Здравствуйте and all hail Team Tolstoy Рад тебя видеть and it was with a renewed and invigorated enthusiasm that I opened War and Peace this month. The Trouble With Tolstoy proved to be just the thing, a real half-way tonic because with 1812 looming large and 250 pages of the Battle of Borodino still to negotiate I was feeling in need of something warm and sustaining to see me through. My bookmark with lists of important characters was much in evidence this month too, and if anyone missed this little aide memoire you can download it as a file here and print one off.
So this is the supposed science of war, or is it the art of war and who knew there was even a difference, I certainly didn't until I read on as Tolstoy scrapes away layer upon layer of brash arrogance, exposing the conflict within a conflict, and the folly, chaos and uncertainty of how to prosecute the war. What a mess the Russians seem to have fallen into and pride, arrogance and misunderstanding splitting them asunder. The war-mongers who are fed up with sticking pins in maps and just want to go out and thrash the living daylights out of anything that gets in their way, then the theorists, the pacifists, the moneymakers all come under Tolstoy's microscope for their vanities to be examined.
And suddenly I realised exactly what Tolstoy had wanted me to understand, namely how misguided and pointless and futile all this was.
And here's the lad, Napoleon in his doeskin breeches, just 5ft 6" tall, one lock of hair curling down his forehead and portrayed as quite the ridiculous man by Tolstoy, dumpy fat little legs, small hands, prone to tantrums, behaving like a toddler and wielding the consummate power that a toddler can when given free rein to do so. And forgive me for saying it all Bonapartists out there, but there is something childlike in his stance in this painting, little Napoleon does look as if he's off to playgroup doesn't he. That's me holed up in the Bastille next time I set foot in France.
Meanwhile the Russians in utter chaos, everyone speaking in a different language not only literally but strategically too as Tolstoy sets the war in the context of the times, and that converging constellation of causes that set this collison course in motion. One tilt of one aspect in a different direction and all would have been different but it was not to be....the Battle of Borodino is almost upon us.
Some pricelessly droll and humorous moments too. All the tip toeing around the Tsar's ego and how to remove him from any say in the running of the armed services and compromising situations on the field of battle without offending the leader of the country yet a man who was hardly an organised military strategist...
'A meeting had been convened in the old drawing room at the Tsar's behest, not a council of war - the Tsar liked to keep things vague - just a few people he considered worth consulting over their imminent difficulties.
Or what about Tolstoy's blisteringly honest assessment of the other nations...
'...only a German could be self-assured on basis of an abstract idea..'
'A Frenchman is self-assured because he sees himself as devastatingly charming, mentally and physically, to men and women alike.'
and perhaps saving his most scathing for the English...
'An Englishman is self-assured on the grounds that he is a citizen of the best-organised state in the world, and also because as an Englishman he always knows the right thing to do and everything he does, because he is an Englishman, must be right.'
On which subject please forgive a quick diversion. I have been reading Volume Two of Tolstoy's letters since watching The Trouble With Tolstoy in order to follow up more about his strange and extraordinarily powerful friendship with Vladimir Chertkov and the fate of the Dukhobors, the religious sect that Tolstoy helped to emigrate to Canada. They make for very engrossing reading and to my complete surprise, having known that Chertkov was sentenced to administrative exile for ten years, I was fairly sent to the foot of our stairs myself when I discovered where he was exiled to.... go on guess...in fact I'll make it a multiple choice question
- Croydon, S.London
Well Croydon of course and swiftly followed by Essex, many would say punishment enough (but not by me having been to both and each seemed fine) but despite his concerns that Chertkov might be corrupted by 'that astonishing, self-satisfied English dullness..' even Tolstoy yearned for dear old England in the correspondence.
'...in my desultory dreams I journey to England and live in Essex with all my friends and cultivate my kitchen garden.'
Sorry, back to the book and more glimpses of Natasha, physically and spiritually fragile and in torment and Pierre's inner life seemingly on course to converge ...are these two planets destined to align??
Younger brother Petya about to enlist... is that going to end in tears??
Poor Marya, still in the grip of the tyranical Prince Bolkonsky, and Andrei, where's Andrei, I've almost forgotten, is he back in the thick of the military??
And what about Rostov's moment when he looks into the eyes of the enemy and realises this is a man like himself ??
Such an enjoyable Team Tolstoy reading month for me, I hope it has been for you too.
Next month :: Volume III Part 2 Chapters 1-39 (about 150 pages)