Thursday, March 10th, 2011
My summary of War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy continues…
In Book Five, as you studious little blog-followers no doubt remember, quite a lot of good ink was spilt telling the tale of how Pierre sought to pull himself out of the mire adulterous Helene had sunk him in. Well, you’ll be happy to hear that it all came to naught. The freemasons, it turns out, are as repulsively fallible as ordinary humans (being, as they are, humans), and Helene’s pleas to be welcomed back into the marital home, thereby allowing her to maintain her affairs behind a façade of respectability, were only resistible for so long. This makes the house a rather unhappy place to be in. Bad enough coming across the wife you despise in the front room each day, worse is to always find her there at the centre of a transfixed society gathering, all attendees simpering in adulation for that wife in spite of her blatant stupidity (Pierre’s opinion).
Poor Pierre avoids these parties, but trying to escape the company of Helene’s virtual live-in-lover Boris is more difficult. A cold and cutting look proving ineffective, it is only the bait of Natasha Rostov, newly returned from the country, that draws Boris away. Natasha was Boris’s childhood sweetheart, and now that she is grown into a teenager his ardour is rekindled; there is even talk of marriage until Mummy Rostov decides enough’s enough and sends Boris scampering off in search of easier and greater fortunes. This was already young Natasha’s second proposal, and following an encounter at her first ball, a whirl around the dance floor and a whirlwind romance, she gets a third: from Prince Andrei Bolkonski.
Since the death of his beloved rabbit-faced wife, Andrei had apparently been quite content pining away in the forest like a hermit (albeit a very rich and well-furnished hermit). In Book Six though he does a U-turn, and decides that contrary to all his previous claims, sitting in the woods waiting for death isn’t the most fulfilling of lives. So off he trots to St Petersburg where he decides to find fulfilment by going into politics. Soon Andrei is drawing up reform proposals and hobnobbing with Speranski – the Peter Mandelson of his day – who he believes to be a rather smashing charismatic sort of force for change. Inevitable though, like poor Pierre, Andrei must discover that humans if idolized will fall short, and Andrei soon winds up disillusioned and disappointed with politicians and Speranski in particular (well, if you will hang out with Peter Mandelson…).
Happily however, Cupid is a fortuitous little cherub, and chooses this moment of near-depression to bring Andrei and Natasha together. The courtship is brief and the engagement very soon entered into – much to the annoyance of Andrei’s father. So furious is he indeed with his son’s choice that he threatens to retaliate by marrying his dreary daughter’s companion Mademoiselle Bourienne. The logic of this response is, to say the least, flawed, and although it gives that gold-digging little flirt hope, it has no effect on Andrei. In the end, a compromise is reached: Andrei may marry after one year. By which point, it is sincerely hoped by all parties, old Pops would have popped his clogs.
Georgina Phipps, Editorial Administrator
Read the next installment: Book Seven