I wonder if there is a connection between the general health improvements and activity of more people at the time with the freeing of clothing restrictions? If people are more fit, and getting fit for themselves (and for vanity) then they would want to show it off. No longer was a man’s age what defined him to society but now, like the Greeks, his physical stature.
“None but a few shriveled graybeards bemoaned, in the ancient manner, the ‘good old days.'” So were his good old days the one time there were a good old days?
Something else to consider about the fire is that it isn’t really that important, not when compared to love and forgiveness. Here is the chance most of us never get, to see the one person we know in our soul we must see one last time and to right the wrongs we’ve done to each other.
The way Tolstoy writes Andrei’s delirium, specifically the airy structure growing from his face is remarkable.
The fire in Moscow is a complicated backdrop to Natasha and Andrei. To say the fire means their love for each other or her body full of life and his body losing its life or the anger he felt towards her or the confusion they both feel would be to over simplify the image: it means all of those things, and more. But it’s not melodramatic like Gone With The Wind’s burning of Atlanta, it’s far deeper.
Goethe :” He has learned, he can teach us.”
This is an extreme version of the technique Tolstoy uses to paint a visual picture. He always starts very far away and then, with a few details between us and the action, narrows the image closer and closer like a wide-angle lens becoming a zoom-lens. Here we just get the glow of the fire, someone says “It’s windy and dry”, another “You can even see the crows flying”.
He ends with the old valet crying.
(on Europe avoiding a world war), “But this blind belief that reason would balk the madness at the last minute, established itself as our one shortcoming.”
He talks about how the airplane made geography trivial. They believed borders were now useless so it’s a shame that a world that was getting smaller and freerer was so prone to nationalism..
He’s talking about Zeppelin LZ 4
From Wikipedia (Original source: Giants in the Sky: A History of the Rigid Airship, Douglas Hill Robinson, University of Washington Press, 1973): The disaster took place in front of an estimated 40 to 50 thousand spectators and produced an extraordinary wave of nationalistic support for Zeppelin’s work. Unsolicited donations from the public poured in: enough had been received within 24 hours to rebuild the airship, and the eventual total was over 6 million marks were donated, at last providing Zeppelin with a sound financial base for his experiments.