I must have blinked and missed that happening because next thing I knew he’s in a hospital tent and some dude next to him is screaming in pain (presumably) because they amputated his leg and… woah… it’s Anatole! I swear this entire section is just made up of moments a la Janice showing up in Friends at the most inconvenient of moments.
- However, in these moments, Andrey looks at Anatole and feels a certain sympathy and kinship, you know towards the dude who tried to run off with the girl he was previously engaged to. Andrey, you’re a better man than I.
- Some stuff about Napoleon finished this section… I think. I can’t remember. Truth be told, my eyes glazed over as soon as I saw his name appear again. If I wanted to read about him, I’d go read a history book, get back to the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys please and thank you.
Well that was it, folks, that was week 7. I never want to have to rush to catch-up with the reading schedule ever again – if there’s anything I’ve learnt from this experience it’s to not sign up for a reading challenge, readalong, and read A Dance with Dragons at the same time. Learn from my mistakes, people!