Thursday, February 17th, 2011
My summary of War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy continues…
In Book Four, it is 1806, and Tolstoy’s military menfolk return from their thrashing by Bonaparte at Austerlitz to a hero’s welcome (no severe denial syndrome there), and soon find themselves thrown into a whole heap of troubles, poor darlings.
Pierre’s new bride Helene, combining as she does the virtue of beauty with the absence of personality, doesn’t have to wait long before attracting attention in other quarters, notably from the cad and battlefield hero Dolokhov. Whether they did the dirty on poor old chubbykins Pierre is (at least not yet) clear, but the suspicion is enough for Bear to call old Dolokhov out – a duel! Rather unwise, as Pierre’s cumbersome frame does present an easy target. Or at least so one would think, until Tolstoy whips a pretty little plot twist out of the bag, and allows Pierre to shoot first. Somehow hitting Dolly in the (firing) arm, the latter then shoots wide, and Pierre is saved (Huzzah!).
Having rather taken a fancy for inconceivable scenarios, Tolstoy then delivers his great Hollywood cliché moment. Last seen carted off behind the French lines, Prince Andrei Bolkonski contrives to make a dramatic homecoming, not at all coincidentally or unbelievably, on the night his wife Lise (rabbit face) is going into labour. So if you want to blame someone for all the times you’ve groaned at forced plot twists in movies (and I do), Tolstoy’s your man. Anyway, Andrei looks in on his wife, gives her a friendly pat, and then, as this is the 19th Century and the women do all the hard work, waits outside. By the time he re-enters, the baby is alive and well and his wife has snuffed it – which rather brings the party mood down.
In other news: after his wounding by the chubster Bear, Dolokhov was sleighed to Moscow, where he consoles himself by creating ripples in the Rostov pond. Young Nick Rostov, having returned from Austerlitz with his vewy gweat fwend Denisov in tow, considers himself quite the grand warrior, laps up all the attention his family heap on him, and eagerly accepts the logic by which weepy Sonya releases him from his obligations to her. Her thought process being, that although she loves him very much indeed (don’t we know it), if he married her now, it would (appear to be) only for the sake of fulfilling a promise, and not because he actually loved her, and therefore she would much rather the love of her life didn’t marry her at all – you dig? Well, Nicky dug, and wastes little time in sowing his wild oats in other quarters. But old Sonya can’t move on so quickly – on the grounds that she ‘loves another’ she turns down a proposal from Dolokhov, who, being the clever cookie he is, knows very well who the ‘another’ is and determines to avenge his broken heart. Not by duel this time, but by cards. In an evening that began rather merrily, silly Nick loses the tidy sum of 43,000 Rubles to Dolokhov, the big cheat. It’s a figure Dolly decided on in advance as his compensatory sum, and an amount which, in my opinion, is far more than weepy Sonya’s worth.
So there we are – by the end of book four all our young men are pretty cheesed off, being lumped, by turns, with women who’ve left them shot, widowed, grossly indebted, apparently cuckolded, and socially embarrassed. It prompts an awful lot of soul searching and introspection, bordering dangerously close on the repetitive (What is reality? What is life? What do we really know? – the sum conclusions being, life is fleeting and people are ignorant fools). As for the women – having not put in much of a show during the fisticuffs of book three, they prove quite irritating in book four, or else, are tools to male fools – even more irritating. Except perhaps for Nicky’s lively young sister Natasha, who is endearing even when turning down poor loved-up Denisov’s pwoposal. And the dead rabbit. I was just starting to like her.
Georgina Phipps, Editorial Administrator
Read the next installment: Book Five