War and Peace Readalong, Part 6: People Are Dying Now and I Don’t Care

I can’t exactly put my finger on when it happened, but I am completely checked out of War and Peace. With just two short sections remaining (and the epilogues) I am ready and excited to let this one go. Just two more weeks of slogging and this behemoth will be out of my life forever.

I’m selling my book on eBay.

I’m not watching the mini-series.

I’m not telling anyone to read it.

I’m developing a serious bias against 19th century classics.

I’m just…fucking…done.

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War and Peace Readalong, Part 5: Comets Always Fuck Shit Up

Thanks to a bit of illness last week, I had to double up this week’s reading and cover Volume II, Part V, and Volume II, Parts I and II. If you’re interested in the domestic parts of these sections, please refer to my fellow #warandpeacenewbies‘ articles. For my purposes this week, I’m sticking to Pierre, the Great Comet, and the War that is now in full swing.


Pierre Finds His Morality

Up until this point, Pierre’s new lifestyle hasn’t allowed him many opportunities to claim the moral high ground. For the most part, it’s afforded him the chance to drink his face off, get into all sorts of high jinks, and fuck a bunch of people. Despite his Masonic leanings, he hasn’t exactly been virtuous up until this point. But when he refused to take advantage of a vulnerable, confused Natasha, he put virtue ahead of his own carnal desires for the first time in … well … ever?

Given that Pierre is essentially a simulacrum of Tolstoy, this moment felt more important than Natasha’s brush with disaster. Despite the fact that Pierre is only the focus of the section’s first and last chapters, his journey felt the most significant. In a way, Natasha’s challenges felt like a necessary interlude in Pierre’s story, a bridge that would take Pierre from one position to another. Her circumstance simply provides Pierre with the opportunity to be a moral man.

(I’m not sure if that’s sexist of me, or sexist of Tolstoy, but it’s probably sexist of one of us.)

The significance of this moment is further evidenced by Pierre’s experience with the Great Comet at the conclusion of Volume II.

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War and Peace Readalong, Part 4: The Quest for a Good Life

This week’s reading covered Volume II, Parts III and IV, in which we jump to 1809 (then back to 1808), Pierre becomes the head of the Petersburg Freemasons and agrees to remarry Helene, Boris and Natasha end their courtship, Andrew (Andrei) sets his sights on Natasha despite Pierre’s protestations, and Nicholas (Nikolai) vows to marry Sonya.


In parts III and IV of Volume II, there is very little of what I would call entertainment, but this is one of the more interesting sections of the novel due to the narrative being driven by a simple, yet complex, question: “What does it mean to life a good life?”

So far, we’ve seen almost every character’s attempt at success or happiness foiled. Pierre thought he would find existential peace through the Freemasons but he’s made little progress in his quest for spiritual fulfillment. Andrew has become disheartened with his forays into both the military and the government. Marya is desperate for religious belonging, but she still feels something is missing. Natasha’s impending marriage to Boris has fallen apart. Nicholas intends to marry Sonya, much to the disapproval of his family. And the list goes on.

There was an undertone of cynicism to Part III, a cynicism I was long expecting but haven’t quite seen yet. (I just assume that every big-ass Russian novel will be sad as fuck.) And maybe I’m just in a bitter place in my life, but I enjoyed it. Tolstoy seems to foreshadow that every effort to improve someone’s life will ultimately end up fizzling out. Things are doomed to failure.

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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.

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War and Peace Readalong, Part 2: War is Boring but 1-Star Reviews Aren’t

A Note on Names: Since I am reading the Maude translation, I will be using its version of certain names in the text: Andrew instead of Andrei, Nicholas instead of Nikolai, etc. I’m sure you will hate it, but this is the book I’m reading and these who they are to me. 


1. What Went Down in Volume 1, Part 2

In Part II we leave Petersburg high society and venture out to Braunau, Austria. General Kutuzov, the head of the Semyonovsky regiment, is so opposed to his men joining the Austrians in their fight against Napoleon that he makes them dress in rags, in the hopes that the Austrians will refuse their help. It matters not, since the Austrians surrender anyway, thereby clearing a path toward the Russians for Napoleon and his army. Despite Kutuzov’s attempts, the Semyonovsky regiment will soon see action.

Meanwhile, in the Pavlogradsky regiment, Nicholas and company are ordered to destroy a bridge that the French must cross before they arrive. A siege occurs, and the regiment succeeds.

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War and Peace Readalong, Part 1: An Indictment of Love

This is the first of eleven posts I’ll be making about War and Peace over the next eleven Mondays, thanks to the War and Peace Newbies Readalong, hosted by Laura at Reading in Bed. Since this is the first week, it’s definitely not too late to join in. Just head here for the intro post, and get to reading. If you’re intimidated, then think of it this way: reading a 1500+ page book is hard work, in that it’s literally, physically difficult, so your reading time is basically workout time, too. Two birds, one stone. 


1. What Went Down

As expected with a 1500-page book written in 1865, a lot happens even though almost nothing happens. Part 1 (in my Everyman’s Library Edition) is 137 pages and much of it is about establishing the characters and placing the chess pieces on the board before they’re moved around for effect later. Long story short: Part 1 is about about lining people up either for Napoleon or against Napoleon and for Pierre or against Pierre.

At a society party at her home in Petersburg, Anna Pavlovna Scherer discusses the war with her friend Price Vasili Kuragin (great name, and one of about 1200 princes and princesses in War and Peace). In the opening paragraph of the novel Anna calls Napoleon the antichrist and declares that Russia is the only nation on earth capable of stopping him. Talk of the war dominates much of the party. People casually throw around words like “virulent” and “chimerical.”

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The War and Peace Newbies Tag

July is officially go time for the War and Peace Readlong at Reading in Bed, but Laura has a few questions in advance before we all abandon our friends and families for 12 weeks.

It’s the War and Peace Newbies tag, in reference to the fact that everyone doing Laura’s readalong will be a W&P virgin.

Hot, right?

Here we go.


Have your read (or attempted to read) War and Peace?

Not even a little bit. I’m not a big classics guy, to be honest. But for whatever reason, I was one of the people who pressed Laura into reading War and Peace for her readalong this year (she does one every summer).

Despite the fact that I essentially haven’t read any of it, Russian literature is fascinating to me. The grandiosity is nothing if not commendable, and these guys–Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov–tackled some pretty big themes. War, death, existence, God, family, love, hate, etc.

In short, these guys didn’t fuck around.

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