For 4/27/2021 (OUP p. 403)
Book 2, Part 1 continued
Scene: Late December 1806 in Moscow / Rostovs
Nikolai goes to his family’s house for a dinner, and after Dolokhov leaves scowling, he finds out that Dolokhov has proposed to Sonya, but Sonya has refused him because of Nikolai. Even when Nikolai tells her that he cannot promise he will ever marry him, she sticks with her decision.
There is a ball organized by the dancing master Iogel that Natasha, Sonya, and all the very young women attend enthusiastically–it is a giddy marriage market for the girls who have only just “come out.” Nikolai has brought Denisov, who is (as before) smitten with Natasha, and even though no one expects it, he dances a fabulous, energetic (very sexy?) mazurka with her.
After refusing to return to the Rostovs’ house after having been turned down by Sonya, Dolokhov invites Nikolai to “farewell” before they all deploy again, which turns into a nasty gambling party where Nikolai, who has just been told to be more careful with his money by his father, STARTS by losing more than the 1,200 rubles he has …
… and ends up losing 43,000 rubles to Dolokhov, who insists on payment basically immediately. This whole ploy is clearly Dolokhov’s revenge for having been turned down by Sonya, and it is also pretty clear that he cheats at cards.
Nikolai goes home, to the “atmosphere of love which pervaded the Rostov household” as much now as before (365), but as Denisov plays music accompanied by verse he has composed and Natasha sings (untrained but full of potential in the “virginal freshness” of her voice), Nikolai just frets as he waits to be able to speak to his father.
When he finally does, he asks him for the 43,000 rubles and is even defensive about it (“It can’t be helped! It happens to everyone!” 368) but then cries in remorse. Meanwhile, Natasha comes to her mother to tell her that Denisov has proposed to her; the mother says she should refuse him, and Natasha hesitates–not because she loves him but because she is sorry for him and he is so nice. The mother takes care of it: she tells him he ought to have come to her for Natasha’s hand, and she would have refused it. He apologizes and leaves, soon off to join his regiment after having been filled to the gills with booze by his friends. Nikolai follows soon after, paying his debt to Dolokhov first, then leaving to catch up with the regiment in Poland. Calendar is a bit confusing; why November (370) we just had a Christmas and Epiphany.
Book 2, Part 2
Scene Change: Petersburg / Pierre (Nov. 1805)
Pierre, when departing for Petersburg after his conversation with Helene (Book 1, Part 3, Chapter 1) is stuck waiting at a rural post station for horses as he is in existential crisis mode: life is meaningless and his thoughts loop around and around “as if the thread that held the chief screw of his life together were stripped” (NICE 371). A stranger joins him in the waiting room, and reads a book brought to him by his servant, but also looks straight at Pierre, making him want to speak to the man.
Instead, the stranger addresses him–he knows who Pierre is, and reveals to him that he is a Freemason. When Pierre reveals that he is an atheist, he insists that God exists and and that he needs to learn to understand Him by changing his ways. Pierre is touched and “longed with his whole soul to believe” (377) and fully accepts the accusations the man, Iosif Alexeevich Bazdeev, about his wasted, wicked life. Bazdeev gives him a message for a Petersburg Mason, Count Willarski, and tells him to go to the Masons for help.
Pierre holes himself up in Petersburg, reads Thomas a Kempis, and eventually gets a visit from Willarski. Pierre tells him that he does believe in God and Willarski takes him to the Masonic lodge. He is blindfolded and has several conversations about the purpose of the Freemasons and his own beliefs. He is told that their aim is three-fold: to protect a mystery (in which Pierre is not interested), to purify and enlighten the minds of their members (he likes that) and to improve humanity (he likes that too). He equally cherry-picks his favorites from their seven virtues, and does not want to think about # 7, “The love of death” at all (382-3). When asked about his worst vice, he has a hard time picking but eventually says “women” (384).
The rites continue and Piere meets more masons (including the Italian abbé from the party at Anna P’s in very early chapters of the novel) and is being given the signs of his membership: a white leather apron, a trowel, and three different pairs of gloves that have to do with purity. The rites are completed and he returns home.
The next day, as he is reading some Masonic text to understand things better, Prince Vasili comes by to convince him Helene is innocent and that his separation from her make Vasili and Helene look bad. He suggests that he come to Moscow with him and smooth things over. Pierre finds it very difficult to resist him, but he does and sends him away. Soon after, he goes away to his estates in the provinces (Kiev and Odessa are mentioned), “leaving large sums of money with [the Masons] for alms” (388).
Scene Change: Moscow, at Anna Pavlovna’s
While the duel between Pierre and Dolokhov was hushed up, the vanished Pierre is now the only one being blamed, while Helene is pitied. At one of the usual soirees at Anna Pavlovna’s, one of the new interesting people invited to provide conversation is Boris, who has become a professional climber-of-ranks, only making friends with people socially above him that can be of use to him, and who is much admired. Helene and her brother Ippolit are also both there. The conversation revolves around the defeats of the Prussian and the Napoleon takeover after Jena and Auerstadt in late 1806, and Helene seems to be flirting with Boris, telling him he needs to come see her.
As the evening continues, we overhear Ippolit tell another dumb joke and people complain about the unevenness of the Czar’s distribution of rewards and medals. Boris listens; Helene reiterates her invitation.
Scene Change: Bald Hills /Bolkonskys (early 1807)
Meanwhile, as the war flares back up again, at Bald Hills things have changed quite a bit. The old Prince is commander-in-chief to oversee recruitment of soldiers, gets some of his energies back, and travels a lot. Princess Marya is taking care of the baby (with a wetnurses and other staff, of course) and Prince Andrei is mostly spending his days alone on his own nearby estate, having decided not to go back to the front and now working (half-heartedly) for his father. When we return to them, the old Prince is absent, and Andrei is worried about the baby, who has a high fever; he and Marya square off over whether to wake the baby to give it more medicine. Andrei has a hard time concentrating on the written orders his father just sent after the victory of the Russians [Wikipedia tells me it was actually a battle with an indecisive outcome] over Napoleon at Preussisch-Eylau.
Andrei also reads a letter from his friend, the cynical diplomat Bilibin, about the situation in Prussia, but it was written before the battle of Eylau (and I don’t understand it at all; there is a reference to a field-marshal who has been slighted without a name and I have no idea who that is. I have no idea when he is being sarcastic about the in-fighting in the Russian army and when he is serious. Buxhöwden and Benningsen, although their names aren’t Russian, are both Russian generals. And what’s the point about reading this long letter if the events on the front have overtaken it?).
As Andrei is starting to get absorbed in the letter, he is suddenly worried he missed some development in the nursery, and momentarily thinks the women are hiding from him that the baby has died. But instead, the fever has broken, and Marya and Andrey are standing over its crib; clearly, for both is true what Andrei says out loud: “Yes, this is the only thing left to be now.”