Thoughts on: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Book 1 Part 3

About:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a fictional book first published in 1869. The work is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature. The copy I read was translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude.

  • 1350 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; New edition
  • ISBN: 0199232768

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Thoughts:
What stood out in Book 1 Part 3 is the characterization which Tolstoy employs. The physical attraction Pierre feels for the busty Hélène is extremely convincing and Hélène’s descriptions of being a sexual siren are fabulous.

One of the techniques that Tolstoy employs in his characterization is not only writing about the “what” and the “how” – but also about the “why”. For example, we know Pierre lacks will or confidence which makes Hélène’s advances at him uncomfortable, but also understandable to how easily Pierre has succumbed to the charms of a woman whose family he considers to be appalling.

Tolstoy also creates scenes of uncomfortable comedic brilliance, ones that you cringe when you read as if you were an unwanted fly on the wall. The way Prince Vasily talks to his daughter, a father who imitates other parents, or the way Hélène toys with Pierre, are excellent examples and I felt uncomfortable reading those passages…but I was also laughing so go figure that one out.

The intricacies of the characters are also interesting; Prince Bolkonsky throws a fit because the servants cleared the snow for arriving guests. Bolkonsky thinks the servants should have been doing this for him, not for guests, and makes them shovel the snow back.

Synopsis:
Pierre has inherited a title and fortune and society has embraced him. Pierre is amazed because this same society couldn’t tolerate him. Prince Vasily, who takes Pierre under his wing wants him to marry Hélène, Vasily’s daughter.

Anna Scherer throws a soirée which is meant to bring Pierre and Hélène together. Pierre knows this but is dead set against it as he realizes what awful human beings Hélène’s family is. However, Hélène plays the seductress, wears a low cut dress and employs all her charms on the defenseless Pierre. At one point Hélène asks Pierre to take a close look at a snuff box which she conveniently places before her enormous breasts.
Game. Set. Match!

Pierre does not want to marry Hélène but it seems that he is on a path he cannot stop. Later on, at a dinner party, Pierre and Hélène are sitting together. Hélène gets a dress-down from Prince Vasily who later on had had enough of Pierre and tearfully pretends that he already proposed to Hélène while welcoming him as his son-in-law.

At this point Prince Vasily is trying to find a match for Anatole.

At Bald Hills Lise tells the old prince that Vasily and Anatole are coming to visit and innocently remarks about suitors. The old prince though doesn’t like the Kuragins as well as facing the reality that his daughter might leave him. Maria is also in turmoil, she wants to get back into society and find a loving husband, but she doesn’t know the kind of person Anatole is.

When the guests arrive, Mademoiselle Bourienne catches Anatole’s eye instead of the plain Maria and Lise is happy to converse with someone from her own world. When the old prince meets Anatole he’s not impressed. He notices immediately that Anatole is attracted to Mademoiselle Bourienne and that he’s not very smart. Not one to be suffering fools, the old prince turns on his daughter and berates her for doing up her hair in honor of such miserable guests.

Prince Vasily, knowing his son’s stupidity trumps up his good heart which, of course, is non-existent.  Later Prince Bolkonsky tells Maria about the marriage proposal and tells her that she has complete freedom to decide. However, being irritated with his daughter’s blindness to the obvious he let it slip that Anatole is interested in Mademoiselle Bourienne. Maria gets really upset and Bolkonsky apologizes, but son she discovers the Mademoiselle in Anatole’s arms in the garden.

Incredibly, the naïve Maria “forgives” Mademoiselle Bourienne and even comforts her while still blind to the kind of person Anatole actually is. However, she still refuses him to the delight of her father.

The story continues to unfold through the parallel views of Andrei and Nikolai in the Austrian campaign. The promoted Nikolai goes to see Boris who has money and letters from home and embarrasses himself putting on airs.

Nikolai starts boasting about the cavalry charge at Schon-Graben and embellishes the story. Andrei comes in and immediately catches on to the fact that Nikolai is spinning the truth. Nikolai also catches on to the fact that Andrei is on to him and resents it. Nikolai, being rude to Andrei, implies that his medals were not earned on the field of battle (which is not true). Andrei though keeps his cool and advises Nikolai to forget about the whole thing. While the event flustered Nikolai, he has gained a newfound respect for Andrei.

While the Tsar reviews the troops, Nikolai acts in awe.

While Boris goes to visit Andrei, who has taken him under his wing, he notices that military rank doesn’t matter as much as social rank. He also keeps in mind the power that the Minister of Foreign Affrairs has.

While everyone is predicting a Russian victory, Kutuzov is not so sure. Actually, Kutuzov tells Andrei that he predicts a Russian defeat. The night before the battle, the commanders are talking about strategies which are too late to implement while Kutuzov dozes off.

At the same night, Nikolai and Andrei dream of glory. After almost falling from his horse dreaming of home, Nikolai volunteers for a quick mission to ascertain levels of French troops for Prince Bargation. On his way back, Nikolai gets fired upon but this time finds the experience exhilarating. Disappointed that his battling has been held back, Nikolai requests to be transferred to Bargation.

While this is happening, Andrei becomes aware of the importance of glory and how much he is willing to give up to achieve a moment of it.

The next day the Russians realize that the French are much closer than expected and flee in under fire and in disorder. Seeing his chance of glory, Andrei picks up the hear standard and charges the French. Many follow Andrei who has single handedly changed the tide of battle. After the initial rush of adrenaline, Andrei finds himself badly wounded staring at the sky. Pondering why he never noticed the sky before, Andrei ignores the activity around him.

Bargration entrusts Nikolai with a message to Kutuzov or the Tsar. Nikolai sets off excitedly hoping to find the Tsar first but also noticeds the disorder of the battle and that the Russians are clearly losing. Finally Nikolai gets to the Tsar and sees his idol in despair. Feeling he cannot approach the Tsar at this time Nikolai’s nerves have betrayed him.

The victorious Napoleon surveys the battle ground, happy despite the slaughter. Seeing Andrei with the standard, Napoleon comments what a find death that was, but Andrei isn’t dead. However, deemed unlikely to survive, Andrei is taken and left with the locals.

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