In Volume II, Parts 4 and 5, Tolstoy turns up the heat on many relationships, turns on the plot, and turns in a soap-opera-esque, boffo little 130-page section. So we're back on track.
- And look to like-minded readers for support and encouragement. My thanks to Ingrid at The Blue Bookcase: Her statement that the final third of War & Peace is by far the best will kept me reading! Also gratitude to Laura at Booksnob who's reading along, and to my IRL book groupies with whom I'm scheduled to meet next week to discuss the first 1/2 of the chunkster.
To sum up: Part Four.
Count Rostov Sr. can't bring himself to actually pay attention to his money, so their family finances decline precipitously, requiring that Nikolai eventually accede to his mother's pleas and take a leave from his much-loved army life (virtually no responsibilities or personal decision making = Nicky's favorite aspects of the military) and returns to Otradnoe. He is of zero help to his family, and doesn't ever acknowledge that his huge gambling debt - paid by his father - is what set them on this road to financial ruin. It's an "apple doesn't fall far from the tree" section: Count Elie Rostov, Nikolai's dad, is equally unwilling to acknowledge reality and so continues to spend, spend, spend until he's forced to sell off properties just to meet his expenses. This can't go on for long, one senses.
Then: Wolf hunt. Really. Nikolai loves hunting, so he rounds up the umpteen servants and horses and dogs required and joins neighbors on a staged/somewhat controlled hunt. There was a snipe hunt in Anna Karenina, and in this one: bigger game, more hunters, more dogs, more interpersonal and inter-canine drama. Me personally: Not big on hunting. But Tolstoy's vigorous descriptions do cause one to sit up and take note of how passionately Russian aristocrats dedicated themselves to this 'sport'.
Then Nikolai, falling in love again with Sonya when she dresses up like a man for 'mumming' at Christmas (OK: how many hints do we need about Nikolai??), fights with his mom, who disapproves of the dowry-less match, then returns to the army to escape his family responsibilities.
To sum up: Part Five.
Old count Rostov takes Natasha and Sonya to Moscow to deal with finances and get away from the dramas in Otradnoe. Pierre also arrives in Moscow, staying with the increasingly nasty and somewhat senile old Prince Bolkonsky and his plain, increasingly terrified, always beleaguered daughter Marya.
Boris is back. And social climbing to beat the band. He proposes to Marya's friend Julie, whose family money and position will propel him one step up the social ladder. Natasha and fam. decide to visit the geezer Bolkonsky to try to win him over so Natasha can marry Prince Andrei soon (she's getting impatient about squandering her youthful fabulousness), and with his blessings. No dice. So no dice. Their visit makes matters much worse.
Then, at the theater, and then at a party thrown purposefully by his sister Helene to get them together, Natasha gets introduced to the dashing cad Anatole, whose well-perfected wooing and handsome visage enrapture her. Bye-bye, Andrei; hello, Anatole.
Sonya tries to prevent this bad situation from getting worse, but Natasha's stupid obstinacy is no match for her quiet cousin's acts and arguments.
The whole Kuragin clan is a festering bunch of bad apples, with Anatole possibly the nastiest bite in the barrel. Oh, did I mention that he's already married, but to a peasant (ye olde shotgun wedding), so he doesn't care and doesn't tell anybody about it? Yes.
Even though the planned elopement gets foiled and Anatole runs away, Natasha's already sent a letter to Marya rejecting Prince Andrei in favor of the somewhat-currently-more-jerky of her two suitors, 'cause that's just the kind of ditz she is. Andrei's cool with that, and Pierre attempts to smooth things over with everyone, whereupon he falls in love with Natasha too. Then the comet of 1812 flashes through the sky: It's Pierre's joy!
Yup. Told y'all: Soap opera. But with many unexpected plot turns and a lot more fun than the last section, I'll take it.
MFB, with Volume Three (Parts 1 & 2),
p.s. Nifty tip for all War & Peace-ers: Book Drum now has illuminations (photos, paintings, videos, historical info.) for bookmarked sections of the novel, and there's a quick-n-interesting bio that tells us - among other intriguing tidbits - that nasty ole Count Bolkonsky is modeled after Tolstoy's own grandfather and that Tolstoy's thinking inspired the young Mohandas K. Gandhi. True.