For 6/22/2021 (OUP p. 605)
Book 2: Part 4 Continued
Scene: Christmas 1811, Otradnoe (Rostov Country Estate)
In the lull between Christmas, the young people are bored and Natasha is very moody because Andrei is not there; she orders the domestic serfs around to test her power (555) but they love it. She asks the buffoon what kind of children she will have, and Nastasya said “fleas, crickets and grasshoppers” (555–significance?).
Natasha, Nikolai, and Sonya while away the time recounting childhood memories, including of a “negro” that they thought they saw while the adults deny it (557-558–significance?). Sonya is always a big more timid and less engaged than the other two, but gets excited about the idea of metempsychosis and remembering things that happened before one’s current lifetime. Natasha is asked to sing, and though reluctant, sings well–it prompts her mother the countess to think, though, that “Natasha had too much of something, and that because of this she would not be happy” (560–more foreshadowing). Then a bunch of serfs show up dressed up–“mummery” clearly being a Christmas custom–and the young people dress up as well–interestingly, there is cross-dressing on both sides: Nikolai is “an old lady in a hooped skirt.” Petya is “a Turkish girl;” Natasha is a hussar, and Sonya is a Circassian man (which possibly means she might be a Muslim like the Turkish girl) with “extraordinarily becoming” moustache and eyebrows (all 560-561). Nikolai suggests a sledge ride to their neighbors, the Melyukovs, which turns into a sort of race. He thinks a lot about how changed the two girls are and feels very attracted to Sonya.
At the Melyukovs, the games continue–the costumes are admired, and the Melyukov children all dress up (more cross-dressing). As the mother hands out treats, she actually remarks that fruit jelly is “not forbidden by his law” to a pretend Turk (565). Christmas games are played, and Sonya is supposed to get her fortune told in a spooky empty bathhouse. Instead, what happens is that Nikolai, ever more fascinated by the moustachioed boy version of Sonya, follows her and kisses her “on the lips that wore a moustache” (567–I cannot get over this thinly veiled homoerotic [ soldier-to-soldier ? Not clear she is a Circassian soldier] attraction that is being enacted here, but also the love-as-conquest / victorious Russian soldier narrative. The genocidal war of Russia against the Circassians lasted 100 years and only just ended in 1864–this would have been such a topical and strange costume to read about).
On the way home, Nikolai is initially in the sledge with Sonya, but then switches to Natasha to tell her that he has decided to marry Sonya. She is very pleased. As the two girls get ready for bed, they receive mirrors from the maid, another fortune-telling device. Natasha sees nothing in hers, and says so, but Sonya, who also sees nothing, makes up a vision of Andrei, making Natasha more desperate to have him rejoin her than ever.
After the holidays are over, Nikolai tells his parents about his intentions; they will not bless the marriage, but the Count also cannot argue against it because he feels so guilty about leaving Nikolai nothing and therefore making a more financially advantageous match the goal. Nikolai’s mother is much more vocal and accuses Sonya of having ensnared Nikolai; Natasha tries to make peace, but once Nikolai returns to his regiment, the situation remains tense, adding to Natasha’s depression over Andrei’s absence.
Book 2: Part 5
Scene: Winter 1811 – January 1812, Moscow
The narrator sums up what Pierre has been up to since Andrei and Natasha’s engagement: after becoming disgusted with Court life in Petersburg, he returns to Moscow, where he is beloved and popular as a “heedless, genial nobleman of the old Russian type” (575) who spend his times in clubs and generously gives his money away. But he thinks of his life as meaningless, despises his wife and everyone else for their deception and hypocrisy, drinks a lot and reads obsessively so as not to think.
By wintertime, Prince Bolkonsky and Marya have also moved to Moscow; she is very unhappy because her father is forgetful, irritable, and mean; her friend Julie has no interest in her as she is making a last-ditch effort (at 27) to get someone to marry her, and Marya has none of her beloved pilgrims around. In addition, the Prince is increasingly cozy with Mademoiselle Bourienne. Marya is worried because she is taking it out on Andrey’s 6-year-old, little Nikolai.
On the Prince’s name day, a fashionable French doctor, Métivier, comes to the Bolkonsky’s house, and this brings things to a head; Prince Bolkonsky accuses him of being a French spy and kicks him out; at dinner that night with visitors, including Boris and Pierre, more anti-French sentiments are expressed by the Prince and his guests, as the tensions between Napoleon and Czar Alexander have increased (over Napoleon’s treatment of the Duke of Oldenburg (see historical footnote in the back, 1332-3). One visitor, Count Rastochpin, asks, infuriated, how Russia can fight the French, given that they have adopted French culture so completely (“The French are our Gods: Paris is our Kingdom of Heaven” 585).
Marya is at this dinner but doesn’t really listen; afterwards, Pierre talks to her about Boris–who has been sort of courting her, but has also set his sights on Julie. Marya confides in Pierre that she is worried about the hostility of her father to Natasha, before having even met her; but she herself is also unsure how to act; Pierre says that Natasha is “enchanting” and encourages her in her plan to try to forge a relationship between the girl and her future father-in-law.
We switch to Boris, who has evenly divided his attention between Julie and Marya, since they are the two wealthiest heiresses he could marry. Julie has adopted a fake melancholy persona, which he has tried to match in his conversations with her, writing sad poems and listening to her “most doleful nocturnes” (590). His mother, meanwhile, is trying to ascertain from Julie’s mother how much value her estates really have. Julie is becoming impatient with Boris, who keeps hesitating, and feigns interest in Anatole. Boris promptly proposes, Julie making sure he says “all that is said on such occasions” even though she knows that this is about her wealth; after the engagement, they both drop the melancholy pose (592–Tolstoy is being delicious about this fake Romantic / sentimental dejection).
By the end of January of 1812, Count Ilya Rostov also comes to Moscow, with Sonya and Natasha in tow (his wife being unwell and staying behind). They stay with a relative (Natasha’s godmother) rather than at their house in town, which is supposed to be sold. Marya Dmitrievna welcomes them warmly and guides Natasha in ordering her trousseau. She also brokers a visit of Natasha to the Bolkonskys.
Count Rostov rather nervously drops Natasha off at the Bolkonskys the next day, but this does not go well. Marya dislikes everything about her and cannot see that it is jealousy and prejudice; the prince breaks in on them in a dressing -gown and a night-cap and disappears right away. Natasha cries her heart out after her return and feels terrible about the disastrous meeting.
The girls go to the opera with Marya Dmitrievna that evening, and Natasha relishes being looked at and looked over by “hundreds of eyes” (599) in their box. They see many people they know; Anna with Boris and the Karagins (the engagement with Julie being an open secret by now; Uncle Shinshin tells them), also Dolokhov, in Persian dress, since he has allegedly been in the employ of some Persian minister. In the box next to theirs, Helene seats herself after a grand entrance, in what seems to be an especially revealing dress (she is described later as “semi-nude” and “quite unclothed,” 602).
As the opera begins, it is intermittently summarized in the most ridiculously reductive terms, focusing on the performance as if seen by someone who does not know at all what an opera is [really interesting narrative device–presumably conveying Natasha’s perspective, since the goings-on on stage seem “grotesque and amazing” to her (602)], and she is unable to follow them. Instead, she watches Anatole entering Helene’s box; talks to Boris when he comes to their box after the first act to chat, while Helene’s box fills with “the most distinguished and intellectual men” (603); she also chats with Count Rostov, asking to make the girls’ acquaintance. Anatole stares at Natasha intently and she enjoys feeling that “he was captivated by her and it did not occur to her that there was anything wrong in it” (604–he is always bad news!).