Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Eighteen - War And Peace - Part Four

I always take notes when I read and now that I’m halfway through War And Peace there are so many remarkable things about it that I find myself ruthlessly editing this post. I’m also leaving things vague for the benefit of those who haven’t reached this point in the book yet.
At that meeting he was struck for the first time by the endless variety of men's minds, which prevents a truth from ever presenting itself identically to two persons.
I totally get it, Leo. If he were alive today, wouldn’t Tolstoy would be a great stand-up comedian? He’s a master of observational humor.
There was nothing wrong or unseemly in what they said, it was witty and might have been funny, but it lacked just that something which is the salt of mirth, and they were not even aware that such a thing existed.
The salt of mirth! What lovely wordplay.
“Yes, that is true, Prince. In our days,” continued Vera—mentioning “our days” as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of “our days” and that human characteristics change with the times.
This man has a way with words, doesn’t he? And I am so with him on human characteristics not changing with the times.

Following a list all of the “reasons” for the war –
It is natural that these and a countless and infinite quantity of other reasons, the number depending on the endless diversity of points of view, presented themselves to the men of that day; but to us, to posterity who view the thing that happened in all its magnitude and perceive its plain and terrible meaning, these causes seem insufficient.
I believe this is what one would call a universal truth. In War And Peace, Tolstoy is historian, storyteller and philosopher. The man is amazing.

Better quarters could have been found him, but Marshal Davout was one of those men who purposely put themselves in the most depressing conditions to have a justification for being gloomy.
Don’t you know people like that? They seem to revel in misery.

In historical works on the year 1812 French writers are very fond of saying...
Russian authors are still fonder of telling us...
-- pointing to notes, projects, and letters which contain hints of such a line of action. But all these hints at what happened, both from the French side and the Russian, are advanced only because they fit in with the event. Had that event not occurred these hints would have been forgotten, as we have forgotten the thousands and millions of hints and expectations to the contrary which were current then but have now been forgotten because the event falsified them.
Isn’t that always the way? Try to read an unbiased history. It isn’t possible. The story of history is ever-changing, under constant revision by those convinced that they see something no one else in the world has ever seen. Ah, what fools these mortals be.

Random observations:

Sonya and Natasha are like the Dashwood girls – one is Sense and the other Sensibility.

The fervor Pierre feels for Freemasonry is the zeal of the newly converted. When he starts to doubt, he speaks to his mentor to imbibe inspiration. Pierre can never quite hold fast to all of the tenets of the faith, and once he gets involved in the organization’s institutional concerns his doubts resurface. I believe Tolstoy wants to illustrate that, though the primary reason an institution exists is to perpetuate itself, there may yet be good in them. It would be lovely if schools existed solely to teach, governments to serve and churches to worship, but these are institutions and institutions tend to be made up of like, people and stuff. Once the institutional realities set in, we (represented by Pierre) can walk away disillusioned or accept the limitations of an institution. (I know that for the rest of my life my university will find me at fundraising time.)

Whenever there is a war – or for that matter, a ball game – each side prays that they will prevail.

When at war with France, suddenly it’s not so chic to be speaking French, LOL. (Sorry, but in this case it seems to fit the context.)


  1. What a wonderful writer and observer Tolstoy was! Reading your post and the passages you've chosen makes me excited to keep going with my War and Peace readalong. So often people focus on what a hefty tome W&P is, so it's nice to see the good parts highlighted!

  2. I love your comparison of the Dashwood girls to Sonya and Natasha. So true. I'm really enjoying Tolstoy's writing. He really knows how to write fantastic characters.

  3. I'm with Kristi, your Dashwood comparison is spot on! Tolstoy really was a renaissance man, touching on all manner of subjects in his writing. I thought Pierre's "conversion" was fascinating.