W&P Week 18: Two/Three/3

For 5/11/2021 (OUP p. 453)

Book 2 Part 2

Scene: The Russian Provinces (still ca. 1807)

Chapter 10

Pierre goes to his estates near Kiev and elsewhere and works with his steward and other “managers” on these estates to improve the lives of his serfs, since they convince him it is impossible to free them. But he really gets completely duped by these people and in effect makes things worse for the serfs without even realizing it, blissfully impressed with himself because new buildings are going up (unused) and nursing mothers get sent home (to work harder there without pay). He is also continuing to party and life “the old life” in Kiev (405).

Chapter 11

Pierre goes to see Andrei on his estate, and is appalled how desponded and lifeless Andrei seems, even has his affairs are in very good order. Pierre tries to talk to him about the idea of living for others–the life of self-sacrifice he thinks he is living. But Andrei can’t see the point. Pierre building hospitals and Andrei building himself a new manor house and garden are just equally “a pastime” (411). He says that he only serves under his father because he can use his influence to prevent his father’s harshest punishments. As for the liberation of the serfs, he is indifferent because he thinks that physical labor is all they care about. If anything, he is more concerned about the way that power over serfs corrupts the ones that have it–their cruelty is the reason to consider emancipating the serfs.

Chapter 12

Pierre joins Andrei on a carriage ride to visit Andrei’s father and sister with Andrei, which gives him a chance to tell him about freemasonry and his belief in God. And while Andrei does not seem like cares, it does have an impact on him, and suddenly, “something that was best within him [ ] suddenly awoke, joyful and youthful, in his soul” (417).

Chapter 13

At Bald Hills, Andrei and Pierre see “God’s folk,” the vagrant pilgrims that Marya secretly supports without her dad’s approval, scurrying off. When they go see Marya, they talk to one of them, Ivanushka, and are quite ready to make fun of them for their naive belief in what Andrei and Pierre clearly see as fraudulent miracles put together by greedy monks. They hastily apologize when Marya pleads with them to not offend her charges.

Chapter 14

Both Marya and Andrey’s dad enjoy having Pierre around, even though the count likes to argue with him; Marya is rather worried about Andrei, including his inability of him, because he’s not a woman, to “weep away our sorrows” (421). Pierre feels appreciated.

Scene: Pavlograd Regiment Camp, East Prussia (Spring / Summer 1807)

Chapter 15

Scene Change: Nikolai rejoins his regiment in East Prussia (Bartenstein near Preussisch-Eulau; this is about two months after the famously inconclusive battle that happened there in February of 1807) and feels instantly at home and as if everything is order and clarity–even though the rations keep not coming through and the men are starving and miserable in muddy tents. He is again living with Denisov, in a comparatively luxurious earth-lodge type structure that has been built for the officers.

Chapter 16

One morning, after coming home to his quarters, Nikolai sees an infuriated Denisov take off on horseback and come back with provisions that he has commandeered from an infantry convoy. He refuses to return them or to apologize, and when he discovers that it is Telyanin who kept holding up the food for his regiment, he starts beating him up. When Denisov gets wounded a little while later, he willingly leaves for the hopistal to get everyone off his back.

Chapter 17

After the armistice following the battle of Friedland in June 1807 (where Napoleon decisively won) Nikolai goes to the hospital where Denisov is being “treated” (it is completely overrun and in the midst of a typhus epidemic). Nikolai sees the devastating conditions, including a dead man among the sick common soldiers, whom no one has time to bury).

Chapter 18

When Nikolai finally finds Denisov in the officer’s ward, he is worse off than before health-wise and still determined not to apologize and not to “gwovel” (435)–at least not publicly. Everyone in the ward seems to have heard him go on about this before and they all tune him out. But eventually, he gives Nikolai what he has come for: the signed petition to the emperor for a pardon.

Chapter 19

Nikolai arrives in Tilsit to deliver the petition at the worst possible time–just as Napoleon and Czar Alexander are about to engage in the negotiation of the peace of Tilsit (begun in June and concluded in July of 1807, a huge scoop for Napoleon). Boris, who is there and who knows that the wind now blows in Napoleon’s favor, is entertaining French and Russian officers when Nikolai arrives, and is very reluctant to help Nikolai with the petition.

Chapter 20

Instead, Nikolai wanders through town the next morning and decides to go directly to Czar Alexander’s quarters. Again, he is being told (as he had been by Boris) that he needs to hand the petition in through his commander; a cavalry general who likes Denisov tries to help him out, but Alexander tells him that he has to abide by the law.

Chapter 21

Nikolai now witnesses Alexander and Napoleon riding together to check out the Russian army (he notices how short Napoleon is BUT NAPOLEON WASN’T SHORT), and witnesses how a random soldier in the first rank, Lazarev, is being given the French Legion of Honor medal, because Napoleon would like to make a gesture of goodwill. Nikolai is baffled by the preference of Lazarev while Denisov remains unduly “punished and unpardoned” (446); but when other officers start grumbling at various unfairnesses, he defends the emperor with a quasi-theological fervor–they cannot presume to know what Alexander wants, but they need to follow him in everything, because he is always right. (“Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die,” basically.) And then they all get drunk again.

Book 3 Part 1

Scene: Spring 1809, the Russian Provinces

Chapter 1

As the Russians and the French are working together AGAINST Austria, even discussing dynastic ties, daily life “went on as usual” (446). Andrei has begun to put into practice what Pierre can’t get together: he has emancipated 300 of his serfs, and continues to work with his father and follow the political events closely. In the spring of 1809, he is visiting an estate in Ryazan that little Nikolai, his son, has inherited; on the way there, his footman Pyotr is raving about how everything is already green. But Andrei sees an oak that is still all bare, and thinks that spring is a fraud, and the oak says it all: “his life was not for him to begin anything anew–but […] he must live out his life, content to do no harm, and not disturbing himself or desiring anything” (449 — clinical depression AND Buddhism?)

Chapter 2

The person Andrei has to talk to in Ryazan is actually Count Rostov, now in the country with his family. He watches a gaggle of girls from a distance, as they play and giggle in the garden, including Natasha, whose joy he doesn’t understand. But later her overhears her from his bedroom window, since the girl’s room is above hers, as she is mooning over the moon and the beautiful night. That stirs an “unexpected turmoil of youthful thoughts and hopes” (451).

Chapter 3

The next day, Andrei settles his business with Count Rostov and starts on the back home, again passing the oak. But now it’s June, spring is in full bloom, and the oak is “transfigured” and full of leaves, so that Andrei decides “life is not over at thirty-one” (452), and decides everything will change. He doesn’t even understand anymore why he felt the way he did before (even Princess Lise doesn’t seem to be accusing him of having caused her death anymore), and makes all kinds of plans to go to Petersburg in the fall and get involved in everything again.


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.