War & Peace, ch. 15 (Part 1) – ch. 6 (Part 2)

A word about names. One of the things that used to drive me nuts about Russian novels, and I went through a heavy Tolstoy/Dostoevky phase way back when, was trying to figure out who was who. Everyone had so many names; they were called so many things!

Everyone has a given name: Pyotr, Natalya, Andrei. In addition, they have their patronym, their father’s name, plus -ovich (“son of”) for men and -evna/ovna (“daughter of”) for women. The elder Prince Bolkonsky’s name is Nikolai, so Andrei’s middle name is Nikolayevich.

You would call a friend by both their given name and their patronym, i.e., Andrei Nikolayevich, and amongst the boys, you might use their patronym alone.

Last names are usually inflected, i.e. Bolkonsky for the men and Bolkonskaya for the women. You will see that Anna Karenina’s husband’s name was actually Karenin.

To make matters worse, in War & Peace, most of our character speak French as their first language, so our main characters are often Pierre, Natalie, and André. (Pierre is rarely referred to as anything else, except when he’s being spoken to by older characters.)

Then there are the diminutives, the nicknames. Natalya/Natalie/Natasha/Tasha are all the same person. Andrei’s sister Marya (Marie/Masha) calls him Andryusha, though no one else does.

And all of this depends who’s doing the talking. In one scene, Andrei can be called or referred to as Prince, Bolkonsky, the Prince, Prince Bolkonsky, Andrei, Andrei Nikolayevich, and Nikolayevich. Not to mention Your Excellency or Excellency.

This is why it’s handy to have a list of the characters handy. Trying to remember who Anna Mikhailovna is (Princess Drubetskaya, widowed mother of Boris Drubetskoy) can be trying indeed.

There is much skulduggery afoot at Count Bezukhov’s house. As the old man lies dying, all the forces in search of his fortune make their move. Apparently there is a recent will naming Pierre as the heir, which ordinarily would be meaningless since Pierre is illegitimate.

However, the Count has written a letter to the Emperor Alexander, asking him to confer legitimacy on Pierre. (The Emperor would do this without hesitating because Kiril Vladimirovich was a big big deal in the court of Catherine, aka The Great.) This would make the will enforceable. Prince Vasiliy finally gets the oldest Malmontov cousin to realize that they will inherit nothing if that letter is not destroyed.

Anna Mikhailovna, in the meantime, drags Pierre from the name day party at the Rostovs back to his dying father’s house. Apparently it was she who got Count Bezukhov to change his will in the first place, and she skillfully engineers Pierre’s presence. She even engages in a literal tug of war over the portfolio containing the letter, just long enough for the old man to kick off.

These scenes are remarkable because we get the full picture of a dark house, full of people who have gathered for this man’s death, none of them because they love him and are sorry at his passing. Many are curious bystanders; there is some clergy; and then the loving family members whose nerves are stretched to the breaking point as they try to cement their inheritance. They all know what the others are up to, and they strive mightily to prevail, all while trying to maintain a facade of civility in front of the outsiders.

In the midst of all this tension, Pierre is serene and clueless. People say and do things that puzzle him (although we are fully in the loop) and he simply acquiesces to their bizarre requests without understanding a thing that’s going on.

In the first of many such scenes, Pierre simply decides to give himself over to these outer forces, that things clearly are “meant to be.” This becomes a major theme for Tolstoy, the question of whether we can actually affect/effect our destiny. He thinks not, on the whole.

 

Bald Hills is the Bolkonsky estate, some 200 miles west of Moscow. (Think Bald Hills = Tara, only without the emotional attachment to the place. And the armies are heading the other way, toward the city. But I get ahead of myself.) Andrei is bringing Lisa there to stay for the remainder of her pregnancy. He’s off to war with General Kutuzov.

Prince Nikolai is crusty, and a bit eccentric, but not really cruel. (He was a big big deal in the court of Paul, but has been living in exile from the capitals for many years.) His daughter Marya is a religious girl. Hers is a difficult character for me. I cannot see her as anything but a mealy-mouthed wimp, but surely Tolstoy saw her as one of the preeminently sane ones? I can’t tell.

Still, she hits the nail on the head when she chides Andrei for abandoning his wife there: Lisa is a city girl, raised in Society, and how dreadful it must be for her to be dumped in such a far away place with such odd, non-sophisticated people. Doesn’t matter: Andrei’s gone in little more than 24 hours after arriving.

I love the scene between Andrei and his father when he says goodbye. Prince Nikolai is very upset and cannot force himself to conceal his distress, even though he’s actually supportive of Andrei’s decision. Like many of us, he converts that anxiety into anger and takes it out on everyone else. He stalks into the front hall and glares at Marya and Lisa, who has fainted. “Is he gone?” he snarls. “Good!” And slams the door.

Thus ends Part 1.

Part 1 was Peace. Part 2 is War. We are in Austria, watching the Russian army assemble, waiting for the Austrian army to defeat Napoleon. In the first six chapters, we see Andrei, Nikolai Rostov, and Dolokhov (a companion of Pierre’s demoted for his role in the drunken shenanigans in Petersburg, they tied a policeman to the back of a bear and threw them both in the Neva), all in their new surroundings. They’re all getting on with it, eager for combat to begin.

Andrei in particular is a new man, freed from what he sees as a stifling society existence and a millstone of a wife. He is an adjutant to General Kutuzov himself, thanks to a letter from his father.

We also meet a whole host of new characters, including Nikolai’s bunkmate, Denisov, who has a speech impediment: “Ah, Wostov, bwing me the bwandy!”

Kutuzov, a wily old coot if there ever was one, is not so eager for comabt. He’s been asked to bring the Russian army on down to join the Austrian General Mack, but he’s stalling. Sure enough, Mack turns up at his headquarters, injured and soundly defeated by Bonaparte. Kutuzov’s hand has been forced: time to move the army.

In these first six chapters, we begin to get an idea of what Tolstoy’s take on war is going to be. The first thing we see is Dolokhov’s regiment scrambling to get ready for a review by Kutuzov himself. The orders were not very clear: did “in marching order” mean the way they arrived, or does the General want dress uniforms? They spend all night getting their dress gear ready, but 30 minutes before the General gets there, an adjutant rides up to double-check and tells them they guessed wrong. For reasons of his own, Kutuzov wants the Austrian commanders to see them bedraggled and foot-weary from their long march.

If in a calm situation no one can transmit orders with any hope of their being reliably understood, what’s going to happen when the cannons are going off and everyone’s being shot at? Doesn’t look good for those who think that history is made by men of genius like Napoleon and Mikhail Ilarionovich.

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