War and Peace: Thoughts on Volume III

I’ve finished reading Volume III, so here are a few of my thoughts on the last four hundred odd pages of War and Peace.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study
at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis
 David, 1812

(Nasty) Napoleon
Napoleon’s crossing of the Niemen isn’t a pleasant scene. Polish uhlans are keen to impress the emperor, and are “proud to swim on and drown in the river under the eyes of that man sitting on the log who wasn’t even watching what they were doing”. Tolstoy presents here a leader disconnected from the people, keen solely for individual – and almost fascist – recognition. War is a nasty business both on and off the battlefield as a result of leaders, attitudes and enmity. Here’s Pierres take on war:

“Pierre was greatly affected by the curious idea that all of those thousands of men, alive and kicking, young and old, who were staring at his hat with such easy amusement, twenty thousand were inexorably destined to be wounded or killed, maybe men he had seen with his own eyes.”

Andrey: Changes in Personality
I don’t like what Andrey becomes after his engagement to Natasha goes pear-shaped – he seems to me rude and spiteful. However, when he returns to consciousness after being hit by a shell in battle, his personality is transformed. His troubled nature is reset as he discovers an innocent “happiness beyond materialism […] known only to the soul, the happiness of loving”. His spirit is unspoilt by negative experience, like that of a baby, but I do wonder how long this can last. Also, now that Natasha and Andrey’s love appears reignited, what about Pierre?!

Pierre: Another Personality in Flux
Pierre tests his self-discipline by not visiting Natasha, despite obvious affection. What is more, he  becomes haunted by the number 666, and for some reason gets it into his head that he must murder Napoleon. This seems so out of character; a sentiment that Tolstoy quickly adds to. Pierre saves the Frenchman Captain Rambelle’s life, who insists that he must be French himself. Is Tolstoy suggesting that Pierre is no man to kill Napoleon? In fact, his saving of a child from fire and his defence of an Armenian woman implies that he is not destined to kill anybody. When Pierre is arrested, I think that he seems so “suspicious” merely because he’s so incredibly out of place. Through use of irony, the good-natured Pierre is arrested while lunatics are released into the streets of Moscow.

Women: Both Good and Bad
Another character I’m fond of is Princess Marya, who yearns to help the starving peasants on her estate. She also dedicates her time to nursing her rather difficult father. However, the peasants decline her offer outrightly, refusing to leave Bogucharovo, and Prince Bolkonsky dies after sweetening up slightly. She’s an unfortunate woman, yes, but there is one perk to all her hardship: she meets and falls in love with Nikolay Rostov. Love is a new concept to Marya, and she thoroughly deserves it (alongside a bit of time to herself!) However, at this point in the novel it remains quite an uncertain and unexpected match.

Natasha is another woman striving to do good. She invites wounded men into the household, and sacrifices personal possessions to allow them to travel in their carriages on moving day. On the other hand, Hélène seems more promiscuous than usual. Not only is she unsatisfied with her husband, but she wants two other men at once. For all her beauty, I don’t think that she’s a character to be admired in any way.

You may be interested in the following links:

Reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace
War and Peace: Volume I
War and Peace: Volume II
War and Peace: Volume IV
War and Peace: Epilogue


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