Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Volume I: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I'm toddling my way through Tolstoy's tome, War and Peace (Penguin, 2005; FP: 1869; 1392). If I complete it, which I will, it'll be the longest book I've read. Because this book, and another, are perhaps going to be the only two books I'll read this month, I will have to update my reading progress to create blog content.

Reading at a rate of at least 50 pages a day, it took me some five days (from March 2 to March 6) to complete Volume I of the four-volumed work (at a staggering 1392 pages and small font). This 313-page volume introduces the reader to the Bolkonskys - Prince Nikolay Bolkonsky, the father; Prince Andrey, the son married to little princess Liza, and Princess Marya, the daughter; the Rostovs - Natasha, the daughter; Nikolay, the son; Petya, the younger son, Vera, the eldest daughter; the Kuragins - the scheming Prince Vasily Kuragin who, unable to outwit Pierre (later Count Bezukhov of his inheritance), married his daughter, Helene, to him and was about to marry his son, the troublesome Anatole to Princess Marya because of Prince Nikolay Bolkonsky's riches but he failed. There was also the scheming Anna Mikhaylovna and his son Boris.

Pierre's father is wealthy and Pierre is his illegitimate son. However, old Count Bezukhov dotes on his son. He has sent him to Moscow to decide on what he wants to be but Pierre, weak in will (though a giant of a man) fell into friendship with the enigmatic Dolokhov and Anatole. Boozing and gambling became their game and a prank on a police officer - tying him to the back of a bear - saw the three separated: Anatole was sent to the military, Dolokhov was reduced in rank and Pierre was banned from Moscow. Not only that; this behaviour of his exacerbated his father's health leading to his death. On his death, both family and non-family members began scheming on how to inherit Count Bezukhov's wealth. Prince Vasily Kuragin's wife is the daughter of Count Bezukhov, Anna Mikhaylovna claims the Count was his son's godfather and therefore was fighting for Pierre.

The only one who seems oblivious of all he scheming going on Pierre himself. In fact, all through the Volume I, he was almost an imbecile. His marriage was forced upon him, his wealth was fought for him (by Anna), and even (eventually) his career was imposed upon him (by Prince Vasily).

After inheriting such wealth from his father - making him one of the wealthiest man in Russia - Pierre's, or Count Bezukhov's, position in society was given a huge boost. Suddenly, even Anna Pavlovna, a woman whose parties seem to be the meeting point for Russia's who's who, now appreciates everything Pierre says. The bootlickers are on the prowl seeking to benefit from Pierre's youthfulness, innocence, ignorance and his I-don't-care attitude. Money was the least of all the things he thought about, even when he had not become wealthy and was dependent on his father. This, coupled with the fact that he wanted people to be happy, led to people surrounding him and milking him at every turn. 

In addition to the scheming life of the socialites, with their arranged and wealth-induced marriages, is the war between the allied forces of Russia, Austria, and Germany against Napoleon's forces. However, Napoleon has entered Russia. Now even the Tsar - Alexander - is scared and presumed wounded. Boris, Nikolay Rostov and Prince Andrey are all eager to achieve something for themselves. But by the end of Volume I, the Russian soldiers, led by Kutuzov, have retreated from the battle at Austerlitz and Prince Andrey - who has left his pregnant wife with his father - has been captured by the French. Rostov is dejected, seeing the defeated troops and knowing that the battle was lost.

From all indications, Tolstoy associates himself with the Russians by his use of the first person possessive plural pronoun 'our' at certain places. Tolstoy examines the thoughts and aspirations of his numerous characters. Though the book is a tome, though some consider it a novella when compared to the longest novels ever written, it reads fast. The war descriptions are lucid.
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4 comments:

  1. So glad you found a copy of War and Peace for yourself, Nana, and that you're looking forward to the rest of the book. I think the best parts of the novel are still ahead of you in that the upheaval to the major characters caused by the war with Napoleon inspires some of Tolstoy's most vivid, yet analytical writing about "the human condition."

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    1. Yes... and I'm there now. He's a great writer.

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  2. War and Peace is a great epic novel! As the Russian, I can asure you that "ours" word usage is totally essential for people at the time (19th century). Leo Tolstoy introduced a real encyclopedia of Russians and Russian livelihood in contrast to the whole world (in the book it is refered to Frenchmen and Napoleon, but deeper meaning of the book speaks of the wider scales).

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    1. Thanks Maria for this further expatiation of the novel; especially the use of the Frenchmen and Napoleon to represent the other world. Yes, the book is an ecyclopaedia of Russians and their livelihoods. It's really a treasure tome.

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