Monthly Archives: February 2016

53% done with War and Peace


This is a fun chapter. Lavrushka, who is a bit of a scoundrel, acts the way Tolstoy believes anyone should act around a king: without caring a whip about how “important” the man is, but still humoring him. It’s funny because Lavrushka does “everything in a mean and cunning way”, yet he’s the first real Russian Napoleon meets. The Russians are coarse and un-European, and are unlike anything Napoleon has seen

53% done with War and Peace


Who is this “man of great merit”? He’s just another up-and-comer who has a lot to learn about that sort of life. And we see how dangerous these people are, how they say one thing one day and another the next. They are all vile.

Kutuzov is a great scapegoat if it all goes to hell. Right man at the right time.

I love how this choice links back to the letter Bagration wrote in the previous chapter.

52% done with War and Peace


When Andrei sees all the men in the “dirty pond” I get the impression that he just sees all these people as impersonal fodder. He feels so betrayed by life that he just can’t make the connection to human beings any more. All men are just bodies to him. Even with Alpatych, whom he knew, and who cries and grabs his legs, he just rides away. No emotion at all. He’s a shell of a man whose trying not to show it

52% done with War and Peace


This has always been one of my favorite chapters, though I don’t think I would ever be able to explain why. Maybe it’s because we get different character to ride with, Alpatych, but we also get to see war the way most people see it, as civilians caught in the cross-hairs of the enemy.

The falling of the roof is beautiful; represents Bald Hills and the old Prince’s mind.

All of war is senseless.

52% done with War and Peace


(mid-chapter update)

The scene where Alpatych sees the field of oats being mowed down for fodder by the troops is a clear sing that the enemy is far too near, but then we have a Remains of the Day moment where Alpatych never lets his mind wander beyond that of his master’s needs. He is the perfect servant (except for the bells he likes) but he represents the blind following without thinking or living free.

52% done with War and Peace


I always get the image of an old dog trying to find somewhere to go hide so it can die when I read this chapter when the old Prince keeps sleeping in a different part of the house every night.

I love the one brief moment into his most private thoughts when he recalls a memory from his youth, also at war. The brightly colored tent, his face clear of wrinkles, his mind hot and full of life. So sad.

51% done with War and Peace


Smartly, Tolstoy knows he can’t go into so much detail that shows the state of confusion the Army is in – too many people, too many new characters. So instead he just tells about it then shows us the confusion of the old Prince. Here we see a great mind gone feeble, a house divided, and it stands in for all of Russia.

It’s been said the novel is SO long, but it’s not one word too long or too short.

Except for the second epilogue; that should have tossed in the bin.

51% done with War and Peace

Book 10


We get another glimpse at Tolstoy’s “THEME” as he spends the whole chapter telling us how history really works, how all men are at the mercy of every other man and circumstance, that man has no real control over anything beyond his nose, and that everyone is always acting to events they don’t have a lot of control over. I don’t necessarily disagree with him, but these parts are dull and “teachy”.

51% done with War and Peace


80 years later another man will whip up the fervor of a nation and lead them, madly, into war. Hitler was nothing new, and though I am not comparing Hitler with the Emperor Alexander, the feeling among the people was similar in their nationalistic zeal, the desire to outdo each other with promises of assistance to the point of “feeling amazed themselves at what they had done.”

Times never change.

51% done with War and Peace


Obviously Pierre is not cut out for making speeches and influencing society through oratory and politics. Just like at Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s, he’s not taken very seriously. And even Pierre, though not as quickly as Petya, gets caught up in the nonsense and rhetoric. Nobody is immune from politics.

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I love how Petya doesn’t actually know what the Emperor looks like, but he shouts “Hurrah!” regardless. He even wants to serve in the Army for a man who he wouldn’t even recognize.

Him being crushed by the crowd foreshadows his inevitable fate and the danger of what he wants to undertake.

There is something very Roman Empire (the bad Emperors) about the Emperor tossing biscuits to the masses below.

50% done with War and Peace


How many loves that almost were never were because of war? Not only does the soldier die, but everyone at home dies a little, too and the world is poorer for having fewer bright young people in it. Imagine of Tolstoy had been killed in Crimea? What if Alain-Fournier had not been killed in France?

The war separates Pierre from Natasha emotionally but it’s also an excuse because they are afraid.

50% done with War and Peace


Come to think of it I think a lot of the kids of those 80’s parents grew up to be the anti-vaccination parents of this generation. And that’s an even more dangerous quackery that will do a billion times more (and actual) damage to the fabric of our society than just a handful of those old frightened hens thinking Satan is spooking around their kid’s record player.

Satan is a fool spreading ignorance.

50% done with War and Peace


This chapter reminds me of the 1980’s when those silly moms were trying to sue heavy metal bands for satanic influences on their kids. They tried every which-way to twist around song lyrics and images to fit their perceived notion of Satan and an immoral society. And it was all quackery, and it was nothing new. Fools will always be fooled by their own foolery because they want to be fooled.

50% done with War and Peace


This is one of those moments when the author gets into a conflict with established religion. He sets us up with Natasha praying earnestly for everyone, including her enemies, but ends with the priest, reading the approved church prayer to kill the invading enemy. And while the church couches the plea in terms of a holy battle against the wicked, she and us know morally it is wrong to wish death on anyone.

50% done with War and Peace


Whereas Nicholas does not find what he wants in doing something he loves, Natasha finds something she wants she didn’t knew existed for her and it brings her joy. Tolstoy is showing us that to kill and make war is a terrible thing that can only bring grief to all the those warriors, but to be humble, to ask for forgiveness for “everything, everything” is where true joy awaits us. And so she revives.

49% done with War and Peace


” …that is why there are, and always will be, pseudo-healers, wise women, homeopaths, and allopaths”. Homeopaths are not a new idea, these quacks have been around since the beginning of time, it’s only more recently we see how dangerous they are.

Tolstoy is basically telling us that you can’t cure a broken heart and spirit. No medicine but time can heal those wounds enough.

49% done with War and Peace


Earlier Nicholas had run from the French during a battle, he ran because he was afraid and because he wondered why would anyone want to kill him. Now the tables were turned, and the Frenchmen with blue eyes and dimple felt that way. But nobody knows what you’re feeling inside and so they rewarded him even though he hesitated to strike the Frenchmen. Now that he got what he wanted, he didn’t like it.

49% done with War and Peace


In Full Metal Jacket one of the characters says of Animal Mother that he’ll be ok after the war s long as there was someone to always be throwing grenades at him. This sums up the kind of person who thrives in war but struggles everywhere else. And it’s a shame to be good at war, to be good at killing; what sort of “God given talent” is the talent for war?

Nicholas is good in war and struggles in life.

49% done with War and Peace


It’s no coincidence that when Nicholas is in a good place in life he gently flirts with a woman named Mary. This Mary is German, married, and a reason to make her husband jealous all the time, so she’s not the angel the next Mary will be, but it shows Nicholas getting closer to what his life should be. He zeroing in on the right way to live – though his road will always be bumpy.

48% done with War and Peace


While everyone else is splintered and fractured, Nicholas is more mature, more experienced, more settled in the Army. It’s a life that suits him well, though he’s not ambitious enough to make much of a career from it. He’s a lot like Andrei, though not cynical.

We don’t see his anger causing him trouble as it will later on.

48% done with War and Peace


This line means a lot to me: A man should be “firmly convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he will not have sufficient patience)”.

Andrei is very complex because on the one hand he’s become cynical towards life, but on the other he sees things as they are: that the real power lies not at the top, but at the bottom where the day can be lost by 1 coward or won by 1 hero shouting Hurrah

48% done with War and Peace


To take the opposite view as Tolstoy: if we were all to live as Christ did, to wander as beggars from place to place in hopes of pulling a potato from the ground to eat, we’d all be miserable, dirty, uneducated, corpses (because we’d all be dead by the time we were 30).

Balance is the key, and I think Maria exemplifies this the best, but so does Naatasha because she’s been more tempted by the world.

48% done with War and Peace


Now to be fair to Tolstoy I do think he just want to warn readers from believing humans are so clever as to always know the truth (Dostoevsky proves the folly of this thinking in The Brothers Karamazov), but I think he looses sight of where human ingenuity comes from. He believes all things are from God, then why not science, too? Science improves lives more than any other invention. But in degrees.

48% done with War and Peace


The only thing I disagree with Tolstoy on is his philosophical displeasure with science. I don’t believe he was totally anti-science, and he does seem to suggest that only people who believe science is the only truth are insufferable and wrong (he calls these people Germans), but he does seem to fall very much into the Luddite camp: anti-materialistic (which I agree), but anti-science, too (which I don’t).

48% done with War and Peace


What a mess the Russian army is! The Emperor running around in charge but not in charge. How confusing! How typical!

Tolstoy is showing s how fractured the Russians had become (Bald Hills factions, the 9 camps of influence around the Emperor). They seem easy to conquer, and Napoleon would sense this.

Shishkov alone had the courage to tell the Emperor to leave the Army because it was messing everything up

47% done with War and Peace


This is such a sad chapter. Not that anything sad actually happens but because of how sad everyone is – except little Nicholas, though it would have some imprint on him I believe. This house divided, the old man slowly going mad and representing a world, an old world of men going mad and going to war, vs the good Maria, meek, taken advantage of, despised, who will (should) inherit everything.

47% done with War and Peace


To be honest these parts with Napoleon are not very interesting. The river scene is memorable in that it’s almost a parable, but the rest if dry and only serves to show how silly Napoleon (and a king) is. We are seeing Napoleon stripped of all his pomp and glory and are given only a petulant child who just so happens to have the authority to send hundreds of thousands to their death, or not.

47% done with War and Peace


I don’t know enough about Napoleon to say of he really did act the way Tolstoy shows him as acting towards Balashev … and I don’t really care, either because it’s not important how “true” Tolstoy was to Napoleon (though I have to admit to thoroughly disliking Napoleon and siding completely with Russia on the matter). Here he acts like a child who has too long been spoiled. He’s an emperor? Big baby, he is

46% done with War and Peace


“Napoleon received Balashev in the very house in Vilna from which Alexander had dispatched him on his mission.” This is Tolstoy being funny. One man lives in a house then another man, that’s all it is. They may be, in fact, emperors, but they are just men sitting about in houses this one or that ones claims to be theirs. Yet whose house was it really? That’s what war has done, taken away someone’s home.

46% done with War and Peace


I like how silly Murat is. If he was so in real life I can’t say, though his portrait sure makes him look like a pompous buffoon. And how arbitrary all this is, this declaration of war, the making of a King of Naples: it’s all silly and pointless.

And that’s the point: war is pointless, power is pointless, kings are pointless. Tolstoy would rather we keep our heads in the farm all day than this nonsense.

46% done with War and Peace


Boris has become quite important and wealthy. He’s “made it”, and he keeps getting better since he knows how to get information (even if it is just overhearing the Emperor on a veranda during a dance). And what good is him knowing the news first good for anyway? Will it matter to anyone that he knows things before anyone else? Of course not, it’s just gossip (reliable gossip, but gossip the same).

46% done with War and Peace


To put it more simply: those in power couldn’t care less about the people below them. Tolstoy is showing us how blindly following this or that person is dangerous and stupid. And he’ll drive that point home even more crushingly when Petya is killed. He’s also showing us how a little forgiveness, a little humility, can go a long way. Being stubborn and prideful has caused more misery than any plague.

45% done with War and Peace



For the first time Tolstoy is explicit in his philosophy and he lays it all out as a thesis. He tells us that no one man (or event) causes anything to really happen, but that a myriad of interconnected events (and men) lead to this and that. And what he really wants to get at is that no man is more important than any other man, especially the most powerful. And it’s still a radical idea.

45% done with War and Peace


From an ultimately Christian point of view Natasha is right to tell Pierre that Anatole is not a bad man.

Though it’s the last chapter of Book 8, everything is new. The comet, Pierre’s feelings, Natasha’s tears, and that renewed vigor is represented when Pierre, “despite twenty-two degrees of frost Fahrenheit he threw open the bearskin cloak from his broad chest and inhaled the air with joy”. LIFE! LOVE!

45% done with War and Peace


It’s Andrei’s inability to forgive Natasha that will undo him, literally. He’s already had a difficult time with women and this will only drive him to be cold and distant; again, literally (when the time comes). This would be Tolstoy’s way of showing us how Pride is a sin.

And sure enough, in this very chapter, we learn how war with France is inevitable, how even reformer Speranski has been disfavored.

45% done with War and Peace


“expressing himself so artificially because he was talking French” is the key sentence here because it separates the French nature from the Russian. In this scene everything of virtue is Russian (Pierre), and everything of vice (Anatole) is French. This also signifies the change in relations between the 2 countries and Napoleon will begin is invasion soon.

Interesting to see Pierre’s restraint with Anatole

44% done with War and Peace


Obviously she had been holding out some hope this whole time that Anatole wasn’t a scoundrel and that she was justified, but Pierre tells her the bad news. And while it does seem overly dramatic the way she acts, you have to remember she’s just been told everything she’s believed in is a lie, that she was totally wrong, that she’s hurt everyone. It;s like someone died, but you still have to live with them.

44% done with War and Peace


While it wasn’t Tolstoy’s intention in this chapter, there is a very strong indictment of society and how there are double standards for men and women. The men are scoundrels but it’s all covered up neatly (with money), but for women they are at the mercy of men, at the mercy of the judgment of society. No what Natasha did was disrespectful, but we know why she did it, too and so we see the double standard

44% done with War and Peace


I admit the first time I read the novel I thought for sure Anatole would manage to elope with Natasha but looking back there is no way Tolstoy could have written that to happen.

I’m still confused by Dolokhov’s behavior because once he’s serious about talking Anatole out of this kidnapping, and on the other he’s telling Anatole to make sure to wrap her up in a cloak, as if he’s done this before.

43% done with War and Peace


We see what kind of life Dolokhov and Anatole have been living, and how Dolokhov has been controlling this situation. But we also see how others have been able to take advantage of them – well, of Anatole anyway.

This chapter is really just about unsustainable behavior: the money will run out, the horses will die, Anatole will be brought to justice, but we see how they don’t care about the future. Fun now

43% done with War and Peace


I really wish Sonya was a more well-rounded character. There’s a lot of potential built into her, but she’s sort of wasted in the novel as just a sounding board to Natasha. One thing that is true, however, is that life is not fair and Sonya’s decision to put family honor ahead of Natasha’s feelings will have consequences.

43% done with War and Peace


It’s easy to forget how this would torment a young woman who so desperately wants to love and be loved. She’s lived a sheltered life, she’s naive and inexperienced, and all this is a whirlwind. And since she really doesn’t yet know what real love is – that real love a person really feels for someone they really love – she’s caught by all this. She sins because she’s naive, not evil.

43% done with War and Peace


Hélène and Anatole are such pricks, I don’t care how much we know about them and how much empathy we should have for either of them, they’re both adults and they are pretty much tag teaming Natasha because they know she’ll fall for it. And her father instinctively knows this society is bad for Natasha but he’s raised her so sheltered that she has no defense against people like this and he’s not much help.

42% done with War and Peace


Tolstoy is digging into the mind of someone like Hélène. He shows her as being simply motivated by pleasure and truly just wanting to have a good time, both for herself and, here, Natasha. But we’re also getting insight into the mind of a stupid person, as Pierre has told us about and now we’re seeing, and how she doesn’t consider consequences for others at all. She’s cruel because she’s stupid, not evil.

42% done with War and Peace


Tolstoy makes his case for us to sympathize a little with Anatole, but what stands out for me more is how Dolokhov seems to be a voice of reason. Hard to say exactly what Dolokhov is thinking, but my guess would be he doesn’t want to ruin his gambling opportunities by getting mixed up with a scandal.