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 36: Three/Three/9

For 9/16/2021 (p. 906)

Book Three, Part Two continued

Scene: Napoleon ‘s outlook at the Shevardino Redoubt

Chapter 33

Napoleon cannot see what is happening at the center of the battlefield (Bagration’s flèches), and all information he receives is always already outdated and unreliable. Orders are given but not carried out, the movements and decisions during the battle do not make sense because they can’t.

Chapter 34

Napoleon’s generals want reinforcements and Napoleon refuses because he cannot see “my chessboard” clearly, ultimately “playing the part of a doctor who hinders by his medicines” (861). Seeing that his strategies do not work and that the battle is not going his way, he feels depressed, as do all his men. He rides across the center of the battlefield (toward Semyonovsk) at the end of the day, seeing the devastation and knowing he cannot change anything through his orders.

Scene: Kutuzov’s headquarters in Gorky

Chapter 35

Meanwhile, Kutuzov is getting messages from the battlefield, listening to all the intelligence but not giving any orders, until he needs to replace the wounded Bagration with a new commander. Wolzogen comes from Barclay de Tolly’s position to report that the battle has been lost, and Kutuzov tells him they are wrong. Wolzogen thinks Kutuzov is wrong but has to take the written order back to Barclay that the fighting is supposed to resume the next day. He doesn’t realize that Kutuzov is good at intuiting “the spirit of the army” (867), making emotional sense of the mood–and at influencing it with his order, which makes the soldiers feel “comforted and inspirited” at the end of a horrid battle day (868).

Scene Change: Andrei’s regiment (near Semyonovsk)

Chapter 36

Andrei’s regiment is part of the battle reserves, still inactive by 1 pm. Everyone is just waiting, doing nothing as they see the dead and wounded being carried past them, listening to the bombardments, with cannonballs and shells coming their way all the time. A shell explodes very close to him and wounds him severely–he thinks this is death. But he is being carried to the overwhelmed hospital tents and gets priority as a commander. He is still convinced he will die, but also discovers that he loves life.

Chapter 37

Andrei is being operated on, at times losing consciousness, but he is remembering pleasant memories from early childhood–“when he used to be undressed and put to bed, and when leaning over him his nanny sang him to sleep and he, burying his head in the pillow, felt happy in the mere consciousness of life” (873). He is aware of the sobbing and screaming man next to him, who is asking to see his leg that has just been amputated, and realizes it is Anatole Kuragin. He thinks of him with love and forgiveness, and also of Natasha with love and tenderness. He is remembering his childhood lessons about loving one’s enemies–but he is convinced it is too late and that he will die.

Scene: Napoleon ‘s outlook at the Shevardino Redoubt

Chapter 38

Napoleon, when being told that the Russians are holding their ground (near Knyazkovo) under heavy French fire, gives the order to increase the artillery fire. The narrator tells us that all he can think of is his “imaginary greatness” and is incapable of understanding “goodness, beauty, or truth” (877). He quotes from Napoleon’s look back at the Russian war while on St. Helen’s, in which he is still able to argue that he would have created a great European empire for the benefit of one people, a “great cause” (877), and that, given the multi-national army on the French side, many more Russians died than French soldiers per se (as opposed to soldiers fighting for the French) among the hundreds of thousands who died.

[No location]

Chapter 39

Reflection on the impact of the battle, as it “burnt slowly out” while the spirits of the men on both sides are flagging even as they still fire at one another. The narrator observes that even though it would have looked to an outside observer of the rear of either army that one more push would have tipped the result, the Russians could not have done this because they had already lost so many troops (half the entire army), while the French theoretically could have, in terms of their manpower, but “the flagging spirit of the troops would not permit it,” its “moral force” exhausted (880). Even as the French continue towards Moscow, the battle of Borodino inflicted a “mortal wound” on the French that directly led to Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and the catastrophic loss of French troops during that retreat.

Book Three, Part Three

Chapter 1

The narrator’s reflection continues and broadens, comparing history to physics / mathematics in that it seeks to discover the laws of human motion (seen as continuous movement) and makes the mistake of looking at smaller and smaller units of observation (one event, one Great Man). The resulting historical analysis can always be challenged by changing the scale. The alternative would be to integrate (as in differential calculus) ALL “the individual tendencies of men” and finding their sum, and that would get us the “laws of history” (882). [That doesn’t work, mathematically speaking, because there would always be a finite, not infinite, number of individuals. The units are not, in fact, “infinitesimally small.” Just saying. Nonetheless, he is actually proposing/anticipating a kind of quantitative/statistics-based social history, 100+ years before it made any inroads into history as a methodology.]

He then applies this to the millions of people moving about Europe during the events from ca. 1800-1815–explaining this motions by way of the French Revolution or of Napoleon won’t work. Great Man history is always inherently flawed and gets causation wrong; historians need to study the small elements “by which the masses are moved” (883).

Chapter 2

More reflection, but now on the battle of Borodino, which damaged the Russian army and forced retreat after retreat all the way behind Moscow, but also slowed the French, even as that was not initially apparent, when Kutuzov realizes after the battle that another attack is simply not possible after the loss of half the army. The narrator reminds us that hindsight ideas about what he could have done or known are pointless, and that the decision, coming up on September 1 just 4 miles outside of Moscow, really hinged on what had happened at Shevardino and Borodino that week.

Scene: In Kutuzov’s quarters at Poklonny Hill, Sept 1, 1812, 4 miles outside of Moscow

Chapter 3

Kutuzov witnesses rather than controls an informal council of war that has gathered all the generals and also Count Rastopchin from Moscow. The question of retreat vs. the defense of Moscow is debated back and forth while Kutuzov listens, with Bennigsen in particular arguing for the defense, but Kutuzov knowing that it cannot be done. He summons his generals.

Chapter 4

The official Council of War gathers in the home of a farmer, with Malasha, a 6-year-old, watching what is happening from the top of the brick oven. All the important generals are there, and Bennigsen makes his case. But Kutuzov makes his position clear and thinks that they have to sacrifice Moscow to save Russia. He orders the retreat and muses: at what point exactly did it become intevitable?

Scene: Moscow

Chapter 5

[This is more of a reflection on the general situation in Moscow than a scene set there.] Rastopchin, in charge of Moscow and often seen as “the instigator” of the burning of the city, is represented as the opposite of Kutuzov. The people of Moscow and its aristocrats acted like Russians did in other cities that fell to the French: the aristocrats left for the country and took their valuables; like the regular people, who are unable to leave, they fully expect the city with its wooden houses to burn. But Rastopchin, not really understanding this dynamic, wanted to do something “patriotically heroic” (895) and change the course of events.

Scene: Petersburg

Chapter 6

Meanwhile, Hélène has moved back from Vilna to Petersburg and is openly negotiating in rather Machiavellian terms with two lovers about possible marriage to one of them: a young foreign prince and a old Russian Grandee. After demanding that the younger lover marry her, she is working with the Jesuits with whom the young foreigner seems to have good rapport on becoming Catholic and having her marriage to Pierre annulled.

Chapter 7

But as Hélène is staging her affairs as if the two men were just two suitors competing for her hand, she has to convince Petersburg society that the fact that she’s already married does not count for anything, giving everyone the impression that the question of annulment has already been resolved. Only Marya Dmitrievna is refusing to accept Hélène’s transgression and basically tells her she is a whore–but her opinion does not mean much in Petersburg circles; Bilibin, who is close friends with Hélène, advises her to marry the older man, because she can still marry the younger one afterwards, when she is widowed. Even Helene’s mother can’t change her mind about the possible breaking of religious law that her divorce would entail, so Hélène writes to Pierre to make the arrangements for this. This letter would have arrived while Pierre was on the battlefield at Raevsky’s Redoubt.

Scene: between Borodino and Mozhaisk

Chapter 8

Pierre, at the end of the battle, has left the hill where the artillery fire wrought such havoc (Raevsky’s Redoubt) and walks along the road to Mozhaisk, but then just sits down by the roadside, until a group of soldiers take him under his wing (he just gives Pyotr Kirilych as his name and conceals his high rank); they help him get to Mozhaisk, where his groom recognizes him.

Chapter 9

Taken back to his inn, Pierre falls asleep in his carriage (since there are no rooms) and dreams about trying to listen to his Freemason advisor/benefactor from Torzhok among a group of people that also includes his former friends, like Denisov, Dolokhov, and Anatole. It seems to him like he is hearing his benefactor’s voice saying wise things, and he is trying to put all these things together, thinking of harnessing them–but then the word “harnessing” is actually the one his groom uses as he is waking Pierre up and getting him ready to leave for Moscow. He takes on a wounded general as a passenger in his carriage and accompanies him to Moscow, hearing from him about the deaths of Anatol and Andrei [IS THIS FOR REAL? Or just another rumor as after the battle in Austria?].