For 1/19/2021 * OUP Edition to p. 55
Book 1, Part 1
It is 1805 in St. Petersburg. Anna Pavlovna, energetic socialite and maid of honor to the Empress, is holding a reception and trying to connect various people in her circle of Russian aristocrats, all speaking French to one another. She begins by talking Prince Vasili, father of Ippolyt, Elena (Helene) and Anatole. They both consider Anatole his prodigal son, but start scheming to get him married to the wealthy Marya Bolkonskaya (sister to Andrei) to get him to be less of a burden.
As more guests arrive at the reception, the pregnant young wife of Andrei, Liza/Lise, “the little princess,” attracts a lot of attention for her charm, as does Prince Vasili’s strikingly beautiful daughter, Princess Helene, and this becomes a way for Tolstoy to introduce a lot of key characters who speak to her or to Anna P, who manages the various social circles like a professional. The outsider among the guests is Pierre, the illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov, both socially below most others on the hierarchy and also awkward in his manners. Anna encourages him to talk to their French guest, Abbé Morio, whom he is eager to discuss his own views “as young people are fond of doing” (zinnggg, 11).
Princess Helene, Liza/Lise (“the little princess”), and Anna with the Abbé soon have formed three circles at the reception, until Helene joins Anna, attracting everyone’s attention with her beauty, while her brother Ippolyt, with the same features but “exceedingly ugly” and with features “dulled by imbecility” (13–based on his later contribution to the dialogue, he seems to actually have some sort of mental disability, but I am not sure whether I am reading that right or whether Tolstoy would have cared). The group begins to talk politics, even though there seems to be a lot of fake interest and also fake charm (14-15–most notably, an Italian “assumed an offensively affected, sugary expression, evidently habitual to him when conversing with women,” in this case, Anna P herself. VERY nicely observed). Prince Andrei, Lise’s husband with his “weary, bored expression,” bored even with his wife (15), is introduced. Pierre and Andrei are friends and will meet later, but for now, Prince Vasili asks Anna P to “educate this bear,” Pierre, with her womanly ways. He has been staying at their house–the connection is that Vasili and Pierre’s father a good friends.
Vasili is being asked by the elderly Princess Drubetskaya to use his influence to get her son Boris into the Guards. He and Helene leave; more talk about Bonaparte, not considered part of good French society and an “usurper,” and Pierre’s Romantic fascination with him and the Revolution is seen as both youthful misbehavior and a social fauxpas. Ippolyt tries to tell a joke in Russian that bombs.
The reception is winding down. Anna has been busy with starting the matchmaking for Anatole by talking to Lise, and then, Lise and Andrei leave with Pierre, as the French vicomte and Ippolyt rave about how “French” she is. We get a bit more of the backstory of Pierre, at loose ends after spending age 10-20 at getting an education abroad with a French tutor and now told by his father to “choose your profession.” He is torn about joining the Horse Guards because it would mean fighting against Napoleon, whom he adores (Andrei thinks that is childish: “If no one fought except on his own conviction, there would be no wars,” he said. “And that would be splendid,” said Pierre.– 27
As Andrei, Pierre and the princess Lise talk, she actually breaks decorum and asks her husband directly why he has changed so much towards her. He does not have an answer and responds impatiently but coldly. She leaves, and the men have supper in the new dining-room in silence until Andrei talks about how fettered he feels in marriage, to “drawing-rooms, gossip, balls, vanity, and triviality,” the domain of women. Pierre adores his friend and is thus confused and perturbed. He himself is “free” but also illegitimate and at sea. Andrei recommends that he stop hanging out with the Kuragins (Vasili’s family), who stand for gambling and debauchery. Pierre promises, but then immediately joins Anatole Kuragin, clearly his evil angel. There is drunkenness, card-playing, a bear on a chain, and a bet involving a daring officer named Dolokhov drinking a bottle of of vodka in an open window, risking a fall.
SCENE CHANGE: Break in time and place: a few days later, in Moscow.
We are now at a formal celebration of the name day of Natalia and Natasha Rostov (mother and youngest daughter), where many people come to pay their respects, including Princess Anna Mikhailovna Drubetskaya, whose son Boris is now a cornet in the Guards. The Rostovs are her rich relations, and she sits with Mme Rostov and one of her many daughters (12 children in total), gossiping about the events at Anatole’s, which apparently ended in consequence for Dolokhov (degraded) and Pierre (sent back to Moscow), but was hushed up in terms of Anatole (39). They also know that Pierre’s father Kiril is dying, and Anna knows he was his favorite–so the question is whether his fortune will go to Pierre or his friend Vasili, next heir through his wife. “Forty thousand serfs and millions of rubles” (40). Anna herself hopes for a share, since she’s related, poor, and not above trying to beg / make herself noticed.
At this point, Natasha, 13, and the youngest Rostov girl, comes romping in with Boris, her older brother Nikolai, who is the Rostov’s oldest son, a nice named Sonya, 15, and the littlest boy, Petya, giggling and indulgently greeted by their parents before they wander off again.
Nikolai and Sonya stay in the drawing room, talking about his heroic vocation in the hussars, going off to war, and clearly showing their affection for each other as they also wander off. Both Sonya and Natasha are described as nymphets (41, 43), basically, but Natasha, the “volcano” and a talented singer, is the more interesting one. Her mother makes clear how much she admires her, with Vera, her older daughter, sitting right there feeling slighted.
Meanwhile, Natasha, Boris, Sonya and Nikolai rejoin and each couple promises to love each other as the boys go off to war. Boris tells Natasha he will ask for her hand in 4 years, when she is 16.
Vera is being sent off by her mother who wants to gossip some more with Anna M, and she walks in on the two couples, berating and belittling them. Eventually the young ones leave, telling Vera “now you’ve done what you wanted… said unpleasant things to everyone and upset them” (49). Meanwhile, Anna talks to countess Rostov about her hopes that Count Kiril will leave Boris something, and gets ready to go visit him.
On the way, in the Rostovs’ carriage, Anna pleads with young Boris to be nice and ingratiate himself, which he finds humiliating. They immediately run into Vasili and his especially hostile daughter, coming out of Count Kiril’s sick room. Boris is sent to find Pierre and invite him to dinner at the Rostovs; Vasili would be very glad to have him gone for a while.