Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: War and Peace

The Greatest Literary Achievement of All Time

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Reading War and Peace was very challenging, but ultimately an enjoyable experience. As with Anna Karenina, the characters are excellently developed with darkness and light. Tolstoy is fantastic at characterisation: everyone ends up a long way from where they started, and he is one of the few writers who can authentically age his creations.

Not surprisingly I preferred the ‘peace’ parts (i.e. those set in the social circles of St. Petersburg or Moscow as opposed to the battlefield) but I did find the battles more interesting than I thought I would. I do struggle picturing battle scenes, for these I tried to imagine Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe style skirmishes, which was probably not amazingly accurate. Reading about Napoleon from a Russian perspective was illuminating, but I thought the ending of the book was disappointing because it got so bogged down in the philosophy of history (if there is such a thing!) and felt a little bit like it was the author’s attempt to show off how smart he undeniably was.

I would recommend reading War and Peace because ultimately it is not as difficult or as boring as it is made out to be: its just really really long. And the novel has to be so long to encapsulate what I think makes Tolstoy AMAZING: the story is all in the detail. So much of the book is reading about trivial, tiny, thoughts and feelings, but it is these small moments that make up life.

When it comes to events in history, so called ‘great men’ are nothing but labels attached to events; like real labels they have the least possible connection with events themselves. Every action they perform, which they take to be self-determined and independent, is in a historical sense quite the opposite, it is inter-connected with the whole course of history, and predetermined from eternity.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

And there in the middle, high above Prechistensky Boulevard, amidst a scattering of stars on every side but catching the eye through its closeness to earth, its pure white light and the long uplift of its tail, shone the comet, the huge, brilliant comet of 1812, that popular harbringer of untold horrors and the end of the world … This radiant star, which must have traced its parabola through infinite space at speeds unimaginable and now suddenly seemed to have picked its spot in the black sky and impaled itself like an arrow piercing the earth, and stuck there, with its strong upthrusting tail and its brilliant display of whiteness amidst the infinity of scintillating stars. This heavenly body seemed perfectly attuned to Pierre’s newly melted heart, as it gathered reassurance and blossomed into new life.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

War and Peace: Volume II, Part III

Prince Andrey falls in love with Natasha, in what must be the weirdest and unlikely pairing ever, but they are forced to wait a year before they marry because his father disapproves. Pierre is back with his wife and becoming heavily involved in the ideology of the freemasons.

War and Peace: Volume II, Part IV

At the Rostov’s over christmas:

  • Nikolay returns on leave due to family’s slow deterioration of funds
  • After a hunting party he sees the happiness of the lower classes who choose Russian values over western ones, are self sufficient and find simple pleasures, compared to the aristocracy who are all about money and extravagance.
  • Natasha is depressed waiting for Prince Andrey to come back from being abroad- they have no contact over the time they must wait before marrying.
  • The Countess tries to set up a marriage between Nikolay and Julie Kuragin (wealthy heiress) to ensure a financial future for the family.
  • Nikolay comes to realise his love for Sonya (again?!) and vows to be with her once he has finished in the army, despite the family’s lack of permission.
  • The Rostov’s move to moscow because of money… generally everyone is unhappy in this section.

War and Peace: Volume II, Part V

The Bolkonsky’s follow suit and move to Moscow. The old price is becoming senile and argues with Marya about her staying with him. 

Julie Kuragin ends up marrying Boris; a loveless match made for prospects (him) and because of fear of age (her).

Natasha and Andrey: She meets his family which goes badly. Whilst attending an opera she meets Anatole Kuragin – total playboy, generally quite horrible. After meeting three times he convinces her to run away and elope despite the fact that he is secretly already married. Pierre has to sort it all out, as discreetly as possible, whilst the shame and scandal means Natasha loses both her fiance and the man she was going to elope with. Basically it was all set up in a way that nothing good could ever come of it, also Natasha is an idiot.

The whole world is split in two for me now: one half is her, and it’s all happiness, hope and light; the other is not her, and it’s all misery and darkness…
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

War and Peace: Volume II, Part I

Nothing more, nothing less, love is the best? This is turning out to be a little bit like a soap.

Nikoláy and Sonya: He loves her, he loves her not. No wait, he does love her, especially now she’s essentially said that she wants him to have his freedom and that she’ll wait forever.

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Pierre and Hélene: She’s cheating on him, he finds out, challenges the lover to a duel, shoots him, assumes he’s dead… although he actually recovers.

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Natásha and Denisov: He proposes, she says no. I’m not too sure about her character, she seems very childish for a sixteen year old. And pretty irritating.

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Andréy and Lize: Hooray! Andréy turns out to be alive! Unfortunately, he returns home just in time for his wife to die in childbirth.

War and Peace: Volume I, Part III

At Home

Pierre is married to Helene Kurágin, after awkwardly becoming infatuated with her. Probably won’t end well because although she is beautiful Pierre is aware that she’s also stupid.

Márya Bolkónsky decides not to marry Anatole, and chooses to stay with her father instead.

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At War

Nikoláy Rostóv is promoted to Officer, and becomes extremely patriotic after seeing the Tsar. He prefers acts of heroism rather than getting references from/for his superiors. Prince Andréy on the other hand likes to use his status as a means to help other younger men, like Nikoláy’s friend Boris.

There is one major battle in this volume, which is a defeat for the Russians due to a lack of decent planning and generally not being as good as Napoleon. During this battle Prince Andréy is bludgeoned in the head by the French. Whilst lying on the battlefield drifting in and out of consciousness, he is taken to a French nursing station, but is left behind as a lost cause. Nikoláy is sent with a message for the general or the Tsar himself. As he rides through the increasingly apparently defeated soldiers, he sees horrific amounts of dead and wounded comrades. Eventually finding the Tsar on his own, he can’t believe how human he is. 

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Themes

  1. Destruction of idealism and hero worship- at war and in love
  2. The fragility of human life
  3. The insignificance of war in the scope of the universe

Above him was nothing, nothing but the sky – the lofty sky, not a clear sky, but still infinitely lofty, with grey clouds creeping gently across. ‘It’s so quiet, peaceful and solemn, not like me rushing about,’ thought Prince Andrey, ‘not like us, all that yelling and scrapping, not like that Frenchman and our gunner pulling on that cleaning-rod, with their scared and bitter faces, those clouds are different, creeping across that lofty, infinite sky. How can it be that I’ve never seen that lofty sky before? Oh how happy I am to have found it at last!’
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace