To study the laws of history we must completely change the subject of our observation, must leave aside kings, ministers and generals and study the common, infinitesimally small elements by which the masses are moved.'
Bingo, and what an opening chapter to this month's War and Peace Team Tolstoy schedule.
I've had to stop and do a double check though, can it really be stop eight? And by my reckoning we really are on the home run now, past the 1000 page mark and with just over 300 to go, not that I'm counting or anything. I'm not sure how many of us are left on the troika but I hope we have a few cheering from the sidelines who will be there to see us across the finishing line on September 9th? It could be time to start thinking about who's going to man the samovars and bake the blinis.
But what another astonishing month's reading this has been and I know I don't feel that every month. There's a rhythm to War and Peace that seems to become evident in the way that I/we are reading it if you are a schedule reader. After a rather tough month I might have been momentarily tempted to throw in the towel altogether, but after this instalment I've had to stop myself galloping on.
The first few chapters fair took my breath away this month, and as I re-read them for the third time I began to wonder whether I might just get stuck at first base admiring the narrative scenery as Tolstoy expounded his theories on history. It felt like that old chestnut of having little or no idea of what the ordinary people of 1812 might have been thinking. Or perhaps what reason lay behind their actions, but how skillfully Tolstoy depicts that and there were moments when I too was packing to leave Moscow.
I loved the brief but very clever chapter wherin Tolstoy worked his bee analogy. Moscow as the deserted hive, a few desultory bees sticking around out of habit or duty.
So Borodino has been a bit of a disaster for the Russians, Napoloeon is marching on Moscow and Tolstoy sees exactly what the dilemma is
'The general always finds himself in the midst of events as they unfold, which means he is never at any moment in a position to contemplate the significance of what is taking place..
Kutuzov eventually makes the decision not to fight for Moscow but rather to abandon the city to its fate, knowing that his troops will lose any battle for the city, and those descriptions of the conferences with the generals are so detailed that I recognised this the minute I saw the picture, complete with the young girl watching from the top of the stove
And yet Kutuzov seems to emerge with honour. He is a listening man and one who is prepared to take the responsibility for his decisions whilst unknowingly for him it is Napoleoen's total humiliation that comes a step nearer. There is no Russian delegation waiting to hand over the keys and, as Napoleon's soldiers enter the deserted city as conquerors, it was like watching something unfold in slow motion...because of course an army dispersed is no longer an army. The French troops emerge five weeks later as the looting rabble that they have become and in no fit state to fight with their cart-loads of rich pickings. And didn't you just love and then loath Count Rostopchin, the duplicitous Governor General of Moscow, caught with his pants well down having quite thought the city would be defended to the death by 'someone', though preferably not him. Rostopchin's scapegoating of Vereshchagin a despicable act and couldn't you just sense the scorn that Tolstoy was raining down on him.
And so much else happening too...
'A trick that is easy once you know how to do it. Legend has it that Columbus, riled by the charge that anyone could have discovered America, once asked the company how to make an egg stand on end. When nobody could do it he tapped one end of an egg against the table and stood it up, showing how easy things can be once a pioneer has led the way.'
Personally I'd have told Columbus that wasn't cricket, in fact more like cheating but never mind, Helene's not above a bit of cheating either in her plan to marry either this one or that one whilst ignoring the fact that she is still Mrs Pierre....and I've been waiting for some reference to an egg to come along just so that we can have a nice Faberge one to keep us amused.
Talking of Pierre I'm worried for him as always, such a delicate fragile soul and now seems to have post-traumatic stress disorder to add to the list after his unfortunate entrapment at the centre of the Battle of Borodino. Interesting that something we've now given a definitive diagnosis was equally evident to Tolstoy. The assassination of Napoleon was never going to happen but I sense that Pierre may find his burden of guilt lightened and assuaged a little by a spell of punishment and prison... I'm never quite sure what Pierre feels guilty about though.
Is it his inability to be part of the action? Or is it his unasked for wealth, or his failed marriage or his love of Natasha? Or just life itself ?
Then there's Natasha, initially oddly hyperactive about events before taking charge of the family's departure from Moscow and ensuring that the wounded soldiers can leave with them, and despite the long arm of coincidence that placed the wounded Prince Andrei on the same wagon train, I have to say that my heart was in my mouth waiting to know whether Natasha would find out or not.
What followed was deeply moving and am I right.. Prince Andrei's not dead yet?
So over to you, I am eager to hear your thoughts as always because I suspect we all home in on very different things...me, I'm sorry but I'm still very worried for Andrei's intestines.
Next Month :: Volume IV Part 1 Chapters 1-16...Meanwhile in Petersburg a complex struggle..
Part 2 Chapters 1-19 (approx 100 pages)