the double standard of the sexes is nothing new. In his time women were kept as far away from sex as possible (chaperon, over education and activities like dancing and piano) and were ridiculed if they didn’t marry by 30. Men were allowed to explore, however discreetly, but going as far as the father of the house paying a servant girl to “instruct” the young man.
They had constructed such a “perfect society” that it’s no wonder it all fell apart.
“For it is only the forbidden that occupies the senses, only the forbidden excites desire; and the less the eyes manage to see and the ears hear, the more the mind will dream.”
“But this fear of everything physical and natural dominated the whole people, from the highest to the lowest, with the violence of an actual neurosis.”
“… if one shuts the front door on the Devil, he usually forces an entrance through the chimney or the back door.”
I like how he finally describes the women who were adorned so silly in all those clothes and perfumes and gloves on summer days as being underneath it all “an unhappy, pitifully helpless person.” Person being the key word, and a sign of modern emancipation
he compares this to how novels that did dare to mention sex, Thomas Hardy, Zola, Flaubert, were shunned because they exposed too much reality, something this society had been papering up for its beloved security
naturalia sunt turpia, what is natural is not dirty. Here he talks about sexual repression in his society, how it’s shameful and should be hidden.
A bad novel, assuming it could have even got to this point where Andrei sees Kuragin, would have enraged Andrei or played it off as some sort of retribution for the pain Kuragin caused. But not here. Here Andrei is transformed by understanding what he never realized before: that he only needed to love, love everyone.
Make of this what you will, but he had been so driven by hatred that it led to his death.
“And what will be there, and what has there been here? Why was I so reluctant to part with life? There was something in this life I did not and do not understand.”
I think this is something a lot of us fear, to go to death leaving something not lived but not knowing what that was. I think William Stoner in “Stoner” felt similar.
But the truth is neither man allowed themselves to live as Natasha lives.
In the great Russian film version of the novel, we see how troops remained in reserve, just sitting there on the ground being killed as cannon fell on them and tore them apart while others cleaned their weapon or platted baskets to pass the time. How terrible.
One of my favorite scenes in the novel is when Kutuzov sees that he is about to receive bad news as to the state of the battle, stands up, puts his arm around the man, and takes the news away from ears that could hear and thus kill the morale. This is the “spirit of the army” Tolstoy is writing about, that feeling that all is won (or lost), and it’s the one thing Kutuzov knows he has some control over.
We watch the slow, inevitable collapse of the French as Napoleon watches helplessly as his (and the Russian) army slaughter each other to near annihilation. Tolstoy describes how in the face of defeat none of the Generals wish to make eye contact with each other and how Napoleon selfishly feels how unnecessary this all is (only now does he feel this!)
Of course the outcome is more complicated than this.