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


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.


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


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 46: Four/Four/8

For 11/23/2021, to p.1146

Scene: On the Smolensk Road as the French retreat

The French retreat in one of the most famous infographics ever produced, by Charles Joseph Minard in 1869. It shows six types of data on two dimensions: the number of Napoleon’s troops; distance; temperature; the latitude and longitude; direction of travel; and location relative to specific dates. Lithograph, 62 × 30 cm. This is the modern English translation created by Inigo Lopez Vasquez, available on Wikimedia Commons.

Chapter 19

The French retreat to Smolensk along the road they took to come to Moscow, losing men all along the way. Meanwhile, Kutuzov tries to prevent the Russian army from attacking the French, which seems completely unnecessary.

Book Four, Part 3

Chapter 1

More reflection on the Russian “victory without a victory” that began with Borodino, ultimately based on the fact that the rules and traditions of war were being broken after that point and as the French retreated. Extended simile for the guerrilla warfare that ensued: A fencing duel in which one of the parties throws out the rapier and takes up a cudgel, and wins.

Chapter 2

More reflection on the success of guerrilla warfare and the failure of traditional warfare in this campaign, resulting from the fact that the military strategists that go by the rules ignore the unknown “factor x,” the “spirit of the army,” which behaves unpredictably: it is so low in the French that they can only move as a mass that retreats; it is so high in the Russians that they attack even though they are dispersed in many different small contingents.

Chapter 3

In these contingents, groups of “irregulars,” including partisan detachments and peasants play a major role in destroying the French army piecemeal (1114). We now FINALLY get a concrete example and a continuation of the plot: Around October 22, Denisov and Dolokhov and their group of irregulars find out about a convoy of French cavalry baggage and Russian prisoners that they are supposed to attack jointly with bigger regiments. But instead, they decide to attack the convoy on their own, guerrilla-style.

Chapter 4

As Denisov and some of his ragged men ride through the pouring rain and the mud, a French prisoner (a drummer boy) in tow, Petya Rostov joins them, sent as an adjutant from a German general to keep Denisov from attacking. Denisov is ignoring the message, but delighted to see Petya, who wants to stay with him because he is eager to see action.

Chapter 5

Denisov, Petya, and some of his men spy on the French and witness one of their own, the Russian peasant-soldier and sharpshooter Tikhon, as he is goading them and running through their midst. He was supposed to capture a French prisoner for intelligence-gathering.

Chapter 6

Shortly afterwards, Tikhon joins them, and Denisov, interrogating him, is upset that he has no Frenchman to show for (the implication is that he captured and killed one, but Petya doesn’t quite catch on right away). But when he hears that Dolokhov is approaching, he cheers up.

Chapter 7

Petya, excited to be closer to the action, is concealing that the general he works under has explicitly forbidden him from taking part in any action under Denisov (because in an earlier battle, he had galloped into French fire and acted recklessly). He is in love with war and with all them–like his brother Nikolai earlier, but even more extreme and childish: he tries to give everyone presents, share all his possessions, and begs to be able to “command something” (1125). at the same time, he also empathizes intensely with the little French drummer-boy.

Chapter 8

Dolokhov arrives and Petya is awestruck because he knows about his bravery and also his “cruelty to the French” (1128), which is immediately apparent, as he is dissatisfied with Denisov’s kind treatment of the French drummer boy. They clearly do not see eye-to-eye on prisoners: Denisov wants no one’s life on his conscience and sends all prisoners up the chain; Dolokhov thinks of this as hypocritical (the prisoners are just killed later; why not kill them now?).

Chapter 9

Dolokhov has brought French officer uniforms for disguise, and he takes Petya with him as he spies among the French soldiers in the camp, brazen and never suspected (is his French really that good? why? how?). Petya is even more star-struck and kisses him after he tells him to tell Denisov to be ready to fire “the first shot at daybreak” (1132).

Chapter 10

Petya passes this on to Denisov and is told to get some sleep, but he can’t. He talks to a Cossack, Likhachov, who is also still awake, and asks him to sharpen his sabre. He is sleepy and excited enough to go into a sort of trance where the forest and the camp seem like a “fairy kingdom” where he hears “an harmonious orchestra playing some unknown, sweetly solemn hymn” (1134, 1135), battle music to which he drifts off until awoken by Likhachov and summoned by Denisov.

Chapter 11

Denisov is giving orders all around and then tells Petya, on horseback behind him again begging for a commission, to obey him and not not to “shove you’self fo’ward anywhere” (1136). But as the attack begins, that is exactly what he does: he gallops forward right into the middle of soldiers exchanging shots, and he is shot in the head and dies as the French already surrender. Dolokhov frowns as he sees the dead body (“Finished”) but Denisov turns over the dead body with “trembling hands” and makes a sound “like the yelp of a dog” as he is grappling with Petya’s senseless death (1138). One of the prisoners they rescue is Pierre.

Chapter 12

On October 22, the party of prisoners with their ever-shrinking number of guards and wagons, and their own decreasing number of survivors (only 100 out of originally 33o), is still going forward along with the French army. Platon Karataev is very ill, and Pierre often avoids him and his impending death on the march, just as he ignores the fact that other prisoners are being shot if they lag behind (over 100 of them). Instead, he focuses on the marching, on surviving, convincing himself that “nothing in the world is terrible” (1140).

Chapter 13

Around mid-day on Oct 22, Pierre and the others are still marching on the road, lined by dead animals and people “in various stages of decomposition” (1141-42). He thinks about the prior evening, when he listened to Platon telling a story [apparently one of Tolstoy’s favorites]: an old man falsely accused of murder, later tells his story to a group of fellow prisoners in Siberia, among whom is the man who actually committed the crime. The man, stricken by bad conscience, confesses to the crime, but before the innocent man can be pardoned by the Tsar, he has already died. Platon’s rapturous joy because “God had already forgiven” the innocent man is shared by Pierre. [What is the point???]

Chapter 14

But now the march is interrupted by the carriage convoy of Emperor Napoleon and his marshalls coming through. He sees Platon sitting against a tree, looking at him directly, but Pierre marches on, ignoring the French soldiers who are “talking over his head” and the shot he hears, the howling of the dog that has kept the prisoners company–as do all the other prisoner-soldiers walking with him.

Chapter 15

When the group stops at a village, Pierre eats and falls asleep, dreaming of a teacher he had as a young man showing him a globe made of compressed water drops. When a French soldier awakens him by yelling at him, he almost comes to the point of realizing that Platon was killed but he doesn’t want to face it and falls back asleep. He only wakes up when they are liberated by the Cossacks at sunrise, weeping and hugging his liberators. Denisov and Dolokhov have taken over 200 prisoners. It remains unclear whether they will be killed, with Denisov following some Cossacks who are going to bury Petya.

No Scene: More Reflections

Chapter 16

The narrator describes the further shrinking of the French army, especially after it gets cold after October 28, from 73,000 to 36,000. One of Napoleon’s generals, Berthier, describes the misery graphically, but “no one issued any orders” to Napoleon (1149), and his own stay orders on paper, not carried out because everyone is just trying to save themselves.

Chapter 17

As the French army flees, the Russian army pursues them, and, in one area, when the Russians miscalculate where the French will turn and get to a certain stretch before them, the Russian army forms a sort of gauntlet the French have to pass through. The French try to destroy things along the way, like toddlers, mentioned earlier, who want to “punish the floor against which they had hurt themselves” (1150). Everyone is, again, just out for themselves, including the leaders and Napoleon himself

Chapter 18

Basically, the French are destroying themselves, and the narrator is contemptuous of the historians who have written about this retreat, after Malo-Yaroslavets, and who are just wrong when they talk about Napoleon’s heroism or his marshals’ “greatness of soul” (1151) because they all did the morally wrong thing by their comrades. “There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness, and truth are absent” (1152).

Chapter 19

As far as the Russians are concerned, the narrator knows that they are embarrassed in hindsight because even as the Russian army had the upper hand they lost various battles, at Krasnoe and Beryozina. But he also points out that the French victories in these battles “brought them to complete destruction” while the Russian defeats destroyed the enemy (1153). Partly, the historians (again, so very wrong) have seen “mistakes” because they argue / assume that the Russians were trying to cut off the French and failed. But that was not the plan, except in the minds of a few strategists–it was, in fact, completely impossible for it to happen. The coordination of different parts of the army, the numbers of soldiers, the “cutting off” as a strategy, and the health / climate conditions all made it impossible. Russians soldiers were not to blame for this alleged failure–“they are not to blame because other Russians, sitting in warm rooms, proposed they should do what was impossible” (1154). Instead, the real goal, “to free their land from invasion,” was accomplished by letting the French run away, by the guerrilla warfare, and by the Russian army following the French, ready to “push” should they stop fleeing.

Book 4, Part 4

Scene: With the Rostovs in the Russian Countryside

Chapter 1

Marya and Natasha are in deep mourning, both living with a deep “spiritual wound” (1157) after Andrei’s death. When Marya slowly awakens to her duties (to her household, to little Nikolai) and says she wants to go to Moscow to put her house (not destroyed) back in order, Natasha does not want to go with her, because she is still thinking of nothing but Andrei and of what she should have done and said when he was sick and dying. But as she ruminates, the maid bursts in on her with news of Petya.

Chapter 2

It takes Natasha a bit to understand what has happened, but she then immediately shakes herself out of her own mourning for Andrei to deal with her mother, who is nearly delusional with grief and can hardly understand that Petya has died. Taking care of her mother brings Natasha back to life and lets her heal from her spiritual wound.

Chapter 3

Marya and Natasha bond very tightly over the joint care for the Countess, and a “tender and passionate friendship, such as exists only between women” evolves between them, including a “feeling of life being possible only in each other’s presence” (1163), even as they never talk about Andrei. When Marya leaves for Moscow at the end of January (1813, in other words?), Natasha does go with her, since she herself is supposed to see the doctors about her own health.

No Scene: Reflections about the battle of Krasnoe

Chapter 4

Kutuzov has successfully kept the Russians from more engagements, despite his generals’ eagerness to fight the French, because he is determined to lose as few lives / troops as possible, preserve their energy, and just let the French drive themselves out of the country. The narrator tells us that in this respect, he is at once with the Russian soldiers (many of his generals are not Russians) and is doing the right thing. But at Krasnoe, he is unable to prevent the battle, even as it makes no sense to fight it and even though the generals are really not the heroes and victors they think they are, but “blind tools of the most melancholy law of necessity” (1167).

Chapter 5

The narrator reminds us that Kutuzov was criticized and even reviled in 1812 and 1813 for his decisions, while Napoleon was admired as a “great man,” even among the Russian historians. But Kutuzov had very specific goals, deliberately avoiding confrontation with the French and drive them out of Russia without further battle, because of “the national feeling he possessed in full purity and strength” (1170). He is really the true hero in question (who is hero-worshipping now?)

Scene: Krasnoe, among the Russian Troops

Chapter 6

Kutuzov gives an emotional, but rambling speech at the end of the first day of the battle of Krasnoe (November 5), and although many troops cannot really hear what he is saying, they catch and admire his sincerity and “the feeling of majestic triumph combined with pity of the foe” which “lay in the soul of every soldier” (1172).

Chapter 7

On the end of the last day of the 3-day battle of Krasnoe (November 8), one of the infantry regiments, severely decimated since Tarutino, is trying to settle down for the night and stay warm. The only available hut is set aside for the commander, and the soldiers are trying to use the wattle wall of another as a sort of windscreen around the fire. They are in fairly high spirits, even as one of the sergeant-majors yells at them and lashes out at them for cursing and singing as they set up.

Chapter 8

Despite the exhaustion and the bitter cold, the men are in good spirits and “cheerful and animated” because only those who are “physically or morally” the strongest have survived this long (1175). WE are listening in on a conversation between various soldiers about the pitiful French POWs, the many dead everywhere, about the need to finish off “Poleon” and about the amazing view of the Milky Way. Some of the men from the 8th Company decide to go over a few hundred feet to the 5th Company and their fires.