Wednesday, July 13, 2011

War and Peace Wednesdays: So Far, Way Better Than Anna Karenina!

That's my opinion, and I'm stickin' to it!  Although I'm only 1/4 of the way through at page 346 in my edition, I'm finding War & Peace so much more interesting and entertaining in every way than Anna.

I wonder if reading the latter chunkster last summer primed the literary pump here, or if War and Peace would have struck me as this enjoyable if I'd read it a year ago instead.  Surprisingly, I'm still engaged by the dual foci of the sociology/psychology of the men when they're actively engaged in military maneuvering and battles versus the subtle and substantive domestic dramas of the families (and the same men) at home.

This section breezed by, relatively speaking for such a literally and figuratively hefty work, with unexpected plot turns and character developments galore.

And for Three Tempting Threesomes in this section of War & Peace... (possible spoilers, but good stuff!)

Three Cleverly Connected Moments:
1. Pierre falls in love with Helene.
2. Nikolai falls in love with his sovereign, Alexander the First.
3. Prince Andrei falls in love with glory.

All three men are strangers to the objects of their desire, and in each case the object is more abstracted and potentially more powerful.  That wily Tolstoy.  And may we hasten to add that - so far at least, and with Denisov as another example (at least at this point) - all three situations end badly.  Moral warning?  Or just the beginning of an ever-thickening plot? Tip of an ever-thickening iceberg?

Three Quotes That Raise A Smile:
1. Pierre - once again cluelessly manipulated by others - gets engaged to Helene without ever actually asking her. This time Prince Vassily, who unsuccessfully attempted to finagle Pierre's inheritance out from under him, later gets his wish by marrying off his beautiful but distant daughter to the young and perpetually dazed Count.  When father and mother exit the scene of the engagement they just railroaded through, Pierre is briefly alone with Helene:
   "All this had to be so and could not be otherwise," thought Pierre, "therefore there's no point in asking whether it's good or bad.  It's good because it's definite, and there's no more of the old tormenting doubt."  Pierre silently held his fiancee's hand and looked at her beautiful breast rising and falling.
    "Helene!" he said aloud and stopped.
    "Something special is said on these occasions," he thought, but he simply could not remember precisely what...                                                                        (214)
2.  And then, a few chapters and a few years later, (SPOILER ALERT), he's provoked into a duel with his now-wife's suspected paramour and - surprisingly successful in action - he later reflects:
"What has happened?" he asked himself.  "I killed a lover, yes, I killed my wife's lover.  Yes, it has happened.  Why?  How did I come to that?"  "Because you married her," an inner voice answered.

3.  Finally, this rather lovely passage for any of us who have enjoyed a naively beautiful voice from a young singer:
Natasha took her first note, her throat expanded, her chest straightened, her eyes acquired a serious expression.  She did not think of anyone or anything at that moment, and from her lips composed into a smile sounds poured forth, sounds that anyone can produce for the same lengths of time, at the same intervals, but which leave one cold a thousand times, then for the thousand and first time make one tremble and weep.
   That winter Natasha had begun to sing seriously for the first time, especially because Denisov admired her singing.  She no longer sang like a child, there was none of that comic, childish assiduousness in her singing which had been in it before; but her singing was not good yet...While this unpolished voice with its wrong breathing and strained transitions was singing, even the critical connoisseurs said nothing and merely enjoyed this unpolished voice, merely wanting to hear it again.  Her voice had that virgin, intact quality, that unawareness of its strength, that unpolished velvetiness, which were so combined with a deficiency in the art of singing that it seemed impossible to change anything in this voice without spoiling it.

Three Questions:
1.  What is Tolstoy trying to convey about the basis of Nikolai's passion for his king?  So far it's not at all clear to Nikolai and not very clear for readers... I'm hearkening back to Jean Anouilh's Becket, Or The Honor Of God, in which Becket's complex relationship with King Henry includes sexual undertones and concludes with Becket's desire to remain honorable via unwavering loyalty.

2.  I've read that Natasha is a major character and is modeled after Tolstoy's own wife.  So far, although Tolstoy assures us she's charming, she's acting like a ditsy twit.  Repeatedly.  In many contexts.  Will Natasha develop, or was Tolstoy as cluelessly enchanted with only the surfaces of women as his major male characters here seem to be?

3. Where in the world can Prince Andrei's plot arc go now?  He just got handed his ideal life and optimal personality on a proverbial platter, deus ex machina-wise.  So is he going to become an anti-war protester and also a Taoist monk, and then start fighting for women's rights? 

Finally, in regards to my itchiness to get to the next section right away, I'll  borrow this phrase from the inimitable Oscar Wilde, with high hopes that I don't jinx myself by asserting that at this point I'm rarin' to get back to War & Peace: "This suspense is terrible; I hope it will last."

p.s.  Action:  Read up even more than I did last week on the history of the period.  I'm going to wait until I'm at least half way through or perhaps until the end before I check out any literary criticism or attempt to fully parse symbolism, allegory, etc.

And a shout-out to our blogging participants and my IRL book groupies reading along:
La @ Booksnob
Ja @ Jackie Is Reading
And the That's What She Read book group here at home, DaKiSaMiKrKr... Strength, sisters: It's better than Anna Karenina!

And welcome aboard to anyone who wants to jump in or has read W&P and just wants to comment: I'd love to hear your thoughts...


Dana said...

This is a great concept for getting through the book! I've started it two or three times but have yet to make it through. Good for you. said...

I have yet to make it through War and Peace. One day, one day....

I like your blog, you have a refreshing look on literature.

Booksnob said...

really, I haven't read Anna but it seems to me more people have read Anna than War and Peace. Just posted my Part two review. of course, I would love to take you around Russia but I travel with a tour company and you could take your students and the teacher travels for free. I highly recommend it. I took 8 students to New York over Spring Break.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for a W&P readalong so I'm glad to find you. I'm late to the party but will try to catch up. I'm about a quarter of the way through...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure Natasha is ditsy -- she's young but at least she isn't falling dramatically in love with the wrong person like everyone around her. She seems to get that all these infatuations won't last and isn't willing to commit just because someone admires her.

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