Thoughts on: War & Peace Book 4 — Part 1

March 4, 2013

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 4 — Part 1

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Once more Tolstoy shows his disdain for Russia’s upper class. Even with the invasion going on, the capital battered and people suffering Russia’s elite society still lives as if their gatherings are of utmost importance.

Tolstoy goes into Pierre’s state of mind after he his witnessed senseless executions. This time it’s  his soul and his faith are the ones that has been ripped apart and lost all meaning. Pierre loses his faith in G-d and humanity.

Platon Karatayev is introduced. He is a kind, good hearted and simple peasant who befriends his fellow prisoner Pierre. Even though Platon is of a lower class than Pierre, Tolstoy elevates him to be a better, wiser person. With his simple goodness Platon shows Pierre the wisdom of the lower classes as opposed to lectures from the upper class.

Tolstoy again employs some very philosophical measures by letter the reader interpret things for themselves. Again he uses the word “it” (or the “terrible it”) as he did in Book 2, Part 5.
What is that it?

That depends on the reader’s interpretation, it meant something to me but someone else might see “it” differently.

Hélène is ill and no one knows what it is. Sadly she dies and her death is attributed to angina, however the unofficial reason is a botched abortion.

Nikolai is sent to Voronezh to buy horses. As a young nobleman he is greeted warmly and even flirts with the wife of a local official. To his surprise, Nikolai finds out that Maria Bolkonsky is also in Voronezh, which he finds himself strangely attracted to but feels guilty because of his promise to Sonya. As news of Borodino come to Voronezh, Nikolai keeps Maria company as she worries about her brother. Nikolai says that they would have heard if Andrei has been killed.

Nikolai also spends time with the governor’s wife, who knows his mother. Since she is a sympathetic stranger, Nikolai takes the opportunity to unburden himself. The governor’s wife straighten out Nikolai’s predicaments, she says that one cannot be held to childhood promises.

As if by magic, Nikolai receives letters from his family including one from Sonya that frees him from his obligation to her. They also hear about Andrei who is wounded and is with the Rostovs in Yaroslavl.
Maria immediately sets off.

It turns out that Sonya’s letter was written as a response to repeated harassment from Countess Rostov. Sonya is used to self sacrifice and even though she is humiliated daily by the Rostovs she trusts Nikolai’s sense of honor. Sonya had written Nikolai the letter hoping that by setting him free of his promise, she will bring him closer to her.
She was right about Nikolai’s honor, wrong about his love for her.

Pierre, now a prisoner, refuses to answer any questions his captors ask him, including his name. Pierre’s stubbornness leads his captors to firmly believe that he is a criminal. Pierre suddenly sees Davoust, they recognize one another but Davoust attention is diverted.

Pierre is being taken out to the yard. The first two or tied to a post, blindfolded and shot. Pierre is horrified as the next two are dragged to the killing zone. The French are also sickened by the sight and Pierre is doubting his actions.

One more prisoner is taken, that makes five, Pierre is the sixth. The order has been to shoot five prisoners as a lesson to all the others. The fifth prisoner is a young man who is so scared he cannot walk and is dragged to be tied at the post.

As they are being led away, all the prisoners walk by the pit where the soldiers are dumping the dead bodies. Pierre thinks that the last body, that of the young man, is still alive but they are already shoveling earth on him.

Pierre meets Platon Karatayev, a good natured, simple, kind and a peasant. In many ways a much better man than Pierre himself. Platon shares his small meal of potatoes with Pierre and they both agree that the execution of the young man is a sin. Over the next few weeks, the two man become very close as Pierre grows to appreciate the wisdom and goodness of this simple man.

Maria gets to Yaroslav and as soon as she sees Natasha past history is forgotten and mourn together. However Natasha notices that Andrei is more distant then ever as well as distracted and distressed. Both Maria and Natasha do not react well to Andrei’s condition and it seems he doesn’t care about anything.

Andrei already feels half dead, he had time in solitary to think about love, life and divinity. He realizes how much he gave up for others sacrificing himself and that to love everyone is actually the same as to love no-one. Andrei thinks about a dream he had where he chatted with several people in a full room. He soon realized how trivial everything is and that people occupy themselves with the mundane. Andrei died in his dream, but is awakened refreshed as if he got a new lease on life.

However, Andrei still dies. Everyone cries for their own reasons. Little Nikolain, Andrei’s son is obviously very sad to have lost his father. The Old Count, Countess and Sony cry for Natasha but also because the Old Count is almost gone himself.

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More books by Leo Tolstoy

Zohar – Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free
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