Wednesday, July 6, 2011

War and Peace Wednesday : The Read-Along Begins with Threesomes

In our first read-along for this worthy chunkster*, we took a bit bite: Volume One, Parts One and Two.  In my version, that meant 200 pages of English and French, at least 100 characters, and scores of place names in Russia and Austria and France that required umpteen map references to picture in their relative positions. 

To sum up: Part One focused on Petersburg and Moscow society - its parties and gossip and domestic intrigues, and Part Two brought us into the Napoleonic wars in Braunau, Vienna, Enns, Brunn, Tabor, Hollabrunn, and Schongraben alongside the ambitious Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and the youthful idealist Count Nikolai Rostov, our two primary characters who bridge both sections.  (Dunno if they will continue to be the main two, but they are so far.)

In a nod to our three word title and to Tolstoy's famous short fiction, "Three Questions", I'll offer my three favorites from Volume One, Parts 1 & 2 in four categories:  (Some spoilers here, so proceed with caution!)

Most memorable moments:
  * When the scheming Anna Mikhailovna assists oblivious/innocent Pierre Bezukhov in confronting the equally-sneaky-and-money-grubbing but a lot less likable Princess Catishe Bezukhov and Prince Vassily Kuragin about the dying Count Bezukhov's will.  This provided a refreshing darkly comic and dramatic plot point amid the more languid and meandering events of Part One. (85)

* "The fog of war": In the final battle scenes, the chaos of battle, redefined in retrospect as ordered military maneuvering, and especially the moments in which Prince Bagration appears to transform chaos into perceived order for his troops simply by his commanding and situationally apt responses to disordered and shifting circumstances.  (many scenes in Part Two)

* The moment when Nikolai stands overlooking the beautiful, sun-struck valley of the Danube and realizes that his fantasy of soldiering is just that, and he really doesn't want to die.  (148-149)
               
Favorite lines or passages: (The first two are entirely idiosyncratic, the third at least a tad more thematically resonant)
* "Intriguer!"  Isn't it wonderful that this is the most shocking insult Princess Bezukhov can hurl at her arch-enemies at the most pivotal moment in her life?  I am now going to point my finger at any misbehavior and growl it out, French accent and all. 

* "Boris and Natasha": Inappropriate, I know, but every time their names appeared in the same passage, I flashed on the cartoon characters and got the giggles. And, let's face it, I needed a little comic relief!

* This passage, noted above, in which Nikolai finally "gets it": 
'Ooh! Leave me alone, for Christ's sake," the wounded man cried; but all the same they lifted him up and laid him on the stretcher.
   Nikolai Rostov turned away, and, as if searching for something, began looking at the distance, at the waters of the Danube, at the sky, at the sun!  How good the sky seemed, how blue, calm,  and deep! How bright and solemn the setting sun!  how tenderly and lustrously glistened the waters of the distant Danube!  And better still were the distant blue hills beyond the Danube, the convent, the mysterious gorges, the pine forests bathed in mist to their tops...there was peace, happiness...'There's nothing, nothing I would wish for, there's nothing I would wish for, if only I were there,' thought Rostov.  'In me alone and in this sun there is so much happiness, but here...groans, suffering, fear, and this obscurity, this hurry...Again they're shouting something, and again everybody's run back somewhere, and I'm running with them, and here it is, here it is, death, above me, around me...An instant, and I'll never again see this sun, this water, this gorge...'
   Just then the sun began to hide itself behind the clouds.  Ahead of Rostov, another stretcher appeared.  And his fear of death and the stretcher, and his love of the sun and life - all merged into one painfully disturbing impression.
   'Lord God! the one there in this sky, save, forgive, and protect me!' Rostov whispered to himself.
                                                                                                                (148-149)
Most intriguing descriptions:
* Princess Liza's face - I cannot stop picturing her hairy hair-lip touching her plump lower lip as she gossips incessantly.  And I continue to ponder how - however lightly ironic Tolstoy's description - she could be perceived as beautiful.

* The many descriptions of the pastoral, almost bucolic landscapes upon which the soldiers would soon smear mud and blood into chaos.

* Tolstoy's contrasting interior monologues of Nikolai, Andrei, and Tushin as they react to the conditions of war:  the young man with dashed hopes of glory replaced by confusion and the quickened awareness of his own mortality; the ambitious career man with intense presence in the moment and proud, wistful nostalgia in retrospect; and the workaday soldier overwhelmed by a sort of trance-like fantasy in the heat of battle,, who's addled to confusion in retrospect.

Questions:
*  I've heard that Natasha is a major character, so how will Tolstoy shift the focus onto her when the very title of the novel indicates that we'll be moving back and forth between two contexts and she'll likely only be present in one of them?

*  Will Prince Andrei turn out to have enough redeeming qualities that we readers actually come to appreciate him, however much of a jerk he seemed to be in the Part One?

* Are the insights about male soldiers' and politicians' and diplomats' and aristocrats' psychologies and group sociology simply going to be amplified and repeated in the rest of the novel, or will Tolstoy offer additional insights? 

I had to do it.

My actions: To thoroughly read the introduction before continuing to Volume One, Part 3 and Volume Two, Part 1.  And to research a bit more on these battles...I fear I'm woefully unfamiliar with the historical details here! 

See you next week, and don't be shy about jumping in with your own two cents, even if you read War and Peace years ago...

MFB, with the uber-chunkster,*
L

* Chunkster = hefty, hefty tome, usually "a classic"

3 comments:

Booksnob said...

Laurie,
I am on page 52 right now. I hope to finish Part one today and write a review on Part one. Wow, heavy stuff. I have never read a book with two bookmarks, one in the front and one in the back. I am feeling really smart and brave.

Laurie said...

Me neither! I've got one bookmark on the character page, one on the chapter summaries, and one on my actual page!
You ARE really smart and brave, and this is but one manifestation of your brilliance and courage.

online pharmacy said...

really this page is wonderful i like it and want to bookmark it.

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