'And there in the middle, high above Prechistensky Boulevard, amidst a scattering of stars on every side but catching the eye through its closeness to the earth, its pure white light and the long uplift of its tail, shone the comet, the huge brilliant comet of 1812, that popular harbinger of untold horrors and the end of the world.'
More about Pierre and the magical sleigh ride in a moment, but first an opening quote from this months's section seems a bit nearer the mark
'...our sense of morality will not allow us to be both idle and at ease. Whenever we are idle a secret voice keeps telling us to feel guilty.'
Not that I have that exact problem, I've hardly been idle as such, but where on earth did February go Team Tolstoy?
The reading has been to the wire this month, made it by the thickness of the ice on the runners and it would seem as usual the only way to really settle down properly with War and Peace, no matter how reluctant I may feel, is to light the fire, see the flames flickering and the sofa beckoning... so that was Sunday afternoon sorted and please think of me sweltering here through the summer months won't you.
Reluctance and procrastination a combination of recent bookish events combined with the fact that I have three really excellent books in progress which I couldn't bear to be parted from, plus the lingering sense that I hadn't been over-enamoured with last month's War and Peace section. I had felt a little lack lustre and unenthused by Pierre's existential meanderings, though of course you all convinced me otherwise in comments, which is one of the real bonuses of all this. To make things a little gentler on myself this month I also swapped to the more 'modern' Anthony Briggs translation, because I do think is an 'easier' read than my beloved Maudes, which is after all contemporaneous to Tolstoy's era, so whilst doubtless being closer to the original it does have complexities of it's own.
So for anyone who may have dropped off the troika my sympathies, because I can see how easily it happens and had I not had to be here today with 'something' I might just have dropped off too. But I can also say that if you think you'd like to get back on board but feel you've missed a stop or two, it's not too late and this last month's read would be a great place to rejoin because it has been riveting stuff. Just gen up on what's gone before ... Pierre and Helene are back together, Natasha and Andrei are engaged but he has delayed the nuptials for a year and gone off to do a bit of sight seeing around Europe in the wake of Count Bolkonsky's disapprobation, whilst poor Natasha, bored out of her skull, must sit and wait chastely and patiently for his return. You could then pick up at Volume 2 Part IV (round about p530 ish) and catch up with yet another fabulous month's reading because did you notice I said 'poor Natasha' ?
My sympathies for Natasha have turned as I felt sure they would and perhaps this month I really do feel completely immersed and know there will now be no turning back, because I actually do want to know what happens next, and may not be able to wait until the eve of the next 9th of the month looms in order to find out. I am now deeply moved by the whole Natasha situation and with her mother's words ringing in my ears which of course I now can't find... but along the lines that she needs to live life so much to the full that she may never be happy with the lot that is hers in nineteenth century Russia.
And of course this section contains Natasha's iconic dance from which much meaning has been extrapolated about the instinctive nature of Russian culture, and one which Orlando Figes explores in his book Natasha's Dance A Cultural History of Russia
'Are we to suppose, as Tolstoy asks us to in this romantic scene, that a nation such as Russia may be held together by the unseen threads of a native sensibility?'
So much to talk about this month and here are a few starters for ten
- The hunting of the wolf... so what did we all make of that? I'm quite used to what the Gamekeeper calls ' a question of balance' when he wants to warn me that there is a dispatched deer out on the verandah, but I was a mess of complete sentiment and sadness over the fate of Tolstoy's wolf, and that fact it hadn't been killed fairly and squarely but was suffering.
- The 'unhappy Rostov household'...oh dear, with all the resident hangers-on... what a heap big mess seemed to be piling up here and for a family for whom everything had seemed so right and perfect in the beginning, now it's all going decidedly pear-shaped.
- Pierre is now back on the scene and yet another side to his character develops and I'm liking him again.
- Maria is still having a miserable time of it isn't she, no change there then.
- And poor Natasha, her plight emphasising the restricted lives led by the women, and for a free spirit like her it was always going to end in tears...who let that wretch Anatole in the back door?
Moments I loved...
- The hunt supper, the food, the dancing and the balaliakas teemed with an atmosphere.
- Fashion - sleeves are out according to Anna Mikhaylovna and thus Princess Irina looking as if she'd put two barrels on her arms.
- The Mummers at Christmas and the sledge race.
- Pierre's sleigh ride ... oh that was magical, I was there.
Moments I loved slightly less...
- That the happiest moment of Nikolai's life was the sight of that wolf's head gasping in terror.
- The Rostov family's treatment of Sonia now that she and Nikolai are in love... in light of the wolf episode I'd be worried about him if I were her.
- That a woman needs to be married pronto because her looks have all but gone by twenty seven.
Things I have learned that I didn't know before....
- A knout, as in 'the deserter died under the knout' I discover is a particularly vicious weapon of punishment involving a rawhide lash with rings and knots.
- Boston is a card game of some complexity played everywhere but Britain, where we can obviously only cope with Rummy.
- Ecossaise is, as I expected, a Scottish-style dance.
- Bout rimes, all the rage at the Karagin's, are lists of words that rhyme with one another, drawn up by another hand, and given to a poet, who has to then create a poem to the rhymes in the same order that they were placed upon the list.
And while you are all having a think here's a nice Borzoi to stroke ... Nikolai's hunting dog, and this pedigree one probably far removed from Nikolai's mangy, flea-ridden native original, but a sort of a lurcher - border collie cross by the looks of it. A comparison that will probably send shudders down the spine of any Crufts judges reading...sorry.
Now over to you and for anyone on the reading schedule -
Next month :: Volume III Part 1 Chs 1 - 23 (about 100 pages beginning ' The latter part of 1811 saw a new build-up in the concentration and arming of troops in Western Europe.)