So I just started reading a book about parties and the gossip, conniving and pacts that result from them. There are love affairs brewing, matchmaking and jealousy, long standing love but also disillusionment between newlyweds. Oh - and there's this old, rich guy who's on his death bed and all the vultures are circling, trying to weasel their way into the inheritance. Nevermind the fact that the country is marching off to war to take on a height challenged egomaniac in France. But plenty of time for battle scenes later. For now, we're hanging at parties getting to rub elbows with all kinds of characters. Would you like to meet them?
Princess Helene is beautiful, desirable and delightful. I know this because Tolstoy makes sure to tell me this on multiple occassions. Hanging out at this party I am pretty sure I would have tried to trip her and her delicate little feet out of pure spite for her perfectness. She parts men like the Red Sea for God's sake when she walks through a room. What makes her even more annoying is that she regrets her beauty and seems like a really nice gal. But I'm not really sure yet because she made just a brief appearance at the party before dragging her father, Prince Vassily, off to another shindig.
Pierre was struck by Helene's beauty just like every other man in the place. But I don't think he's got a shot with her. You see, Pierre is the opposite of Helene. He is fat, ugly, unrefined, clueless and quite the Bumble. I know this because Tolstoy also goes out of his way to hammer these qualities home to me each time he describes the poor chap. But the real reason Pierre has no shot with Helene isn't because she would be repulsed or offended by him. It seems that his sweet nature and contagious smile offset his lessor qualities, endearing him to many. But not to Helene's father, Prince Vassily.
This dude is his biggest rival in the fortune hunt from the dying old guy. The dying old guy is Pierre's dad. And he is also Vassily's wife's uncle. Pierre's dad got around with the ladies, and had many kids out of wedlock. Well, in Russian society's rules in the early 1800's, being an illegtimate child means you aren't entitled to any inheritance. But Pierre was always the apple of his father's eye. And the talk is that his dad wrote this letter asking for Pierre's status as his son to be recognized officially.
Uh-oh. Bad news for the legitimate heirs - namely, Vassily - via his wife and her sisters. Pierre is pretty out of the loop and has no idea what this fuss is all about. He just feels really sad that his dad is about to die and has no concept how to behave. So much so that he lets this hanger on lady named Anna use him to get in line for a pay day for her and her kid. Doesn't even realize that Vassily and one of Vassily's sister-in-laws are trying desperately to get their hands on the letter and will tucked beneath the dying man's pillow before he kicks the bucket. Doesn't matter.
It appears that Pierre may indeed have become the sole heir regardless of Vassily's efforts. And that is not going to improve their relationship. Unless perhaps Vassily wants to marry his beautiful daughter Helene off to the man he looks down upon to ensure a cut of the inheritance after all. I wouldn't put it past him now that I think of it. Maybe Pierre has a shot after all.
Now, as entertaining and sweet as I have found Pierre to be, I can't help but be smitten by this guy named Nikolai. *sigh* But I'm not going to waste my time even trying. He's so handsome and kind, writing out poetry verses and batting those dreamy eyelashes at other ladies capturing his heart. He comes from a wealthy family and his parents, a Count & Countess, seem to be very happily married and down to Earth. He's quite shy and yet an open book. Plus he's all riled up to go off to war and full of youthful vigor for a cause he clearly doesn't grasp completely yet. Romantic, dreamy notions of the cause, just like he has for a certain star-crossed love.
Enter Sonya. Nikolai's cousin - second or third, something like that. She is orphaned and being raised with Nikolai and his siblings. And of course, since she gets to spend time with Nikolai all the time, has fallen head over heels in love with him. And Sonya is no slouch herself. She is very pretty and determined. Tolstoy keeps comparing her to a kitten - not a sex kitten I don't think - ready to pounce on her prey. Which sounds conniving but I think he means it as a playful metaphor. Or else he's setting up a cat fight later down the road with this wealthy heiress, Julie, who is a bit of a cougar - toying with Nikolai knowing he's too young for her. Nikolai seems to like the attention, but honestly seems as in love with Sonya as she is with him. But he's off to fight in the war and that little issue of being related is also standing in the way of their relationship.
So that's how things are developing in War & Peace. Tolstoy uses several social gatherings to introduce us to a multitude of characters within a few core families. And slowly he intertwines them and builds in satellite relationships to keep things interesting. I didn't even get to tell you about how Pierre tied a cop to the back of a bear in a drunken stupor and got himself kicked out of Petersburg, banished to Moscow. Tolstoy is quite hysterical and sarcastic. But his prose is elegant and the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation is highly readable and supposedly true to his original voice. The chapters are very short which makes it easy to read in spurts, or to get caught up in them fairly quickly ("just one more before bed").
Hop over to Stacy's so she can introduce you to Nikolai's sister Natasha as well as Pierre's buddy Andrei and his sister Maria. Natasha is in love too, with someone not realted to her. And Andrei is ditching his loveless marriage for war, leaving his preggo wife behind with his sister. I wonder what Stacy thinks about that? Next week we'll find out about the war side of things, either on the battle field or over inheritance. Stay tuned!
- Intro. to Readalong - War - What Is It Good For?