Tuesday, January 24, 2006

War & Peace (Part Three)

Interesting thematic conections seem to be getting developed as I move into the third part of the novel. In the second part, there was lots of discussion of the military manouvering and the chaos when things went wrong. Now we have marital as opposed to martial manouvers. The part starts by referring to Vasily not being a planner but being someone who just manages to get things lined up neatly without even trying. What he'd like to happen is for Pierre to marry his daughter, Héléne. All it takes, really, is to get Pierre to come stay with him in Petersburg. Once there, there is inevitably another party, at which Pierre is set up. Now, Pierre has known Héléne all his life, so she can look at him "with the beautiful bright smile that she gave to everyone" but he "was so used to that smile, and it had so little meaning for him, that he paid no attention to it". Not for long - he and she have been sent to talk to some old aunt:
He half rose, meaning to go round, but the aunt handed him the snuffbox, passing it behind Héléne's back. This caused Héléne to thrust forward to make room, and she looked round with another smile. She was wearing a fashionable evening dress cut very low at the front and back. Her bosom, which had always seemed like marble to Pierre, was so close to his short-sighted eyes that he could hardly miss the vibrant delights [or, as the Maudes have it, living charm] of her neck and shoulders, and so near his lips that he was only a few inches away from kissing it all. He could sense the warmth of her body, the aroma of her perfume, and he could hear the slight creaking of her corset as she moved. What he saw was not marble beauty at one with her gown,what he saw and sensed was the sheer delight of her body, veiled from him only by her clothes. And once he had seen this, he could never again see it otherwise, just as we cannot reconstruct an illusion once it has been explained.
And so it was done, although Pierre is not yet ready to marry her. He did know then it would happen, even though he did not know whether that would be a good thing and indeed suspected it would not. Then he's all backwards and forwards, saying to himself "she's stupid", she's "forbidden fruit", Vasily might be a problem, she and her brother had been in love with each other until he caught himself smiling - another line of thought had sprung up. While thinking of her worthlessness he was also dreaming of how she would be his wife, how she would love him and become quite different, and how all he had thought and heard of her might be false. And he again saw her not as the daughter of Prince Vasily, but visualized her whole body only veiled by its gray dress.

Six weeks later, when he has still not done anything, Vasily does it for him! He simply congratulates Pierre on his engagement and there is no going back. There is a telling moment, albeit just a little overdone, when Pierre and
Héléne are alone. He is thinking that what is done is done, useless to ask whether it is good or bad, and at least it is something definite. He takes Héléne's hand, says Héléne and then thinks "hmm, now I know something special is to be said here but I am buggered if I can think what it might be". After she kisses him, he says "I love you", "remembering what has to be said at such moments: but his words sounded so weak that he felt ashamed of himself". This provides a nice contrast with Vasily's attempt to get his son, Anatole, married off to Marya Bolkonsky. Her father knew exactly what it meant when Vasily says he is coming to visit with him, and bringing the son along. There's a cute scene here: the servant has heard that Vasily is coming, so sweeps all the snow off the driveway to the house. When Prince Bolkonsy, a notoriously grumpy old sod, finds out that it has been done for that upstart Vasily, he orders the servant to put all the snow back. But on the whole, he comes off alright in this passage. Marya is ugly, no amount of fatherly love can escape that fact, so he knows exactly why Anatole might marry her and what kind of life she'll have with him, particularly when Anatole is already making eyes at Marya's French companion. But to tell her would unly undermine her confidence and would really be inspired by his wish that she never leave him (because he does love her). Our author resolves his dilemma: Marya catches Anatole with her maid, so when she is formally asked if she'll marry Anatole, she stoutly refuses, saying she never wants to leave her father.

The rest of the part is devoted to the war: the Russian army is preparing to attack Napoleon - this is the famous battle of Austerlitz. There has been quite a disagreement over tactics: the old guard wanted to wait and build up strength. The younger generals wanted to attack now, thinking Napoleon was weak, under strength and vulnerable while their own forces were bolstered by the presence of the Emperor (with whom 90% of the force was "in love"). They won the argument, a battle plan was drawn up,
with the comment made that it is down to vanity and rank to decide which plan is to be used, not practical matters like chances of success. As it happens, no-one really agrees with, understands or, when it comes down to it, follows the chosen plan.

Rostov, who really is starting to look like a twerp, is on sentry duty but drowsy, dreaming about meeting the emperor and not focussing on the job. If he had been, the Russians might have known there were 80,000 Frenchmen sitting across the creek, rather than the several miles away they were thought to be. On the morning of 20 October 1805, there is deep fog cover. The Russian army gets into a complete tangle, to the point that it engages itself in a gunfight at one stage, and loses all faith in its command. Napoleon is sitting on a hill, watching what he can and seeing the Russians basically move as he expected them to. So - rather than a Russian attack, he calls the shots and takes the high ground. At that point, most of the Russians seem to just run away. Quite a number of them try to flee across a frozen lake - the ice, of course, breaks.

Andrey is the hero - he grabs the regimental flag where it is dropped and tries hard to get his men behind him. Unfortunately, he is hit, and thought to be dead - even by the person who finds his apparent body: none other than Napoleon himself.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home