W& P Week 24: Two/Five/9

For 6/22/2021 (OUP p. 605)

Book 2: Part 4 Continued

Scene: Christmas 1811, Otradnoe (Rostov Country Estate)

Chapter 9

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?).

Chapter 10

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.

Chapter 11

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).

Chapter 12

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.

Chapter 13

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

Chapter 1

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.

Chapter 2

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.

Chapter 3

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).

Chapter 4

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.

Chapter 5

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).

Chapter 6

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.

Chapter 7

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.

Chapter 8

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).

Chapter 9

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!).


W& P Week 22: Two/Four/8

For 6/8/2021 (OUP p. 553)

Book 2: Part 3 Continued

Scene: Petersburg

Chapter 22

Andrei goes to see Natasha the following day, but even though everyone expects a proposal, nothing happens. Natasha tells her mother (again in her bed) that she has never felt this way before and feels she was fated to fall in love with him; at the same time, Andrei tells Pierre (whose mood changes from grumpy to cheerful) about his love for Natasha, but also his worry that his father won’t consent.

Chapter 23

Andrei goes to see his father, who is not happy about this development and asks that Andrei wait a year. While he is gone (for 3 weeks) Natasha is on tenterhooks at first, but then returns to her habit of admiring herself as if through the eyes of a “third, collective, male person” (510). When Andrei returns, he asks the Countess for her daughter’s hand and explains about the yearlong wait; when he talks to Natasha, it takes her a while to process this delay; she is both happy and appalled at the same time.

Chapter 24

Because of the yearlong wait, there is no ceremony or official announcement of the engagement. Andrei gets ready to go abroad (for his health and to find a tutor for little Nikolai), but before he leaves, the begs Natasha and Sonya to appeal to Pierre and Pierre alone if they need help. Natasha is in despair at first after Andrei leaves, but then recovers and becomes “her old self again, but with a change in her moral physiogonomy, as a child gets up after a long illness with a changed expression of face” (516).

Scene: Bald Hills

Chapter 25

Prince Bolkonsky, Andrei’s dad, is declining in health and temper and takes it out on Marya. She seeks refuge in religion and writes about this to her friend Julie in Petersburg. She refuses to believe the rumors Julie has heard about her brother’s engagement.

Chapter 26

But then, a letter to Marya from Andrei from a spa abroad tells her about the engagement; he asks her to find out whether their father would be willing to let him get married 4 months earlier. The father’s response is erratic: Andrei should wait until he’s dead; he should marry right away and find out what the Rostovs are really like. He also threatens to marry Mademoiselle Bourienne, which worries Marya, who harbors the secret wish to become a vagrant pilgrim like the God’s folk she supports.

Book 2: Part 4

Scene: Pavlograd Regiment in Poland, then Otradnoe (Rostov country estate), fall 1809

Chapter 1

Nikolai loves his life in the military, because “though idle he was fulfilling his duty,” apparently an ideal state for humanity (or men?), 523. But his mother calls him home because the financial situation of the family is so dire. He takes a leave of absence and returns to Otradnoe, welcomed enthusiastically. He is a bit skeptical about the engagement, but admires his dignified, beautiful sister more than ever.

Chapter 2

Nikolai tries to intervene in the finances of the family by yelling at Mitenka, the steward, but he doesn’t understand any better than his father how finances work and cannot figure out basic bookkeeping to ascertain whether Mitenka is cheating them or not. After agreeing to destroy a promissory note from Anna M for 2,000 rubles because his mother asks him to, he stops interfering in money affairs; instead, he throws himself into hunting, for which is father, although only a half-hearted hunter, keeps an enormous establishment of horses, dogs, and men (query: all serfs? some serfs, some not?).

Chapter 3

Although it is only September, a winter hunt is being planned and the dogs are supposed to rest. But on September 15, the weather is perfect and everyone gets ready to go hunting, prompted by Nikolai and his huntsman Danilo, specifically for a wolf pack. Natasha insists on joining the hunt.

Chapter 4 — Hunting # 1

An enormous group of people and dogs (130 dogs in total) is part of the hunting party, Natasha and Petya and a country “Uncle,” a distant relative of the Rostovs with much less wealth, all joining them. The count stations himself with his attendant Chekmar and a jester / “buffoon” WHO IS A MAN IN DRAG CALLED BY A WOMAN’S NAME in a particular spot. (NB There is an entire 1998 monograph about the Buffoon in 19c Russian Literature–but I don’t even understand why there were still jesters in Russia as late as 1809!) They actually see the wolf that has been flushed out by the hounds but they are too inept to corner or attack it.

Chapter 5 — Hunting # 2

Nikolai is at his own post waiting for a wolf, and comes very close to catching an old she-wolf–his oldest hunting dog Karay actually attacks it (the moment when it looks like the dog will kill the wolf is “the happiest moment of his life” (536 UGH) but then the wolf gets away; Danilo gets it and it is captured alive and bound over a horse.

Chapter 6 — Hunting # 3

They keep hunting for a fox, but a neighbor, a man named Ilagin, who has had a long-lasting quarrel with the Rostovs, and his hunting party manage to kill it even though the Rostov party’s dogs hunted it. A conflict seems imminent, but instead, Ilagin is very polite and Nikolai calms down. They all ride together and pretend to be modest about their prize hunting dogs or borzois, which, according to the poor “Uncle” actually cost “a village” (i.e. MULTIPLE FAMILIES OF SERFS, cf. 540) each. The Uncle’s much less valuable borzoi Rugay actually manages to catch the hare that they are after. It is clear that hunting is an important way to stage social competition and dominance–the Uncle has won this round.

Chapter 7 — Hunting # 4

After Ilagin and his party take leave at the end of the day, Uncle invites them to his homestead, where they can rest until a trap can be sent for Natasha, Nikolai, and Petya to get them back home. The serfs on the modest, almost shabby estate gawk at Natasha, and although Nikolai and Natasha at first laugh at the way the Uncle lives, his happiness and especially the delicious traditional Russian food that the jolly housekeeper Anisya (very clearly the uncle’s mistress or common-law wife) serves are infectious. When his huntsman plays the balalaika and Uncle himself the guitar and a folk-dance begins, the young French-educated aristocrats all become very Russian, and Natasha dances and wants to learn the guitar instead of the harp. The traps arrive around 9 pm and Natasha and Nikolai talk on the way home, still mutually admiring each other.

Chapter 8

Meanwhile, the money gets ever tighter and Count Ilya Rostov’s affairs messier and messier. But it doesn’t occur to him to stop hosting card games and losing tons of money to his neighbors in gambling, or to reduce his hunting establishment. The countess has only one idea–that of getting Nikolai to agree to marry the wealthy Julie Karagina. But even though he is not particularly enamored of Sonya anymore, he asks her theoretically whether she really thinks he should sacrifice his feelings if he loved “a girl who has no fortune” “only wishing to show his noble-mindedness” (552) and his mother feels unable to insist. Nikolai starts to pay attention to Sonya again, while Natasha is growing depressed as Andrei is still abroad, his war wound giving him trouble again.


W&P Week 20: Two/Three/21

For 5/25/2021 (OUP p. 505)

Book 2: Part 3 Continued

Scene: Petersburg, August 1809

Chapter 4

Andrei arrives in Petersburg in August 1809, just at the time when two courtiers/politicians, Speransky and Arakcheev, are at the height of their influence on the Czar. They seems to be a lot of reform, but it all comes to nothing, and Andrei’s attempt to suggest new military regulations to Arakcheev, the minister of war, lead to nothing except that he joins a committee on army regulations.

Chapter 5

Andrei joins Petersburg society, which finds him quite interesting, and attends a dinner at a Count Kochubey’s house where the mighty Speranksy involves him in a conversation about politics and the new attempts to reform the byzantine court ranks. Andrei himself is not interested in these ranks, but partly defends them to establish himself as someone with an opinion–he is all about the idea of honor as the basis of the monarchy and aristocracy and about Montesquieu.

Chapter 6

Andrei continues to have contact with Speransky, who flatters him a bit by suggestion that they are on the same level of intelligence while others are beneath them and comes to admire him increasingly for his rational approach, even as he does not like Speransky’s contempt for others. He does become a member of the Committee on Army regulation and is supposed to chair a subcommittee to revise the civil code with the Code Napoléon in mind.

Prelapse to catch us up on Pierre 1808-1810

Chapter 7

Piere, in the meantime, has risen in the ranks of the freemasons since 1808 but dislikes the shallow and narrow approach of his fellow Petersburg masons, dividing them into four types–the ones who are only into the mysticism, the ones who are seeking but have not found a path (including himself), the ones who are just into the eternal forms, and the ones who only joined for networking purposes. He goes abroad to study and visit Freemasons elsewhere to learn more, and comes back in the summer of 1809, delivering a speech to his Lodge that calls for more direct political action–not revolution, but seeking political influence, a sort of masonic uber government. But this is controversial and earns him a reprimand from the Grand Master.

Chapter 8

Pierre grows very depressed because of this, at the same time as pressure increases from various sides to reconcile with his wife, Helène. His Moscow mason mentor, Iosif Alexeevich, recommends that he keep a journal to reflect more on his path, and we get several entries from November and December 1809 (here and again in Chapter 10). He tries to do what his mentor recommends and what his wife’s relatives ask and they are “reunited” under one roof but without a sexual relationship.

Chapter 9

Helène is very popular at court, especially with the French, and has a reputation for being beautiful, elegant, and intelligent; her salons are very popular. Pierre is puzzled because he knows that she is “very stupid” (470) and watches her being admired for saying “the emptiest and stupidest things” (470)–WHAT ARE THEY? ARE THEY STUPID? WHY DON’T WE GET TO JUDGE? Meanwhile, he is allocated the eccentric, somewhat befuddled husband of the great belle, benevolently indifferent to what is going on at the salons–and this despite the fact that he is deeply suspicious of Boris and his role, and also undergoing a lot of “internal development” (471).

Chapter 10

In his diary, Pierre records that Boris was initiated into the masons and that he was his rhetor / initiation person, which was tough for him. He also reports on his dreams, esepcially about his mentor, Alexeevich, whom he asks in these dreams to help him get rid of his passions (which appear as dogs in one dream), while he also records dreaming that he “burned with longing to caress him and lie down too” — in a dream where Alexeevich tells him he should resume having sex with his wife (“one should not deprive a wife of one’s embraces” (475). The next dream features erotic drawings of “a maiden in transparent garments and with a transparent body” (475). Whoa, Pierre!

Scene: The Rostovs in Petersburg, 1808-1810

Chapter 11

Now Tolstoy catches us up to the Rostov’s situation, which is financially precarious. They eventually go to Petersburg so that the count can get some extra income and prestige through an official court position. But in Petersburg they are considered provincial Muscovites and seem unpolished. Berg finally proposed to Vera, after having basically talked people into decorating him for feats in battle that didn’t happen, but he demands a lot of money for his dowry and the Count presumably plummets even deeper into debt (of the estates for his two daughters, Vera and Natasha, one has already been sold and the other is mortgaged). He clearly has no idea what his financial affairs are like except not good.

Chapter 12

In 1809, when Natasha is 16, Boris starts coming back around, but really with no intention to court or marry her, since it would ruin his career. But he is charmed with her beauty and seems to be unable to stop coming to the house.

Chapter 13

During this Natasha comes to her mom’s bedroom at night to snuggle up and talk about Boris (whom she does not especially like–he is “gray and narrow” while Pierre is “dark blue and red, and … square” and she likes him better (483). [Synesthesia as a replacement for female interiority? WEIRD.] The countess tells her that she can’t marry him, and that it’s clear she is not in love with him anyway, but Natasha suggests he could come visit without courting her, “just so” (483). Her mother does not approve and later speaks to Boris, who stops coming. Natasha, meanwhile, takes on the task of just pretend-admiring herself in the absence of admirers (483-84).

Chapter 14

The next year, on Dec 31, 1810, there is a big New Year’s Eve ball in Petersburg with all the aristocrats and the emperor in attendance. The Rostovs have been invited, an old lady of the court having pulled some strings, and we witness Sonya, Natasha, and their mother getting ready for the ball with quite a bit of delay and perfectionism on Natasha’s part, since she wants everyone to look perfect–obviously not caring that the maids and seamstresses are frantic in trying to get her ready.

Chapter 15

When they arrive at the ball, Natasha is charmingly self-conscious because she has not had any time to practice or rehearse an impressive entrance. She is dazzled and confused and this makes her just adorable. Meanwhile, others we have met enter the ballroom–Helène and Pierre, whose presence delights Natasha, the evil Anatole, and also Andrei, whom Natasha remembers from his stay at their country estate.

Chapter 16

The Emperor arrives and opens the first dance. But Natasha is completely preoccupied by the fact that she might not be asked to dance the first dance. But Pierre nudges Andrei to ask her (calling her his protegée), and of course, she lights up, not quite beautiful but fresh and virginal (Helène by contrast “seemed, as it were, hardened by a varnish left by the thousands of looks that had scanned her person” (492) [–so the male gaze freezes and diminishes female beauty and devalues the woman who is being looked at and admired?? Hmmm…. ].

Chapter 17

Others dance with Natasha as well, including Boris and others, and Andrei several more times, and Natasha is all around delighted and “love[s] everybody” (493), finding it impossible to understand why Pierre (not liking his wife’s role at this ball) is not happy. It crosses Andrei’s mind that he will marry her, although he dismisses it as “rubbish” (494).

Chapter 18

Andrei basically can’t focus on anything and now questions the purpose of the reforms and all his political activities again. An evening at Speransky’s seems horrid and hollow; everyone is laughing as long as Speransky is there and stops as soon as he leaves. Andrei leaves early. (But he can’t figure out that he’s falling in love.)

Chapter 19

Andrei calls at the Rostovs and now thinks they are “excellent, simple people” and Natasha’s music playing fabulous. He makes “happy plans for the future” (which includes finding a tutor for his son to be rid of him and travel abroad) but he still can’t figure it out.

Chapter 20

Berg comes to Pierre to invite him to a dinner at his and Vera’s newly-established apartment. As he and Vera await the guests, we get a sense of how little they know what the other thinks–each feeling very superior over the other, and each assuming the entire other gender is sort of wrong about everything. When Pierre comes, as the first guest, he is the victim of this mutual ignorance, as the conversation is “very incoherent” (503). Boris arrives, along with others, and Vera and Berg are very happy that their party becomes “exactly like all other evening parties” (503) including all the high-status guests that Boris hopes to impress.

Chapter 21

As Pierre sits down to play cards, he sees Natasha and sees her looking indifferent and almost plain, until Andrei enters the room and she becomes radiant, while Andrei also lights up. So at least Pierre sort of figures out that “something very important is happening between them” (504). Vera, tactless and conventional, tries to draw Andrei out about Natasha but fails. But Andrei starts to ask Pierre about the white women’s gloves the masons give to their beloved– and then postpones the conversation. Instead, Pierre is being dragged away to participate into “a loud conversation among the men and a dispute about something important and clever” (505) that Berg is happy to see as the perfect conventional addition to his first party.


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.