Thursday, September 01, 2011

War and Peace, Piecemeal III

After a good night's sleep and the transit to work, the live blog of War and Peace (tr. by Rosemary Edmonds) resumes with the end of the sixth chapter.

11:19 AM In German one uses an expression, evolved from Luther, that one shouldn't draw the devil on the wall. It roughly describes Pierre's self-fulling inverse prophecy that evening; for he goes off to lark with the Kuragins as soon as he is out of Prince Andrei's periphery.

Anatole Kuragin's house is in a dissolute uproar, orchestrated among others by a sly army officer, Dolohov. He bets that he would be able to drink a bottle of rum in one go without turning dizzy enough to fall out of the window. The footmen who are standing by and will have to clean up all and any resulting messes are not entirely pleased but everyone else is until they become too worried. Dolohov wins the bet (which is easier to follow when one watches the film with Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn) by a bloodcurdling hair. Pierre at first approves, then is apprehensive and then is unfortunately inspired to his own misdeeds. He drunkenly hugs and tries to dance with a bear who (likely more sensible than any of his human companions) has been pressed into entertaining the party, and that is where Tolstoy drops the curtain.

To anticipate, we find out in the next chapter that the young men stray from the house to paint the town red; and if it were a modern play one might hear, offstage, the menacing approach of a siren, or in a puppet play, espy th'impending constable's truncheon.


The Bear and the Apes, by Egyptian artist (ca. 1325-50)
Paper, 11,5 × 9,7 cm, Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
From 10,000 Meisterwerke der Malerei via Wikimedia Commons


12:10 PM In the meantime a nicer party is transpiring in the house of the Rostovs in Povarsky Street.

It is the name day of the Countess and her youngest daughter. Countess Rostov is weary but impressive and has a lively passel of children which is rather responsible for the former attributes, while Count Rostov is genial and open and a little helpless.

They receive early guests and gossip about the end of the party in St. Petersburg as well as the illness of Count Bezuhov, with the expert assistance of Princess Drubetskoy (their relation). The eldest daughter is fairly quiet.

Then the other children enter. Natalia Rostov is thirteen years old and very lively, and her parents are very fond of her. She is called by the nickname Natasha and is in fact something of a "manic pixie dream girl." [According to the Urban Dictionary, the term was invented by Nathan Rabin, a film critic, to describe "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."] Boris is the self-assured, handsome son of the military stage-mother Princess Drubetskoy, Nikolai is less mature and the elder son of the Rostovs while Petya is the youngest, and Sonya is the niece and two years older than Natalia.

12:55 PM Sonya is pretty, self-consciously unthreatening, and in young love with Nikolai. Nikolai, it turns out, is leaving university to be a hussar; he fierily defends his action to his father and the visitors. Then, with the agility of the relatively thoughtless youth, he flirts with the guest Julie Karagin. But soon Sonya flounces out of the room and he repents. The adults observe this, of course, and the countess emotionally says, of parenthood,
How much suffering, how much worry we go through before we can at last rejoice in them. And even now there is really more anxiety than joy. One is apprehensive the whole time, always apprehensive!
And, not to spoil the plot, but she is quite right.


The adult chatter turns to the topic of Natasha, and the Countess excuses herself for spoiling her a little. "I really believe it's best that way. I was stricter with her sister."

Her eldest daughter Vera smilingly enters the conversation at last, to remark, "Yes, I was brought up quite differently." Everyone is creeped out without knowing why, but I'm guessing it's because of her ice cold, smug and unaffectionate envy. Soon the guests depart.

THE scene turns to Natasha, who is waiting to chat with Boris in the flower conservatory but then finds that her ambush spot is also fitting for friendly espionage. Boris admires himself in the mirror, which she does not interpret much one way or the other; but I think it foreshadows that the man she is fond of might be fonder of himself than any other person is. Nikolai and Sonya come in to argue after he has left, and seconds later they have reconciled. Natasha finds their kissing and mini-drama most interesting and agreeable, tracks down Boris, and asks for a kiss. She gets it and wanders off with her romantic and marital future reassuringly set out.

(The end of Chapter 10.)

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