Thoughts on: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Book 2 Part 2

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:
A very strong part where three of the principal players in the novel, Andrei, Nikolai and Pierre all go under different crises. I love the imagery Tolstoy presents for unanswerable existential questions, as if the thin thread which our lives are dependent on keeps breaking and as we tie it back together is when we get the proverbial bumps in the road.

This chapter had more religious overtones, with Pierre becoming a freemason. I can’t wait to read what Tolstoy meant to do with the religious perspective of the book. From the few Tolstoy works I’ve read he didn’t seem too religious, preachy or fantastical – actually it seems he despises these types of people.

As usually, Tolstoy mocks the rich with their idiotic parties, stupid talk to false facades putting on airs of sophistication with no content.
The scene at the military hospital is especially horrifying. Andrie goes to visit his friend Denisov but instead of going to the officer’s area goes to where the enlisted men are. Tolstoy paints that picture as horrible as he could. I could almost smell the stench of human corpses, body parts and feces.

Lastly Tolstoy shows us the duplicity of leaders and the two faces of war. Signing the peace treaty, Napoleon awarded a medal to a random soldier which Denisov, an excellent commander, is about to go to trial because the Tsar won’t help. As the treaty is signed, Napoleon goes from being a criminal to a great emperor. Tolstoy asks many questions about sacrifices and ideology at this point.

A very thoughtful book which brings up many tough and timeless questions.

Synopsis:
Pierre’s life is falling apart and he keeps questioning the meaning of life and its purpose – of course he does not get any answer. As he travels to Petersburg, Pierre meets freemason Osip Alexeyevich Bazdeyev who recognizes the difficult mental state which Pierre is currently in. Given the state the Pierre is in, his naïveté, Bazdeyev’s sincerity and persuasiveness, Pierre accepts his invitation to become a freemason.

Enthusiastic about his newfound point of view, Pierre sets out to make life better for his peasants. However he is not good at the administrative tasks and makes life worst for them, Pierre does not realize that this is happening. Pierre also now has the spiritual strength to stand up to his father-in-law’s attempts to get him to reconcile with his Hélène and to ask Vasily Kuragin to leave.

In Anna Pavlovnas soirées there is the same idiocy which Tolstoy love to attribute to these type of functions. The participants gossip about Pierre who is being talked as if he is jealous and an idiot while making Hélène a suffering martyr. Boris makes his appearance at the party and turns on his friends hoping to climb up in the social ladder of Russian society.

In Bald Hills, Andrei has decided to build himself a house in nearby Bogucharovo. The marble that was supposed to be used for his memorial is now used for his wife’s. Andrei is haunted by guilt about his life and Prince Bolkonsky is weak, and getting weaker, due to the misinformation about his son’s death. However, Bolkonsky is still responsible for recruitment in the area but Andrei is the only one that can control his extreme behavior. The Old Prince’s strict attitude is often mistaken for cruelty.
Nikolai, Andrei’s son, is sick and is being cared for by his father and Maria. For an instant Andrei thinks his son is dead, a terrible moment indeed. Bilibin, Andrei’s friend, has sent him a letter regarding military and diplomatic issues, however Andrei is no longer interested in those things. When Pierre visits Andrei is happy to see him despite swearing off society. The two men, who have many emotional scars, talk at length. While Pierre is enthusiastic about his newfound religion and ideals, Andrei is still a pessimist.

On the way to Bald Hills, while crossing the river in a ferry, Pierre finally tells Andrei about being a freemason even though he thinks Andrei would put it down. Andrei, on his part, is intimidated by Pierre’s intelligence. Andrei does no scoff at the freemasons, even though he is too proud to join them, the idealism seems to be just right to help him with his woes.

At Bald Hills Maria is receiving pilgrims against her father’s wishes. She views the pilgrims is ignorant, superstitious, and naïve but they are G-d’s people. She is afraid Pierre and her brother Andrei will make fun of the pilgrims. Both men try not to offend the pilgrims out of respect for Maria, but both manage to accidently offend them. Pierre starts addressing them with respect and Maria is grateful.

Nikolai is back in the army which he finds as a break from the complicated life of Russian society , relationships and family duties. Military life seems simple, everything is in place, orders prevent you from thinking too much and complexity is minimal. Out of the goodness of his heart Nikolai take scare of a poor Polish family, however when this is discovered everyone thing he has an interest their daughter which makes him furious.

Denisov’s men are starving so he commandeers a supply wagon and passes it out among them. When he is asked about it by a lowly bureaucrat he loses control. Knowing he is going to get a court martial, Denisov admits himself to a military hospital when receiving a minor wound.

When Nikolai visits Denisov at the military hospital, he first visits the ordinary soldiers and is shocked by the way they are being treated. The stench is unbearable and the dead are not removed when they pass. Denisov is in the o officers’ ward with Tushin who has lost an arm, yet remains with good spirits. While pretending not to care about the court martial, in private Denisov gives Nikolai a petition to the Tsar on that account.

Finally there is peace as Napoleon and Tsar Alexander are about to sign a treaty in Tilsit. While Boris is enjoying his closeness to power, Nikolai is disturbed by all the French soldiers. When Boris sees Nikolai he is not happy and can do nothing for Denisov.

But Nikolai doesn’t give up, he finds a general he knows, tells him Denisov’s story and asks him to petition the Tsar. Unfortunately for Denisov the Tsar refuses to help saying, out loud for all to hear, that he cannot be in the way of the law which is a higher power. This is part of the duplicity of the ceremony in which the Tsar and Napoleon exchange medals and sign the treaty. Napoleon awards the Legion d’Honneur to a Russian soldier which, for all intents and purposes, is selected at random.

The award of the medal doesn’t sit well with Nikolai who doesn’t understand how that soldier can be honored while Denisov is being put on trial. He questions the war, the fighting, the sacrifices, the agenda and ideology. All of the sudden, the criminal Napoleon is a great emperor so what was the point?

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