Friday, 27 July 2012

War and Peace: Thoughts on Volume II

Here's the next post on my War and Peace progress. If you're interested in Russian literature, I really recommend that you check out the blog Lizok's Bookshelf. She has written quite a lot on War and Peace, and I particularly like this comment of hers:
"Russian high school students read Война и мир (War and Peace) in the tenth grade, and many people joke that the girls read Peace and the boys read War."
In the past I have thought about this a lot. Unfortunately, I certainly prefer the "peace" over the "war", although during this re-read I am enjoying the war parts more than before. What I love best about this book is Tolstoy's intricate portrayal of characters, their relations and their progression, but I do admit that taking the "war" out of War and Peace wouldn't make it the same masterpiece by any means. Some of my favourite passages are intertwined into the battle scenes, and therefore I couldn't skip those parts of the book.

Volume II opens with a return to "peace", and we witness Natasha's first proper ball. She's bursting with youthful radiance, and all the pervy old guys immediately love her. Tolstoy successfully thought from a female perspective when he created Natasha's disappointment at not being picked to dance - every female reader cannot help but feel for her.

I've found that Tolstoy uses subtle suggestions in his writing to imply how relationships will inevitably progress. For instance, Natasha's insecurity in the Bolkonsky household causes the reader to question her supposedly secure match with Andrey. Shortly afterwards, Anatole Kuragin appears. He's a nasty character, there's no denying that. However, I can understand Natasha's attraction to him as a young girl unaware of his intentions (unfortunately from personal experience!) You cannot help but laugh when Anatole pairs up with the equally reptilian Dolokhov in his masterplan to abduct her.

Despite my earlier defence of the "war" in War and Peace, I don't like the hunting element of Volume II at all, I'm afraid to say. I don't like hunting itself, as I come from a farming family who are fed up of snobby hunters using land without permission and making a mess. But anyway, I don't find the writing too exciting either; although I could never say that Tolstoy bores me. I do think that it picks up when the party returns to "Uncle's" and we meet the housekeeper Anisya. She brings them cherry vodka and rye cakes made with buttermilk alongside her strong, vibrant character. It's a welcome relief from the hunting, for me, and shows a fantastically traditional side of Russia.

Then there's the dancing that follows, which is interesting to think about. Natasha comes from a respectable family, yet she immediately takes to the peasant dance. There's a Guardian article that touches upon this, linked here, which lists one reason for her dancing as being the French Invasion of Russia, otherwise known as the Patriotic War of 1812. It was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, and the French and allied invasion forces were severely weakened alongside Napoleon's reputation. As a result of the invasion and the patriotic fervour of the serfs, the "Two Russias" - the peasant and the aristocatic - became much more of a unity. Therefore, Natasha was of a generation more in touch with the peasantry at that time, and henceforth her dancing was too.

I read Volume II quite quickly, and found it increasingly hard to put down. I'll let you know how I get on with Volume III!

You may be interested in:

Reading Tolstoy's War and Peace
War and Peace: Volume I
War and Peace: Volume III
War and Peace: Volume IV
War and Peace: Epilogue

2 comments:

Lisa Hayden Espenschade said...

Thank you for linking to my blog, Lucy. It was fun to read about your perspectives on War and Peace... I, too, have found that the war scenes grow more interesting with each rereading!

Lucy said...

Thanks for the comment. I'll definitely need a third read in order to fully appreciate the war scenes, although I don't think that will be any time soon!