Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ON BOOKS ~ Who Needs Battle When You Can Have A Duel?..

A couple of weeks ago Stacy & I started reading this little tale called War & Peace. There was a dying millionaire's fortune being fought over. Cowardice on battlefields turned into tall fishing tales of bravery. Hormones raged among teens (including kissing cousins) while married folk questioned the choices they had made. All of that was entertaining enough. But this past week our continued reading covered adultery, a real live duel, several marriage proposals, life arriving through death, glory seekers replaced by the ugly side of war and...oh, a little dip into the underground Freemason society. Here's a taste through my core of characters...

Remember when in my first introduction to Helene at that high society soiree I said I was tempted to trip her beautiful self out of spite for her perfectness? Turns out that instinct was pretty accurate. Seems that sweet and beautiful Helene is a raving bitch - excuse my French (which the Russians love to speak, though the French are currently their enemy). She gladly kept her mouth shut while her Dad cunningly married her off to the recently rich Pierre, whom Daddy lost out to in the inheritance game. As soon as the I Do's were done, Helene seems to have taken her beautiful self and hopped between the sheets with her new hubby's buddy, who came to stay with them for some R&R while on leave from battle. When Pierre finds out and confronts her on it? She tells him he can ditch her as long as she gets paid. Which she does. And somehow convinces society to feel bad for her, being abandoned and all. I knew I should have tripped her when I had the chance.

Poor Pierre. He's been bumbling through high society where everyone loves him for his money and he's still aimlessly wondering what he wants to do with his life. He knew his marriage to the stunning Helene was wrong before it even happened. Once they were married she told him there was no way in hell she planned to have any of his children. And her rumored affair isn't helping matters. Then, at this big dinner to honor a war General, Pierre is seated directly across from his former friend, the adulterer named Dolokhov, who taunts him openly. Pierre snaps and challenges him. In early 1800's Russia, this doesn't mean taking it outside with a fist fight. This means an actual duel - with pistols. So at the appointed day, Pierre and Dolokhov, along with their vouching friends, march out into the snow. It seems that duels rarely come to fruition - like a game of chicken. But Pierre feels he's gone this far and might as well finish out the process. He doesn't know how to use a gun and doesn't really seem to care what happens. I was worried for him. But then he shot first and asked questions later, leaving the cocky Dolokhov caught off guard bleeding in the snow. All of this leaves Pierre dejected and hating his life. As much as he hates his wife, he feels badly about his former friend that he has shot. He figures the affair was all his fault for putting her into a loveless marriage. So he hands over a chunk of his fortune to her and skips town. Where he meets some weird old dude on the road who is high in the ranks of the Freemasons. Pierre the atheist vows to devote himself to the brotherhood of the Masons, becoming a member. With a kinda nutty take on religion, the society is steeped in secrecy, embracing death and spreading good will to mankind. He is so happy to have a path to follow, but I'm not so sure they aren't using him for his wealth too.

Speaking of men who are aimlessly going through life, looking for something or someone to latch on to and follow - my impressionable dreamboat Nikolai is another one of them. He is not a friend of Pierre's. In fact, he backed up Dolokhov during the duel and made great efforts to help him heal and return to service in the war. He thinks Pierre is a big, fat loser. But they have lots in common. Nikolai and Pierre both need love and acceptance, and just want to be told what to do rather than forging an original path. Nikolai seems to have gotten past his fear of battle and finds his military regiment to be as comforting as his loving family at home. He is still a huge Mama's Boy who would rather take the easy way out, but when a friend is in trouble or needs defending, he brazenly dives right in to the rescue. But he is still maturing. He brought his buddy Dolokhov (the same one accused of philandering with Pierre's wife Helene) over to his folks' place over the winter holidays, and Dolokhov thought that Nikolai's cousin Sonya was quite the babe. Nikolai didn't really care that Dolokhov was making the moves on his former love interest and was quite surprised, and flattered, that Sonya told Dolokhov to hit the bricks when he proposed because her heart belonged to another (that another being Nikolai). Dolokhov was quite embarrassed to be rejected like that, and took it out on Nikolai by snookering him out of an enormous sum of money in a card game. This gambling debt caused much shame to Nikolai with his parents (who paid the debt off and forgave him) and he now feels that he doesn't deserve Sonya's love. So instead he is off in the cavalry worshipping the Russian Emperor, happy to follow the Sovereign's orders and defending the honor of his regiment's captain - the colorful Denisov.

If Sonya only knew that Nikolai is truly a Mimbo. Not that I wanted to see her marry the womanizing Dolokhov. But I didn't like her telling Nikolai that it didn't matter if he never reciprocates her love by marriage. She's not saving herself for him. She's locked her love away from everyone else, knowing that marriage with Nikolai is never going to become a reality. I sure hope someone comes along to save her from herself.

This portion of reading was a fascinating study in self-exploration. Pierre and Nikolai are searching for a purpose. Stacy's character, Andrei, is struggling with the fairness of God and therefore a reason to live. Tolstoy also presents to us the magnitude of war's cost by illustrating the conditions of troops starved, wounds festering, infighting between those on the same side, and the shock and shame of Russia's loss, masked by propaganda to hide the unwanted truth. The reasons various characters go to war and feel about war is shifting amongst them. The peaceful home they left behind is trying to adapt to life without them and the way it changes when they return. Good stuff which I am enjoying immensely.

Hop over to Stacy's where I am sure she has a lot to say about her folks - the complicated Andrei who didn't appreciate what he had until it was gone, his sister Maria who has been given a nurturing role out of tragedy, Nikolai's little sister Natasha who is confronted with a proposal of her own, and the delightful Denisov who is Nikolai's beloved Captain, injured in his heart and in battle.

Related Posts:


kaye said...

I'm sure this "condensed" version is much more entertaining than the original--enjoying your comments :)

Mary said...

I have the book, it's in the dining room (I think I hear it sigh anytime I pass without picking it up). I'm hearing books sigh??? Yes, yes I am. I just need to finish up a handful of review books and then I'll start. I'll read your posts and Stacy's as I read. I'll be sure to let you know when I get started : )

PS today is the first radio broadcast of my team's spring season - no reading for a couple of hours this afternoon!

Anonymous said...

I really liked Pierre's story this section. The Freemason stuff was bizarre and I look forward to seeing what kind of trouble this may cause for him.

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

I'm really enjoying this soap opera you and Stacy are reading. And to think they call this a classic.