здравствулте! и как вы Team Tolstoy, and can it really be that we have survived yet another battle having barely had time to regroup after the last one?
I must admit I wasn't expecting that quite so immediately, no sooner settled in the drawing room than off to fight at...was that the infamous Battle of Austerlitz?
Here in the UK and down here in Devon, we've had the most perfect weather for reading War and Peace, not a lot of snow for us but the most magical Narnia-like scenes with day-long hoar frosts that edge every single leaf in ice. The hedgerows looking like a glorious confection but with a heaviness to the cold and a murky mist that made walking along the lane feel quite oppressive, so I settled down and read this month's W&P ration in an afternoon (inclusive of nap) huddled next to the woodburner yet again, and perhaps came some way to knowing a fraction of how cold the real place must have been.
So Pierre, seemingly ill-versed in the ways of the world is to be fleeced of his fortune, and what a spectacle that proved to be, enough to have me groaning as I read. Suddenly he is the most popular man about town, and how unaware the gullible and trusting Pierre seemed to be of his appeal as he is naively bounced into marriage with the beautiful but apparently empty-headed Helene. Poor Marya meanwhile (who I can't help but love) is not coping at all well with the mating game and plumps for fidelity to her family and her father rather than betrothal to Prince Anatole ... wise decision Marya, wise decision. I felt desperately sorry for her though, so out of place in that world of glamour and I definitely wanted to whisper in her ear...don't trust that duplicitous Bourienne woman whatever you do.
I think I'm gradually extracting a real sense of the virtues, or lack of them, attached to these various families...the Bolkonskys seem to verge on the eccentric but with true and sincere hearts beating in there, whilst if you found yourself married into the Kuragins, as is poor naive Pierre, you'd have to be concerned. The Rostovs on the other hand seem like all round cheery good eggs.
This battle, whilst still confusing, did seem to have its emphasis slightly less on complex flanking strategy and much more on character revelation. Basically I understood that the Russians rather complacently had marked Napoleon down as "over there" when in fact he was "BEHIND YOU", or at least not where he was expected as in on the doorstep ready to pounce, and the Russians took a trouncing.
I happened to read all that just after the UK had taken a bit of a trouncing from the Russians with the doomed 2018 World Cup bid.
Had we been a mite complacent about our chances?
Did we get our come uppance?
Did we as a nation slink off to lick our wounds?
Yes to all of those.
That little and seemingly minor national defeat, and inflicted by a nation we'd quite like to stand tall against at every opportunity, gave me the tiniest sense of how the Russians might have felt after Austerlitz. Obviously no one died in the World Cup debacle so it was only the tiniest comparable feeling of national humiliation in the face of overweening hubris, but it was enough.
What a contrast between the leaders, Napoleon expressionless and imperious as he surveyed the bungling Russian army from his superior hilltop position, the handsome and revered Tsar Alexander a dejected, broken and defeated man. Then of course we took a few hits on the field and I'm as concerned as the next person about Andrei, but what a magnificent moment as he lies injured on and gazes at the sky. Our boy is learning some harsh lessons
'Everything seemed so futile and insignificant in comparison with the stern and solemn train of thought that weakness from loss of blood, suffering and the nearness of death, aroused in him. Looking into Napoleon's eyes Prince Andrei thought of the insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and still greater importance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.'
And I now have rather a ridiculous question about cannonballs... were they full of something like gunpowder that exploded on impact, or just great big round heavy lumps of something and it was your bad luck if you happened to be standing in the path of one when it landed?
Whatever they seem to do an awful lot of damage...
'Suddenly a cannon-ball hissed so low above the crowd that everyone ducked. It flopped into something moist, and the general fell from his horse in a pool of blood.'
So Team Tolstoy I think you can see I'm really enjoying this a great deal but it's over to you for the more intelligent and serious analysis, and do excuse me because my aseptic technique is required in the field hospital... yes, yes I know, that's Flo and it's the wrong war.
Next month's reading, if you're keeping to the schedule, is a slightly bigger chunk :: Book Two Parts 1 & 2 (about 120 pages in my edition) and the troika stops back here on January 9th 2011 to discuss.