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W&P Week 6: One/Two/8

For 2/23/2021 * OUP Edition to p. 159

Chapter 24

At dinner that night, Andrei and his father talk about Napoleon (“a great general,” says Andrei) and about the impending campaign; the women get short shrift after Andrei’s father loses interest in conversing with Liza when she gets emotional. The estate’s architect, Mikhail Ivanovich, has been invited to join the dinner even as he is not of the right social class.

Chapter 25

Andrei is packing for his impending departure, and has a conversation with his sister Marya about Liza’s; she feels sorry about her being left behind in the country like this shortly before the birth of her child. He does admit the marriage is not happy, but cannot say why (115). Marya asks him to wear an icon on a silver chain, and he agrees to do so. There is an odd encounter with Marya’s companion, M’elle Bourienne, in the hallway; she is “ecstatic,” he is contemptuous–is the implication that they had an affair / relationship in the past? (115). Andrei and his father have manly goodbyes, including talking again about the inevitability of marriages being unhappy (117) and about the possibility that Andrei could die. Andrei asks his father to let a potential male heir grow up with him, not Liza. He then says good-bye to the women (Liza faints, greatly annoying her father in law.

Book 1, Part 2

SCENE CHANGE / TIME CHANGE: AUSTRIAN COUNTRYSIDE, OCT 1805

Chapter 1

It is October 1805 and the Russian army is in little villages in Austria near Braunau. The particular regiment the story tracks is supposed to be on parade for the commander-in-chief, Kutuzov, even though the men have just marched hundreds of miles. Their regimental commander sees to it that the men get spiffed up, and specifically rakes Dolokhov over the coals, because he is wearing his officer’s coat although he has been demoted to enlisted man.

Chapter 2

It turns out that Kutuzov actually wanted to see the regiment in bad shape (to make a point to his Austrian allies), but too late–they are all in order. In the company of Andrei, who has become Kutuzov’s adjutant, and other staff, he is inspecting the men, and also singles out Dolokhov for a reprimand of past behavior–but also makes clear to the regimental commander (somehow) that Dolokhov will regain officer status after the next time they see action. He himself is determined not to drink or gample until he has been reinstated. As they march on, the simple soldiers talk about their commander and Napoleon (in a diction I assume is supposed to signal dialect? Or lack of education? 127) and sing as they march.

Chapter 3

Kutuzov is talking to his officers. Andrei is tasked with writing summary of the current battle news from the Austrians; he is happy and competent and in his element (131), but as he leaves the room to do so, he encounters the Austrian commander, Mack, who has just lost an important battle against Napoleon. He berates his friends Nesvitsky and Zherkov, who are laughing about this pathetic man, instead of taking the bad war news seriously.

SCENE CHANGE: ANOTHER AUSTRIAN VILLAGE

Chapter 4

We are now with the hussar squadron that includes Nikolai Rostov in a village nearby. His commander and roommate, Denisov, is a dissolute man who only has women on his mind (he cannot pronounce his “r”s–what is the point about that?). After a brief conversation, Denisov is called away to see the quartermaster, and tells Nikolai to put his purse/wallet under his pillow. An officer named Telyanin, whom Nikolai dislikes, comes in and hangs out for a while; when Denisov comes back, he cannot find his purse. Nikolai realizes that Telyanin took it and confronts him directly. Telyanin bursts into tears and returns the purse.

Chapter 5

In the aftermath, Nikolai’s fellow officers think that Nikolai committed a great mistake by telling people publicly about Telyanin’s theft and has been called a liar by his regimental commander, a vindictive man named Bogdanich, and now refuses to back down, risking a duel with the commander. His friends try to convey to him that the colonel had no choice except to call him a liar to preserve the honor of the regiment. But then news comes of Mack’s surrender and the fact that they are about to go into battle, and all shifts to action mode.

Chapter 6

Complicated military history for October 23 (see OUP footnote on 1325), but the upshot is that there is a bridge in a town named Enns (OUP apparatus map: pretty useless, but included) that the Russian troops need to cross, and that bridge plays a key part in the action of that day. A group of officers are watching the troop movement from a hill and dream of ransacking a nearby convent (a guy named Nesvitsky seems to be especially obsessed with the nun fantasy); then the first grenade comes flying by. Everyone is very excited and “joyous” (147; gross!).

Chapter 7

Nesvitsky and Denisov are both watching masses of troops and some civilians crossing the bridge and are trying to figure out how to get across themselves. There is tension between infantry and cavalry (the hussars presumably being part of that).

Chapter 8

The Russian infantry crosses the bridge, the hussars follow last, under Denisov. The French army is only 700 yards away and the idea is that they need to destroy/burn the bridge but not engage in fighting–even though Nikolai Rostov, in his first action ever, and Denisov etc. really want to. There is cannon fire but their colonel, Bogdanich (part German, indicated by the weird word order in his speeches?), gets them across and there is considerable hesitation before the bridge is set on fire while the French are close enough to fire grape shot. Nikolai is in the middle of it, but useless (without burning straw) and suddenly very scared. He feels very cowardly but then realizes no one else really cares, since they know what it’s like to be a cadet and see action for the first time. Two of the hussars are wounded and one “knocked out” (meaning–?)

This was a little more useful, but still doesn’t have a good map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Amstetten

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Poem # 2 (Week of March 22)

One Art

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Note for Kai: We talked about villanelles on the phone last week, because Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is one of your favorites (I post his poem below, for good measure). I mentioned this poem by Bishop, an American poet, as another famous villanelle that I love and that, like Thomas’s, deals with really tough things: Thomas struggling with the impending death of his father; Bishop’s speaker (also probably a stand-in for herself) struggling with losing a lover. I hope you’ll have time to read it aloud several times to figure out how you would read across the line breaks to capture and contain the emotions. (Needless to say, every poem needs to be read aloud. They are made for that and do not come fully alive without it.)

The rules for villanelles are strict (and I quote a dictionary definition: “a nineteen-line poem with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the end of the other tercets and with both repeated at the close of the concluding quatrain”). Thomas abides by them exactly–he makes the entire first and third line repeat–but Bishop riffs on the form and changes some words around when she comes back around to the first and third line of the first stanza in the following stanzas.

But I still think that what we said the other day still holds true: because the strict form of the villanelle is an especially tight box, formally speaking, it can be used to hold in things that are so painful that they can almost not be said. This is how I read both of these poems, and I cannot read either one without choking up (reading them out loud is especially difficult). They feel like emotional truth bombs that would explode, that would be too much if they were not kept in such a small box. I always notice it especially in Bishop’s last line, because that is where she breaks out of the form and tells us that the formal frame of the poem is bursting, even with the typography “(Write it!)”

If we make art (words, music, images) to process the world and to help others (who read, hear, see that art) to process it, maybe that kind of small, tight box is necessary to process it when the world is especially emotional and painful: when there is death, breaking up, loss, nothingness to contemplate. I can’t really explain why that thought, and the form of the villanelle that exemplifies it so powerfully, is comforting to me. But I think it’s because I do believe in catharsis; art like this makes me go on an emotional journey from which I emerge feeling better, feeling reassured that when beauty emerges from pain and suffering, that is a good thing (for the artist, for us as readers, listeners, viewers) and not just some cheesy feel-good mechanism that prettifies and trivializes sad and evil things.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

W&P Week 12: One/Three/17

For 3/30/2021 (OUP p. 303)

Scene change: Austria, near Ölmütz, in various Russian camps
(November 1805) Short summary: Going into the Battle of Austerlitz

Chapter 7

Boris and Berg are both part of the Russian guards that arrive well-rested with the emperor and his entourage, and Nikolai gets a letter from Boris that he has letters and cash from his parents. He goes to see them in their quarters. Berg is as annoyingly self-centered as before, Boris is intent on becoming an adjutant and diplomat, but Nikolai despises that kind of job. He regales them with the story of his battle experience, all lies (“inevitably he lapsed into falsehood,” 257) but also what he thinks is expected. Prince Andrei enters the room, wishing to talk to Boris (intent on helping him) and making clear by his remarks that he doubts Nikolai’s story. The clash between them nearly results in a challenge to a duel.

Chapter 8

The next day, the two emperors (Russian Czar Alexander, age 28, and Austrian Emperor Francis I, 37 years old) inspect the Allied army and everyone gets all spiffed up. When Kuzutov’s troops get inspected, Nikolai is smitten with the noble presence of the Czar and can think of nothing than dying for his emperor and his country, and “loves everyone,” so he drops the idea of challenging Andrei to a duel.

Chapter 9

Boris goes to see Andrei, hoping for his help in getting ahead in the army, even though he has no money to buy influence, and even though Andrei’s fellow artistocratic officers treat him with scorn. Andrei has a plan for Boris, wishing to recommend him to a commander named Dolgorukov, but cannot immediately help, because Dolgorukov has just come back from the war council where the battle plan has been decided on, and everyone is talking excitedly about how Napoleon has been addressed by the Allies, who refuse to use the title he has given himself. Boris, not for the first time, feels like a “tiny, obedient, and insignificant atom” in a vast machinery of war (268) as he listens.

Chapter 10

On the morning of November 16, Denisov’s squadron (which Nikolai is part of) is moving to the spot where it is supposed to wait in reserve. Nikolai hates the idea of not going into battle and still dreams of dying for the Czar, who makes aother brief appearance in camps. As much as Denisov makes fun of Nikolai’s infatuation, everyone in camp loves the Czar.

Chapter 11

The war machinery is slowly but surely getting reading (Nov. 18 and 19, with the battle of Austerlitz happening on the 20th, as Tolstoy lets us know, 274), and Andrei witnesses another meeting of commanders as Kuzutov’s adjutant. The young officers (including Dolgorukov) are gung-ho about the idea to attack Napoleon, following the plan generated by the Austrian commander Weyrother. Andrei has some ideas of his own to improve the plan, but never has a chance to bring them up. Kuzutov is deeply skeptical; he thinks the battle will be lost, but sees no chance that his opinion will be heard.

Chapter 12

On the evening of the 19th, Weyrother arrives for a council of war in Kutuzov’s quarters and reads out the entire battle plan, and is surprised and also dismissive when some of the Russian generals have objections. Nothing will be changed; Andrei realizes that Weyrother may be right or his critics, but that he might die in battle either way; he is disappointed that he had not had a chance to give input, or to win fame and glory “and men’s love,” which is what he wants more than anything (282).

Chapter 13

Nikolai is on skirmishing duty that night in dense fog and is riding around sleepily, almost falling off his horse (stunning stream of consciousness with complicated puns–283), and when he is jerked back awake, thinks that he is hearing the French troops closer by than expected. But a closer investigation with a couple of other soldiers yields no distinctive information; when Nikolai reports back to Bagration, he asks to be attached to his squadron, eager to see action. Bagration says he will give the order.
At the same time, in the French camp, Napoleon’s proclamation to his soldiers, promising to be right there with them in battle, is being read out everywhere in the camps, and that is the shouting they heard everywhere.

Chapter 14

It is the morning of the battle of Austerlitz. The war machinery is being put in motion, but because of dense fog, there is chaos everywhere, and the Russians and Austrians are blaming each other for mishaps and miscommunication. Even by 9 am, the valleys all still lie in fog. Napoleon from higher ground can see that his plans have worked and that the allies think that the French troops are at a much greater distance from them than they actually are; as the sun emerges above the fog, he orders his troops to engage.

Chapter 15

Andrei, riding behind Kuzutov in his entourage as he moves to the village of Pratzen, sees nothing but mist. Kuzutov is in a foul mood because he has a sense of how close the French are. The two emperors show up, with their fresh and clean entourage of “brilliant young men” (294). Kutuzov only gives the order to move into battle when the Czar demands it, making clear he would like to wait until all troops are in readiness.

Chapter 16

As the fog clears, everyone can see that the French are very close. The battle has begun, but Kutuzov’s soldiers are already fleeing; Kutuzov tells Andrei to try to stop them, but it is all in vein. As the battery gets attacked, the standard with the flag gets passed from one man to another, until Andrei holds it and runs off with it until he is wounded and enters a kind of fugue state: he can only see “that lofty infinite sky” and everything else has become “vanity” and “falsehood” (299).

Chapter 17

Meanwhile, Bagration’s flank isn’t even engaged in battle yet. He wants to send someone all the way to the commander in chief (Kutuzov), 6 miles away on the other side of the battle, to get more information, so he sends Nikolai, knowing that he might not make it. Nikolai is excited and tries hard to get past various troops and battle scenes, involving the cavalry / Horse Guards (most of whom will die), Foot Guards (including Boris and Berg, who have seen action; Berg relishes having been wounded), and what he thinks are the French, in the “wrong place.” Everything is confusion and the Russians and Austrians are fighting each other, when they are not running away. But Nikolai keeps going.