War and Peace Readalong, Part 3: Tolstoy Basically Started Tumblr

To follow along with our War and Peace Newbies Readalong, follow either the hashtag or our fearless leader, Laura, on Twitter. Pretty much everything the group posts will be found there.


1. What Went Down in Volume 1, Part 3

Now that Pierre is one of the wealthiest men in Russia, everyone in high society is fawning over him. Prince Vasili sets him up with a diplomatic job in Petersburg, and Pierre hates it. Anna Pavolvna Scherer encourages Pierre to marry Vasili’s daughter Helene, and Pierre hates that even more. He thinks Helen is vacuous. She is quiet, uninteresting, and concerned with little more than her beauty. But pretty soon, so is Pierre. Despite his misgivings, he can’t really help himself from staring at her … bounty. Oh, and there’s this little rumor that Helene and her brother Anatole have  an incestuous relationship. So there’s that.

But Pierre’s lack of passion doesn’t matter in the end. He acquiesces to everyone else’s wishes. After a quick bit of business, Helene and Pierre marry. Despite Pierre’s overall buffoonishness, Helene doesn’t really seem put off by him. Which is strange. Meanwhile, Vasili’s son Anatole is to marry Marya. Anatole is extremely handsome, and Marya is–quote–devilishly ugly. Mademoiselle Bourienne is his true choice, however, and after seeing them together in the garden, Marya decides to reject Anatole’s proposal so he can be with Bourienne.

Meanwhile, on the front, Andrew convinces Prince Dolgorukov to promote Boris. He agrees. Kutuzov’s regiment wins another battle, and Captain Denisov is promoted to Major. Napolean sends an envoy to propose a peace treaty. The older soldiers are open to it, the younger ones want to push forward and crush the French once and for all. The Battle of Austerlitz occurs. Kutuzov is seriously wounded. Andrew rallies the troups for a counter, but he is struck during the charge and knocked out. By the time he comes to, the battle is finished, with Napolean the victor.

Andrew lies clutching the Russian standard, and Napolean respects him for it. He orders Andrew to be taken to a hospital, along with two other high ranking officers. Napolean praises him, something Andrew would have loved once. But after fighting his army, Andrew no longer idolizes him.


2. What I’m Liking

Everyone Fawning Over Pierre — I couldn’t help but read the first chapter of Part 3 with a smile on my face. How true to life it is to see everyone so desperate to get in Pierre’s good graces once he comes into money. Before then, he was a nobody. Less than a nobody, a bastard. This has the making of a delicious turn of events later, if Pierre decides to take take charge of his own life. I have no clue if that’s going to happen or not, but the table has been set and it will be glorious if it happens.

Andrew’s Spirit — Everyone in this readalong seems to hate Andrew (or Andrei, as he is called in seemingly every edition but mine), but I kinda like him. I felt a little spot of pride on his behalf when Napolean singled him out on the battlefield. For someone so obsessed with glory, Andrew is certainly willing to work for it. He’s no fawn, that’s for sure. He easily could have been.

The Parallels Between Pierre and Marya — This was my favourite aspect of Part 3. Pierre and Marya seem destined to be together, if only because their stories parallel one another so much. Both were in a position to get married in this section, to choose to get married. Both would be considered a bit gross to everyone around them if they didn’t have money. Both are faced with bit of a dilemma when it comes to their prospective partners: Pierre must choose between physical attraction and his true feelings, Marya must choose between her desire for a family and Bourienne’s feelings for her betrothed. What I liked most was their very different responses to these moral dilemmas. Pierre followed convention, not his heart. Marya followed her heart, not convention.

The Personal Nature of Tolstoy’s War — Every battle (at least so far) is based on a real event, and Tolstoy does not change a single outcome. What really happened (in the broader scope) is what happens in the novel. This allows him to focus less on the history of the thing and more on how history would have affected each of these characters. He is much more concerned with the effect of war on specific people, not His People. I say this as a compliment: the war sections almost lack dramatic momentum. Instead, they focus on emotion and ethics and philosophy. Part 3 was great. The war section worked a lot better for me than it did in Part 2.


3. What I’m Not Liking

Nothing. I really liked Volume 1, Part 3. I can’t think of anything negative to say.


4. Favourite Quotations

I quite liked the earlier section of Volume 1, Part 3, with Pierre and Helene (despite how genuinely uncomfortable I was while reading it). There were a number of moments that were quite strong.

“He knew at that moment as surely as if he had been standing at the altar with her. How and when this would be he did not know, he did not even know if it would be a good thing (he even felt, he knew not why, that it would be a bad thing) but he knew it would happen.”

I know what it’s like to feel trapped within a relationship, to feel like you’re on the track towards marriage even though it’s probably not what you want. To be fair, mine was about eight years in vs Pierre’s eight minutes, but still. This chapter was just incredibly sad to me, in a way.

“‘But she’s stupid. I have myself said she is stupid,’ he thought. ‘There is something nasty, something wrong, in the feeling she excites in me.’ … and while thinking of her worthlessness he was also dreaming of how she would be his wife, how she would love him and become quite different, and how all he had thought and heard about her might be false.”

This passage pissed me off the first time I read it, but for some reason I was drawn to it. I took a picture of it with my phone and I went back and re-read it almost every day afterward. Something about it clearly resonated with me, but I was too busy being annoyed at Pierre. And then I thought about every couple I know who are so very wrong for each other, and have been wrong for each other since the beginning of their relationship. How so many people choose people who are so wrong for them, with the hope that they will change. It drives me insane.

“He had often before, during the last six weeks, remained alone with her, but had never spoken to her of love. Now he felt that it was inevitable, but he could not make up his mind to take the final step. He felt ashamed; he felt that he was occupying someone else’s place here beside Helene. ‘This happiness is not for you,’ some inner voice whispered to him. ‘This happiness is for those who have not in them what there is in you.'”

That last line just broke my heart. Pierre’s lack of self-esteem is ultimately what makes him so lovable, but ugh … this was so beautifully tragic. Reminded me of my favorite line from The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”


5. How I’m Feeling in One GIF

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Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom
AKA Tumblr in 1885

Back in the mid-1880’s Tolstoy wrote in his diary that “I have to create a circle of reading for myself: Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Pascal, The New Testament. This is also necessary for all people.”

From there, he started compiling a nugget of wisdom every day, because, “They tell us about what is most important for humanity, about the meaning of life and about virtue. … I would like to create a book … in which I could tell a person about his life, and about the Good Way of Life.”

He spent the next seventeen years doing this, stopping in his seventies. After he finally wrote the book and sent it off to his publisher, he wrote again in his diary, “I felt that I have been elevated to great spiritual and moral heights by communication with the best and wisest people whose books I read and whose thoughts I selected for my Circle of Reading.”

Published, finally, as Thoughts of Wise Men in 1904, and later re-titled as Calendar of Wisdom, it survived for more than 90 years before it was finally translated into English (in 1997).

“I hope that the readers of this book may experience the same benevolent and elevating feeling which I have experienced when I was working on its creation, and which I experience again and again, when I reread it every day,” he said.

Some of my favourite entries:

“A constant flow of thoughts expressed by other people can stop and deaden your own thought and your own initiative … That is why constant learning softens your brain… … topping the creation of your own thoughts to give room for the thoughts from other books reminds me of Shakespeare’s remark about his contemporaries who sold their land in order to see other countries.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

“What is important is not the quantity of your knowledge, but its quality. You can know many things without knowing that which is most important. There are two types of ignorance, the pure, natural ignorance into which all people are born, and the ignorance of the so-called wise. You will see that many among those who call themselves scholars do not know real life, and they despise simple people and simple things.” — Blaise Pascal

“The way to true knowledge does not go through soft grass covered with flowers. To find it, a person must climb steep mountains.” — Josh Ruskin

“A sage is not afraid of lack of knowledge: he is not afraid of hesitations, or hard work, but he is afraid of only one thing — to pretend to know the things which he does not know. You should study more to understand that you know little.” — Michel de Montaigne

Perhaps a bit arrogantly, Tolstoy actually a bunch of his own thoughts into this calendar of great sages. Admittedly, they’re pretty awesome, though:

“The difference between real material poison and intellectual poison is that most material poison is disgusting to the taste, but intellectual poison, which takes the form of cheap newspapers or bad books, can unfortunately sometimes be attractive.”

And…

“If you see that some aspect of your society is bad, and you want to improve it, there is only one way to do so: you have to improve people. And in order to improve people, you begin with only one thing: you can become better yourself.”

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