Sunday, August 21, 2011

First reactions to starting War and Peace

I'm now a little under a quarter of the way through War and Peace in my Tolstoy mini marathon. What has impressed me most is the timelessness of Tolstoy's characters. The Russian generals all seem to be faking their skills and playing politics. The choice for the direction of a campaign comes down to my way over your way, rather than a logical decision, much like our current politicians.

Meanwhile, on the home front, women and their fathers are conniving for marriages to wealthy men. There is a little talk of love, but it is mostly position and possessions that drive these affairs. There is a wonderful scene where Helene is using her charms to attract Pierre, a man who has unexpectedly come into an enormous fortune.

Helene stooped forward to make room, and looked round with a smile. She was, as always at evening parties, wearing a dress such as was then fashionable, cut very low at front and back. Her bust, which had always seemed like marble to Pierre, was so close to him that his shortsighted eyes could not but perceive the living charm of her neck and shoulders, so near to his lips that he need only have bent his head a little to have touched them.

What is most wonderful about this scene is the clarity of what Pierre is feeling. He is a naïve man experiencing a mixture of embarrassment and attraction that could have been set in any time period.

At my place in the novel, I am about to ride with Count Rostov into what it appears will be a disastrous confrontation with the French Army under Napoleon. But things don't always go the way I expect in this novel. I'm excited to find out how this battle turns out.

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