Thursday, September 01, 2011

War and Peace, Piecemeal II

After a bite to eat, and at the rousingly early hour of 03:29 AM, and in the middle of Chapter 3, the attempt to liveblog War and Peace, in Rosemary Edmonds's translation, continues.

04:17 AM Anna Pavlovna is not pleased that an earnest and loud discussion has arisen between Pierre and Abbé Morio as to whether Russia should intervene to keep Europe from being swallowed whole by France. By twittering a commonplace question, she dumbs down the conversation entirely, much to her relief.

The newest arrival is Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who is polished and goodlooking and intelligent and blasé, and who treats his wife like a nitwit. He is consumed by important matters like his future military duty as an aide-de-camp to General Kutuzov. Despite their diametric opposition in some aspects, he is greeted warmly by Pierre and vice versa. I still find it hard to believe that he is so patient with Pierre and so impatient with the princess, and he does seem arrogant.

Outside the room an elderly guest, Princess Drubetskoy, whose circumstances are reduced as the cliché goes, hunts down Prince Vasili and humbly begs for her son Boris to be transferred into the Imperial Guard. He decides that he owes her a favour and besides (being a sort of military stage mother) that she could become a tremendous nuisance, then escapes. Rather like a successful KGB agent who has inserted an operative into a critical position, she returns inconspicuously to the party and is coolly calm.

In the meantime the discussion about Napoleon is becoming more heated. The vicomte says that it serves Prussia, etc., right if it is invaded, because the kings neglected Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and opines that Bonaparte is driving France and its aristocracy to hell in a handbasket. Pierre reveals the equivalent of commie tendencies, suggesting that many aristocrats support Napoleon. Then he argues fiercely that Bonaparte was right and courageous to have the Duc d'Enghien shot for the common good of a unified France, etc. Princess Bolkonsky #2 sees through the humbug and inadvertently raises the pertinent question: "Do you think murder a proof of nobility of soul?" Pierre then argues that the Revolution was right in theory. Which is a pretty gutsy or rude thing to say in front of a French emigrant. The discussion is gently suppressed.

The guests break up after a dead end anecdote by Prince Hippolyte, and Anna Pavlovna is presumably dancing on an imaginary grave as Pierre bids her farewell. Despite his contentiousness, he parts on excellent terms with himself and on fair terms with the others, who find him nice and harmless enough not to be too bothersome. Hippolyte and Princess Bolkonsky #2 flirt a little on the way to the carriage; Andrei Bolkonsky looks like he couldn't care less (which means that he is grumpy) and says goodbye to Pierre.


Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole (around 1801), by Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835)
Oil on canvas. 73 × 59 cm, in Versailles (one of several copies)
Art Renewal Center via Wikimedia Commons


04:33 AM Pierre goes straight to Prince Andrei's home and does a little light reading at random — Caesar's Commentaries — until Prince Andrei comes home and they recapitulate the evening and then Andrei nags Pierre about picking a career. Pierre was catapulted into St. Petersburg by his father for that particular purpose, three months earlier. Andrei brings up the army, Pierre says 'Meh' and comments that he has no beef with Bonaparte, and then Andrei hints that he himself is going to tread the old battlefield not out of holy conviction that Prussia must be succoured or that Napoleon is the devil, but because he is sick of his routine.

Terribly appositely, Princess Bolkonsky #2 makes her entrance and suggests that Prince Andrei could leave off this icky war thingy and instead wangle a position as aide-de-camp to the Emperor. Her husband is signally unimpressed and sternly silent. Then she complains about being offloaded to Andrei's sister and father in the countryside, that she is afraid regarding *cough*the baby*cough*, and then that Andrei doesn't love her any more. Pierre, of course, feels extremely uncomfortable.

Over dinner, by which time Lise (i.e. the princess) has left, Andrei recites a verse from the Timon of Athens primer on matrimony:
Never, never marry [. . .] don't marry until you can say to yourself that you have done all you are capable of doing, and until you cease to love the woman of your choice and see her plainly, as she really is; or else you will be making a cruel and irreparable mistake. Marry when you are old and good for nothing. Otherwise everything that is fine and noble in you will be thrown away. It will all be wasted on trifles. [. . .] If you marry while you still have any hopes of yourself you will be made to feel at every step that for you all is over, every door closed but that of the drawing-room, where you will stand on the same level as the court lackey and the idiot.
Then he says that, sure, his wife is faithful but she's pretty much the only one who would be. He'd rather she weren't his wife, though. And he really hates girly activities like parties and gossip when he'd rather be doing something grand. Which in his subtle way is as dishonourable and whiny as what his wife said.

Pierre is surprised that his friend, admirable in mental attainments and characterly strength, thinks that his prospects are so bleak, but says nothing. Andrei then asks why Pierre goes out so much with the Kuragins, especially Anatole and especially since the, er, wenching in that environment is not in the best taste. Pierre agrees more or less and says, you know what, I won't go tonight — which satisfies his friend.

That was the middle of Chapter 6 and the temporary end of this second liveblog.

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