Friday, September 09, 2011

War and Peace, Piecemeal: Round Three

Another installment at an unhallowed hour of liveblogged War and Peace (tr. by Rosemary Edmonds), starting with Chapter 16 at the name-day party for Countess Natalia Rostov and her daughter, little Natalia Rostov.

1:28 AM THE dinner draws to a close after a further heated discussion as to whether Russia should enter the war or not — Shinshin is against while Nikolai Rostov is filled with militaristic fervour and supports a colonel who declares otherwise — and Natasha's high-pitched and naughty inquiry — in the face of the dragonish Maria Dmitrievna, who waives her dragonishness for her little cossack, and of the entire assembled company — as to what will come for dessert.

After dinner come the card games (like the boston) and music. Julie Karagin plays the harp; next Natasha and Nikolai are requested next. Natasha runs off to find Sonya, who is crying in one of the children's refuges for Nikolai. He is to go to war soon; the ambitious Countess Rostov does not look favourably on her affection for Nikolai since it would hardly be a socially or pecuniarily elevating alliance; besides the Orthodox church frowns on marriage between first cousins. Natasha comforts her and then she is ready to sing "The Fountain" with the other children.

Then there is dancing, and Natasha partners with Pierre and pretends to be a grown-up lady in her mannerisms. The card games end and the elder members of the party come upon the floor. Count Rostov dances the "Daniel Cooper" with Maria Dmitrievna, entertaining the entire room and the servants who have come to watch, and the woman dances rather unenthusiastically, except that
her stern but comely face [enters] into the dance. What was expressed by the whole rotund person of the count, in Maria Dmitrievna found expression only in her increasingly radiant smile and the puckering of her nose. But if the count, getting more and more into his stride, captivated the spectators by his light-footed agility and unexpectedly graceful capers, Maria Dmitrievna with the slightest of exertions in moving her shoulders or curving her arms, when they turned or marked time with their feet, excited no less enthusiasm because of the contrast, which everyone appreciated, with her size and usual severity of demeanour.
As the last dances drag to their end at the lame duck stretch of the night, Count Bezuhov suffers his final attack at his home and the horde of harpies multiplies like rabbits — less furry and much less pleasant-tempered rabbits.


Peacock Clock, Hermitage Museum
James Cox (1772)
Photographed by Antonio Zugaldia (Licence: CC BY 2.0)
via Wikimedia Commons


THE SCENE turns to the Count's demesne. Prince Vasili Kuragin now is "thinner and paler," probably due to his efforts, but it also reminds me of the description of Cassius in Shakespeare: he hath a lean and hungry look. In fact it turns out that the nearly deceased count had written a petition to the Emperor to permit Pierre to inherit despite the obstacle of illegitimacy. The Prince considerately shares this contingency with Pierre's cousin Katishe, who smugly refuses to believe it at first and then considers it as yet another crippling blow. It transpires through her outrage that the Princess Drubetskoy had gossiped about the girl-cousins to Count Bezuhov, to turn him against them, and it worked; so it is not only the Count's nearest and dearest who had harboured long-laid plans for his wealth. At any rate the Prince asks where this petitioning letter and the Count's will declaring Pierre his heir might be found, and Katishe (who deeply resents her service to the man despite her affectation of devotion) reveals that it is in a portfolio under the Count's pillow; the Prince unconvincingly says that he'll just remind the Count that the documents exist and of course given recent developments the Count would want to get rid of them and make a wiser will.

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