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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, January 29, 2010

An amazing scary death scene

In contrast with the execution the Pierre witnesses that shakes him to the core of his belief, the death of Prince Andrei is quiet and private and terrifying - one of the truly great scenes in War and Peace. His sister, Marya, has traveled great distance to see him (he's staying with the Rostovs in, I think, Voronezh, north of Moscow). The Rostovs in their horrible way dote over Marya, so wealthy, a perfect match for their son Nikolai. She feels they're keeping her from seeing her brother, Andrei. Natasha runs up to her, explains, that he had been doing well, recovering from the battle wound, until a few days ago "this thing happened." Her very inability to explain "this thing" is terrifying. Then we see Andrei. He speaks without affect, soft and cold, and he's like a man who is already dead. Tolstoy brings us right into his consciousness, and it seems he had fought for life and could not longer hold on - the very demands of life, with its calls for love and even revenge or hatred (he recalls his old rival, Kuragin, and wonders if he is alive) - are too much. Death enters, and Andrei has passed to another kind of consciousness. He doesn't seem to be in pain or distress, but totally affectless and through with this world, even with his beloved Natasha, his sister, and finally his little son right by his side. There is nothing comforting here, it's really scary - much more so that the painful, agonized death of Ivan Illyich in that Tolstoy story. Incredibly powerful scene. Just a mention back to Pierre - he, shaken by the execution and almost thrown into nihilistic despair, he is lifted by contact with peasant soldier Platanov, simple and happy. Here's an attempt by Tolstoy to convey a peasant or working man, and it's totally sympathetic but a portrait from the outside, not the inside, as with the main characters. Must be based on someone Tolstoy knew.

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