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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Back to War and Peace

Picking up War and Peace at the beginning of volume 4: The first chapter, a gathering at Anna Pavlovna's salon, is very much a reprise of the first chapter of the novel (which also began with a gathering at Anna Pavlovna's), but this time, in the heart of war, the younger characters are all off, either in the army, injured, dying, or dead. It's a gathering of the old. They're in St. Petersberg, completely oblivious of the burning of Moscow. They're old fools, orating bombastic patriotic proclamations and gossiping - in this case about Helene, Pierre's wife, mortally ill with "angina." In short order, we learn that Helene has died, and she's disposed of like Kleenex. Even her father, Prince Vassily, barely seems to notice or care. We also get a glimpse of the emperor and the diplomatic corps - when he gets word of the defeat at Moscow, the emperor seems more concerned about responding with a bon mot (in French of course) than with any realistic response. In other words, this world is vapid, insular, and decadent, and we feel this even more acutely after seeing the devastation of Moscow and at Borodino. Meanwhile, outside of Moscow, Rostov is in a small city building supplies for his regiment (buying horses), when he comes across Marya Bolkonsky, in exile, whom he'd rescued from the mob as she was leaving her estate. He truly is in love with her, and he knows the match would please his family (she's very wealthy), but he has pledged his love to his counsin Sonya (they did things like that, apparently). Alomst in answer to a prayer, he gets a letter from Sonya freeing him of the commitment. Sonya obviously is sacrificing herself and her happiness, and we can't help but hope she will meet a good end - but it does seem unlikely. She has so little to offer, by the measures of her social world.

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