Saturday, September 26, 2015

Reading Tolstoy, Again

Having hurried through a reading of War and Peace in order to have the leisure to go back and reread it, it seems to me that

  • The fiction is champagne, the historical reflections are the hangover. Fortunately, the proportion of the historical reflections to the fiction is fairly small.
  • Tolstoy's power diminishes in proportion with his contempt for a character. He is excellent on his five leading characters, not that good on the Kuragins, and a bit tedious on Napoleon.
  • What are we to make of the epilogue? By this I mean that:
  • Natasha occupies herself wholly with her marriage and family, and Tolstoy writes of this as admirable. Yet part of this is her understanding of Pierre as a powerful mind and force in affairs. What one knows of the course of Russian history suggests that the latter cannot be so. As for the former, Pierre favors establishing something like the German Tugenbund of the war years; at the time, the Prussian minister Stein spoke of the Tugenbund's activities as "the rage of dreaming sheep". That being so, is is really just for Pierre to condescend to his brother-in-law intellectually?
  • Nikolai is less changed than his sister or Pierre. Once the hussar who knew horses, now he is the landowner who knows muzhiks. His notions seem otherwise to be an officer's notions. Marya may be least changed. She has her children to see to, and her husband to love and, to the extent possible, manage. The young woman of 1805, patroness of "God's people" and disciple of the Gospels, is recognizable in the matron of 1822; Natasha has gone through at least three metamorphoses in that time, though to be sure she is some years younger.

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