Archive for September, 2012


Thursday, September 13th, 2012

I am finally up to Part Three of War and Peace. Some of the war chapters can get more than a little graphic, but I am keeping up the pace in the reading anyway. What an epic in scope, characters, events and philosophy! I am so glad that I am not reading this novel for a college course because I would not feel comfortable trying to race through it to conform to the instructor’s syllabus. I am taking it slowly and easily, the only way that I can possibly get through the novel with understanding, enjoyment and enrichment. Any time undue pressure is put upon me, I cannot do my best. Yes, I know that many people work really well under pressure, but alas! I’m not one of those people.

I have learned a great deal about young people, especially at that time in history, glorifying war. It amazed me how much one character, especially, loved Tzar (Czar) Alexander to the point of obsession. He would be happy to die for him. The other soldiers seemed to show great allegiance to their leader as well, but Count Rostov’s thoughts concerning his loyalty and admiration for the Czar escalate to the point of near insane fervor.

It was also interesting how Count Rostov, when talking about his war injury, (which resulted in a broken arm), told a fictitious version of the story. Actually, he fell off his horse, which resulted in his broken arm. However, his fanciful version included much bravery in fighting and wounding countless enemy soldiers. Yet, the real sadness of Count Rostov’s experience was the fact that he came very close to being killed by the French, not in the course of fighting them, but in this way. After he fell off his horse, he was stunned as he lay on the ground. When he saw an enemy soldier very close to him, the shock set in that this soldier was coming closer and closer to him, not to help him, of course, but to kill him. I really felt for Rolstov as he thought to himself that he had never done anything to harm anyone in his life, and yet this man was intent on annihilating him if he didn’t run for it and run fast. Fortunately, he had hurt his arm, not his leg, and so he could run quickly enough to get away from the enemy and into the security of some Russian sharpshooters. Isn’t it interesting, though, that Count Rostov did not think for a moment that all the enemy soldiers were loved by their families at home in their homeland, France, and they did not deserve to be killed either? Most likely, they did not have any choice at all in following the wiles of Napoleon. Yes, war is not a glorious thing. It is terrible, frightening, unfair and very cruel.

Rostov also struck me as being unduly proud and at times even arrogant. He considered himself too good to be an adjutant and looked down on others, who accepted that position with gratitude and pride. It is easy to see that he is a man who has grown used to being of the privileged class in Russian society and even in the military would not accept much less.

On the other hand, his friend, Boris, the son of the old princess, who lived in the same home as the Rostovs, may have had a title but no money to go along with it. He was desirous of becoming an adjutant to any of the officers, which would help him towards rising in position in the military.

At the part where I left off (around page 300 in the novel), the Russians are about to fight what I know to be a losing battle. I have a feeling that there will be many casualties. I will tell you more after I have read another fifty pages or so.

Please get a copy of War and Peace and read along with me. I truly am looking forward to your feedback. Until my next post, warm regards and best wishes to you all,



Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Let’s get into Part Two of the novel, where Russia’s military campaigns against Napoleon are first discussed. The year is 1805, and Napoleon is ready to take over the world. Former allies have become enemies to France, and coalitions against Napoleon have gradually formed. We are going to follow some of the characters we have already met in Part One, but many new characters have been introduced in Part Two.

One of my favorite characters, because he is so multi-faceted and interesting, is Prince Andrey. He is the son of the elderly Count Bolkonsky. It is evident from his speech and actions that Prince Andrey loves and respects his father very much. He is also close to his sister, Marya. However, his wife, the one to whom he should be the closest, is not of top priority to him. I wonder why he ever married her. So far in the novel that matter has never really been addressed.

Prince Andrey seemed arrogant, distracted, a bit lazy and pretty much in his own little world when at home, but when in battle, he undergoes a complete metamorphosis. He is disciplined, lively, industrious and effective in all of his commissions. Most of the time, he is in a good humor as well. It is interesting that, before he went into battle, all he did was think about it. He longed to get away from everyday day, which he apparently considered uneventful, frivolous and boring, and into the excitement and action of war. It appears that he was not the only one that felt that way.

Other characters referred to often in the military sections were Bilibin, an adjutant, and Prince Ippolit Kuragin, a secretary to the embassy. Prince Andrey got along well with both of them. The Emperor Francis of Russia is another strange character. Prince Andrey is a little nervous about having an audience with him, but it seems that Emperor Francis is taciturn and anxious. He asks obvious or irrelevant questions, and he is impatient for dialogue with anyone to be concluded as soon as possible.

Kutuzov, the Commander-in-chief, is efficient and respected by his men. He is conscientious and very much engrossed by his position and responsibilities. Dolohov is a fascinating character. When on leave, he played some ridiculous pranks, along with Pierre, the illegitimate son of the elderly Count Bezuhov. Both young men drank too much and became wild and totally irresponsible when under the influence of alcohol. Dolohov, a soldier, was demoted because of his disgraceful behavior when on leave, but he seems genuinely determined to prove himself to be a good soldier, a credit to Russia, and worthy of recognition for his courage during wartime. I don’t quite know why, but I am rooting for Dolohov.

So far, Pierre is not involved in war. Even though he was an illegitimate son of the old Count, his father loved him enough to ask permission from the Russian authorities to declare him his sole heir. Therefore, the young man became very rich when his father died from several strokes and old age.

I have enjoyed following Boris, the son of Princess Anna Mihalovna. She is the elderly woman who worked really hard to get her son the equipment he needed to join the Hussars, a branch of the military. Boris is a level-headed and attractive young man. Boris and Natasha, (the daughter of the old couple, the Rostovs), seem to be in love, although both, especially Natasha, are too young yet to consider marriage. Nicolay, the son of Count and Countess Rostov, and Sonya, the Rostovs’ niece, are obviously in love, too, but they are also too young to consider marriage at this point. They are cousins, however, and could never marry under the Russian law unless they received permission from higher authorities in the government. Later, both Boris and Nicolay go into the military.

At the point in Part Two that I am up to, Prince Andrey has been commissioned to go to Vienna and relate the victory over Mortier and the halt before Krems that has just transpired under the command of General Kutuzov. Apparently, the capital of Austria, Vienna, had very recently been taken by Napoleon’s forces, which meant that Prince Andrey’s news of a small victory for the Russians did not mean much in comparison. You can imagine how Prince Andrey felt when the good news that he brought was received so poorly. His good mood apparently was quickly changing. We’ll see what happens next on tomorrow’s post. Until then, with warm regards,



Saturday, September 8th, 2012

It’s not possible to really enjoy and appreciate War and Peace without understanding to a certain extent the Napoleonic Wars. I don’t believe one has to be an expert on all of Napoleon’s military campaigns, but, without knowing anything at all about them, it is impossible to understand and enjoy the novel. Upon reading the first few chapters, I realized that I had to do a little research. Perhaps, some of it will help you.

Where should I begin? War and Peace is divided into fifteen parts plus an epilogue. I am up to Part II, which begins the Russian military campaigns against Napoleon’s aggressive advances. Austria was Russia’s ally, and the name of Archduke Ferdinand was mentioned, which initially confused me because I knew that one of the causes of World War One was the assassination of the archduke. Being confused because the time sequence would be wrong if this was the same Duke Ferdinand, I googled “Archduke Ferdinand of Austria” and found that there were many people in Austria’s history with the name, “Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.” I took a sigh of relief that my first problem was resolved.

My next problem was which of Napoleon’s campaigns were a part of War and Peace. I researched and found that the invasion of Russia by Napoleon began on June 23, 1812 and ended in November, 1812. Russia was then part of another coalition with many other nations, but I believe that the majority of the battles in the novel occurred during June and November of 1812. However, there are events from 1805 and 1806, too, and not everything in the novel is strictly based upon history. As A. N. Wilson said ( an award-winning novelist, biographer, journalist, and author of the introduction to the Modern Library edition of War and Peace ), “The book is unforgettable and endlessly rereadable not because of the accuracy or thoroughness of its historical research, but because each character in turn is imagined with all the intensity of Tolstoy’s being. He is each character in turn, acting them with all the vigour of his family at charades.” I liked another quotation from Mr. Wilson as well: “The events of 1805 and 1812 became for him imagined events, and where history did not fit in with what he wanted to happen, he rode roughshod over the facts. Readers of the novel, moreover, quickly notice that although he had done his homework for such setpieces as the Battle of Borodino, what makes the book live is a series of infinitely personal vignettes.”

In my next post, I want to write about my impressions of Part II of the book, which deals with the beginning of Napoleon’s military campaigns in 1805 against Russia and Austria, (who, like Russia, had once been France’s ally). I am still doing research and trying to get my historical perspective accurate. I can already see that reading the chapters about Russian society are much easier to understand and enjoy than those involving war. That’s why I am reading the novel slowly and tryhing to take it all in as best I can.

Many of the characters we have already met in Part I, but there are many more soldiers, especially interesting officers, whom we meet here. I would like to describe many of these. I have read that the Battle of Borodino is described really well in the novel, and I am looking forward to seeing how Tolstoy handled this important battle, but that would be later in the novel, of course.

Until my next post,



Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Slowly, I am beginning to relate to and identify with many of the characters in this grand epic, and, as the poet, William Wordsworth, once suggested, my mind is being cleared of that troublesome thing called “disbelief” that interferes with a true connection with a novel. Once the reader becomes a part of the essence of the book he/she reads, the experience finally becomes real, and only then can one truly appreciate it. I am now getting to this point.

Pierre seems like an intriguing character to me, although he is definitely weak-minded at times. As I said in the last post, I did not like the fact that he promised Prince Andrey that he wouldn’t throw away his life through indulging in debauchery and depravity, yet he nevertheless went to Anatole’s house and drank the evening away until he was involved with Anatole (and the others at his home) in scandalous activities that caused the young man and his family degradation and scorn by Petersburg society. However, there is something beyond the surface that draws me to Pierre. I somehow expect great things from him in spite of everything that has happened so far.

As far as Pierre’s background, he is the illegitimate son of Count Bezuhov, a high dignitary and a very rich man, who is dying. The Count’s close relatives, consisting of three young nieces, the oldest of which, Katerina Semyonovna, is a cold, unfeeling character; Prince Vassily, a nephew of the old man; and the elderly princess, Anna Mihalovna, a niece, and mother of Boris, the Count’s godson, all anticipate being left the old man’s fortune. The only problem is that the Count had written an addendum to his will, a note leaving all that he had to his illegitimate son, Pierre.

Prince Vassily would very much like to get his hands on this note so that he could conveniently “lose” it, and with that loss be in line to usurp the fortune. Will he succeed in getting the unemotional princess, Katerina, to help him? She does tell the Prince where she believes the note to be, but will the Prince be able to obtain it? According to Katerina, it is in an inlaid portfolio that the old man keeps under his pillow. That would be a difficult place to get to, even for a man as cunning as Prince Vassily seems to be. What will happen next pertaining to this concealed note, I wonder?

I find the Countess Rostov to be a lovely woman. She is married to a very wealthy but kindly old man, who loves his wife very much and would do just about anything to please her. The elderly princess, Anna Mihalovna, the mother of Boris (the Count’s godson), is allowed to live in the Rostov home since she has for many years been a close friend of the Countess Rostov. When she tells the Countess that she wants to ask the old Count Bezuhov for a sum of money to pay for Boris’s military equipment, I could easily tell that the Countess was greatly affected and wanted to help her friend. When Anna and Boris leave in Countess Rostov’s carriage for the Count’s estate, the Countess Rostov asks her husband for seven hundred roubles. He gets the Countess the money immediately, and later, when Anna comes home, the Countess gives her friend the money for Boris’s equipment. It warmed my heart to know how close the two ladies were and what a kind heart Countess Rostov has.

One other point that I would like to share at this time is the budding romance between Boris and Natasha, (the daughter of the Rostovs). An equally interesting romance is budding between Nikolay, (the Rostov’s nephew), and Sonya, (the Rostov’s daughter). The two couples seem to be very much in love, but being that they are so young, it could be just “puppy love,” nothing serious. However, the young ladies seem to be very much taken with the young men. It is sad that Nikolay and Sonya are cousins, which make their relationship a difficult one. The Metropolitan Chief Priest would have to consent to the marriage if there would ever be one. But again, Natasha and Sonya are very young, and marriage to anyone would be out of the question for either of them for many years. The men are young, too, and are anticipating careers in the military. Their minds are not on marriage at his point. Still, it is something for the reader to think about, and I do, as I continue sto identify with the characters.

As I continue to read the novel, I will keep you informed about the characters and the plot. Please get a copy of the novel and read along. It will be informative, exciting and a lot of literary fun. Until the next post,



Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

The characters in War and Peace are fascinating. I know that my interpretations and opinions will probably change radically as I get more and more into the book, but these are some of my initial impressions.

Prince Vassily seems unduly bored by his social responsibilities. His evening at Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s soiree seems more of an ordeal to him than a pleasant social gathering. From the beginning, I could see that he favored his daughter, the beautiful Princess Ellen, and he was ashamed of his dissipated son, Anatole. He was outspoken about his feelings when he agreed with his hostess that his son, Anatole, was so difficult to deal with that he was at wit’s end. Anna reminds him that his older son and his daughter, Ellen, compensated for the disappointment he feels for his other son. I was thinking that, even if Prince Vassily is of the privileged class, he still cannot continue to lose forty thousand roubles each year to Anatole’s gambling and dissipated lifestyle. Anna, who is actually the maid-of-honor to the Empress Marya Fyodorovna, suggests that Prince Vassily marry off his profligate son to a rich woman. Anna has in mind the spinster sister of the young Prince Bolkonsky, who will be at the soiree with his young, lovely wife, Liza Meinen.

Liza is an enchantingly beautiful French woman who is pregnant with Prince Andrey’s (the young Prince Bolkonsky’s) child. What upset me so much upon reading about their marital relationship was the disrespect Prince Andrey has for his wife. It is obvious that he does not love her and wishes beyond anything that he had never met her, much less married her. Certainly, in my opinion, the young princess does not deserve such disdain by her own husband.

Another interesting character is a young student, Pierre, who seems emotionally weak. Prince Andrey is apparently very fond of him and wants to guide him, which seems to please Pierre, but the young man goes ahead and does what he wants anyway. For example, Pierre has gotten involved with Anatole’s crowd, and Prince Andrey wants Pierre to promise him that he will not continue to drink with Anatole and his friends and join their lifestyle of debauchdery. Pierre’s weakness is clearly shown when he tells Andrey that he will not spend time with Anatole and his crowd, but upon leaving the house of the Prince and Liza, where does he go but directly to Anatole’s house, where he will spend the wee hours of the evening with Anatole and his crowd drinking and carousing!

It is at Anatole’s house that we meet Dolohov, a drunken officer (of the Sevenov regiment), who is now living with Anatole. This officer is known also for his gambling and duelling. Both Anatole Kuragin and Dolohov are notorious among the fast-moving and dissipated world of Petersburg. At the house, the men were so interested in a bet that Dolohov had made for fifty imperials that everyone concentrated only on the twenty-five year old inebriated officer. Dolohov said that, for the fifty imperials, he would sit on the outside window ledge and drink a bottle of rum without once lifting the bottle. The footmen and then Anatole smashed a frame of the window so that it would open and allow the drinking Dolohov more flexibility. It was very dramatic as the young man took at least a half-hour to drink the whole bottle. He survived and got the money from the Englishman. I was surprised that Pierre wanted to make the same bet with the Englishman who had just given Dolohov the money, but fortunately, Anatole persuaded Pierre, thoroughly drunk and incoherent, to wait until the next evening. What an insane group of privileged young men they are!

Now, Prince Vassily had made a promise at Anna Pavlovna’s house to elderly princess Drubetskoy to provide her son, Boris, with a commission as sub-lieutenant in the Guards of the Semenovsky fregiment. For all his efforts, young Boris, the princess’s son, was not to be given that commission. Instead, he was to be transferred to the guards as a sub-lieutenant. At this point we are going to meet the Rostovs.

In my next post, I will introduce the Rostov family: the Count, Countess, their daughter, and their dear friend, Princess Anna Mihalovna Durbetskoy, the mother of Boris, who is now a sub-lieutenant with the Guards. I will also be reading another fifty pages. Please continue your reading, too, so that we will slowly plow through this challenging but most worthwhile novel. Until the next post,