"Every bullet has its billet" according to Denisov though shouldn't that really be "evewy" and we can only be gwateful he didn't have to talk about wifles or cawtwidges.
So which battle was that then?
Or was it just a minor skirmish unworthy of a name?
I've read as far as Chapter 21 and the end of Part Two and feel quite please to have survived the first battle. I suppose it could have been much worse, in fact doubtless it will be before we're done, and at least Count Nikolai Rostov seems to have survived that contretemps with the enemy.
Poor Nikolai, fired with courage and then splat in the mud.
How did you all get on in the heat of strife?
I tried to keep you all in my sights but I think we may have been flung asunder once that flanking thing happened.
I'll admit to getting a little tangled in battle strategy whilst trying to keep sight of old friends and meet a few new ones and couldn't help but think here was Tolstoy telling like it was, as he may have witnessed it first hand in the Crimean War.
I thought this section did get off to a great start with the episode of the 'Wrong Coats' and the smart regiment that was actually required to look dishevelled, which had me lulled into a false sense of perhaps more Tolstoy humour to come, when in fact he quickly knuckled down to the serious business of war to balance the peace we had been enjoying. But he does thread in the humour, unless that is we're not supposed to laugh at speech defects and the widiculous ministwations and declawations of Vaska Denisov, witness to Nikolai's fears,
'At that instant the sun began to hide behind the clouds, and other stretchers came in view before Rostov. And the fear of death and of the stretchers, and love of the sun and of life, all merged into one feeling of sickening agitation....
'Well, fweind? So you've smelt powdah?...'
I was mindful of all those plaudits heaped on Tolstoy for War and Peace, including his ability to hover over the action one minute whilst quickly swooping into the minds of his characters the next, and without missing a beat, and that much became evident as I read. It is also well known that Tolstoy wanted to somehow convey the lived truth about history rather than some distorted fictional fabrication sanitised by the academics, and his methods for achieving this are already becoming clear.
Orlando Figes (in his afterword to the Penguin-Briggs edition) flags up the way that history creates that distortion, with battle outcomes attributed to commanders rather than 'the random acts of the rank and file' and Tolstoy is clearly countering that approach with episodes various in this section. I'm thinking in particular about the bravery of Tushin and his men and Dolokhov's insistence that he is recognised and remembered for his bravery when all seemed lost.
Prince Andrei is a quickly changed man it would seem,
'Though not much time had passed since Prince Andrei left Russia, he had changed greatly during that period. In the expression of his face, in his walk, scarcely a trace was left of his former affected langour and indolence. He now looked like a man who has no time to think of the impression he makes on others, but is occupied with agreeable and interesting work...'
I felt for Andrei's excitement at sharing the news of the battle, swiftly followed by his crestfallen mood when it was received with that less than immediate sense of gladness he had anticipated.
So I'm feeling 'in' the loop, involved, interested and immersed in the book already, sticking with my 'read in one chunk' approach if I possibly can, which has thus far involved two afternoons in front of a very welcome fire.
I'm still reading the Maude's translation and occasionally comparing it with the Briggs which is the only other one I have, but I was also intrigued enough to look up some background to Aylmer and Louise Maude.To my surprise I discover they were both born in the 1850s and lived into the 1930s and knew Tolstoy as a friend and correspondent, and something else is becoming clear too.
I'm reading Russian-born Irene Nemirovksy again at the moment and had never quite understood what critics meant when they said of Suite Francaise, that she would have been the 'next Tolstoy'.
Now I see it.
With her ability to hover above the theatre of conflict whilst descending into the minds of her characters at will, and perhaps dare I say it... Irene even a little more astute for writing whilst in the very midst of the turmoil, without the advantage of historical perspective, nor the time and space to reflect on events or know of eventual outcomes, and all whilst feeling so seriously compromised by such a life-threatening situation.
And something also chimes in the way that Irene wrote by hand, all to be so diligently transcribed by her daughter so many years later,
because I'm also still feeling the love for poor Sonia handwriting War and Peace seven times from this...
Perhaps someone can tell me... are we in effect reading a Leo-Sonia joint effort?
Or is it a naive and heinous crime to even suggest such a thing?
Because I can't believe she didn't reconstruct the odd sentence here and there with a quick *tsk* about his spilt infinitives or something, or even added or subtracted a bit here and there... too much gore Leo...let's have a bit more emotion here.
Have translators gone back to Tolstoy's original manuscripts?
So that's enough from me, over to you Team Tolstoy, and I'm really excited to hear what you are making of War & Peace so far. I expect you will all have noticed much more than I have so I'll get the samovar hissing while you jot down your thoughts and I'll go and see if the Pelmeni are ready, yes we're having Siberian dumplings today.
For December 9th 2010 :: Book One - Part Three