Thoughts on: War & Peace: Book 2 – Part 3

June 30, 2012

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

Thoughts on: War & Peace: Book 2 – Part 3

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One of the elements which I really liked in this book is that Tolstoy allows the readers to perceive the character’s inner thoughts from their perception. While Tolstoy does employ symbolism in the book, he never flat out writes about it, but let the characters and the readers perceive the symbolism themselves. Andrei perceives the old oak tree as himself and to Natasha, and as far as we know only to Natasha, does the night appears charming. Andrei is not charmed by the night, but by Natasha’s response to it.

Again, Tolstoy proves that he can write comedy when he wants. Tolstoy especially likes to pick on arrogant and self righteous people. But from some reason, despite Tolstoy’s apparent distaste for them, they come out ahead.

Perception and dark comedy are mixed together when the story turns to Pierre and Hélène. People of high society, which Tolstoy likes as much as a hole in the head, now think Hélène is smart and witty, something the reader knows is not true – however that is the perception.

This book contains one of the most famous scenes in the literary world – Natasha’s first ball. Tolstoy does an amazing job entering the mind of a teenage girl. He gives her feelings the same weight and sensitivity as he does to the feelings of soldiers who are about to do battle. One can clearly see the significance of this art of storytelling, where the battles fought in suites and smiles are as vicious as they are with a uniform and a gun.

The unease which the Rostovs feel towards the Bolkonskys drips off the pages. I have no idea how Tolstoy managed to make me, some schmo from Jersey, feel uneasy about some Russian prince courting a Russian socialite – but there you have it.

Andrei is on his way to visit the Rostovs, on the way he sees an old, weathered oak and identifies with it, continuing on he sees a young girl which is full of life and spontaneous. The Count invites Andrei to spend the night, which he readily accepts. From his window, Andrei can hear the girl he saw earlier, Natasha, who is enamored by the moonlit night. Andrei feels his world weariness going away, being replaced by hope. On his way back, Andrei sees that same old oak tree sprouting new leaves.

At this point in the story, Andrei decides to come out of his exile, which is self imposed, and enter into public life. Andrei created a new military code of behavior which he thinks that now, during this time of reform, is the time to introduce it. After a bad experience with Aleksey Arakcheyev (a historical figure known for reforms of the artillery under the Tsar) Andrei becomes a friends with Mikhail Speransky (close adviser to the Tsar and one of the great Russian reformers).

After setting free the serfs on his estate, an achievement which even Pierre has not realized, Andrei is considered a dangerous liberal.
The story moves to Pierre, who is unhappy and lonely, strives for self improvement and coming to terms with his own, perceived faults. Pierre thinks he made a mistake bringing Boris to the Freemasons. Pierre feels that Boris lacks the commitment to the group and will use freemasonry as a bouncing board in his career and social status.

Vera, the Rostovs’s oldest daughter, gets married to Berg who is an arrogant and superficial man. In a very funny scene, Berg manages to extract a dowry from Count Rostov. Berg is exactly what Pierre isn’t, he does not question or thinks too much. Berg’s family is happy with the social status they have achieved through the marriage.

Hélène reconciles with Pierre, they now live under the same roof but not as a couple. Hélène is the hostess with the most-est, her parties are attended by high society and have glitz and glamour. Hélène, which we know is not the brightest snowflake to grace Russia, is suddenly famous for her wit and intellect. The tables have turned, people wonder how the boorish Pierre ended up with the witty Hélène.
Pierre on the other hand is humiliated and miserable. He knows Hélène has affairs behind his back, but the straw that breaks the camel’s back is when he gets awarded a special position in the royal court. Pierre knows that Hélène’s affair with the prince is related to his award and feels disgraced.

Boris, who is no longer sleeping with Hélène, falls under the spell of Natasha. However, Natasha can not help Boris with his career, so marriage is out, but he cannot resist her. Boris goes to visit the Rostovs often and only after the Countess speaks to him does he stop.
At this point we come to Natasha’s first ball, one of the most famous scenes in this most famous book. The hopes and fears of this teenager are given as much importance as those of soldiers going into battle. Pierre suggests that Natasha dances with Prince Andrei who looks down on the Rostovs.

After the ball Andrei is suddenly a regular visitor of the Rostovs who are apprehensive about the match. They do know that Andrei and Natasha are a wonderful match and eventually accept, without joy one might add, Andrei’s formal proposal.

The Rostovs aren’t the only ones who are unease at the match. Old Prince Bolkonsky, Andrei’s father, doesn’t understand why all this craziness couldn’t wait until after he dies, after all he doesn’t have that many days left (so he thinks). The Old Prince doesn’t understand what Natasha has that his son feels so enamored by and that he is making the same mistakes he did with Lise. However, he sees Andrei very happy, almost as if he is a new person.

The Old Prince suggests to delay the wedding for a year which Andrei travels around Europe. The Rostovs aren’t happy with this suggestion and neither is Andrei, but they both know that ignoring this “suggestion” would cause much damage to family relations.
Andrei insists that the engagement remain private and gives Natasha complete freedom in changing her mind, even though he feels he is already bound. It seems everyone knows of the engagement except Andrei’s sister, Maria. When rumors in high society start floating around, Maria obviously feels they are wrong as her brother would never marry someone like Natasha. Later, Andrei tells Maria of his engagement via a letter. The official reason he didn’t tell her right away is because he didn’t want Maria to intercede on behalf of the Old Prince. However, one gets the sense that Andrei might be ashamed of his betrothal to a … gasp… Rostov.

Zohar – Man of la Book

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  • SueJuly 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I am reading these backwards. I have (I am sure you’ve heard this before) started War and Peace, multiple times.

    • Zohar - Man of la BookJuly 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

      What do you mean “reading these backwards”

      This is my first attempt at War and Peace, you have to take your time with it and understand the context before you start (Russian high society, etc.).

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