Saturday, February 21, 2009

“War and Peace,” Book 2, Parts 2 and 3: Characters’ Development

My last stretch of War and Peace has been so loaded with fun and famous passages that I decided to write about them from the angle of character development. Pierre, Prince Andrei, and Natasha all experience big changes in this small chunk of the book:

Pierre the Freemason: Book 2, Part 2, begins with Pierre at a post station, dreamily contemplating big, existential questions – life, death, good, bad – when he meets a freemason. Though Pierre ‘fesses up to being an atheist, he conquers his doubts to join up, adapting, at least on the surface, to fit a way of life he finds by chance, literally, as part of his travels.

Of course the new, virtuous life Pierre expects doesn’t materialize – laziness, for one, is a weakness – and he finds many of the same weak society people he already knows are involved with the masons. He even helps the insincere Boris join. Still, masonhood is part of Pierre’s continuing journey, and he even becomes head of the lodge, albeit somewhat unwillingly. Ah, Pierre!

Prince Andrei and the Oak Tree: I began to appreciate Prince Andrei more than ever in this reading. Yes, he’s still a bit prickly, but after having a ball with Natasha (sorry), I was happy to see him leave the stultifying falsity of the party at Speransky’s house and realize he doesn’t enjoy writing laws. I enjoyed watching Prince Andrei’s rebirth, too, beginning with his injury at Austerlitz, where he sees the boundless sky and continuing when he receives the message “Весна, и любовь, и счастие!” (“Spring, and love, and happiness!”) from a big oak tree. Indeed, life is not over at 31!

Natasha’s love for life also has an effect, and the scene where Prince Andrei hears her telling Sonya to wake up and look out the window at the night sky has always been a favorite. Incidentally, there is a nice little word play in this passage: “соня” (sonya) also means sleepyhead, and its root, сон (son) means sleep and dream. Natasha’s desire to fly into the night sky makes me think of Master and Margarita.

Natasha and the Mirrors: Natasha gets a lot of ink in these passages of the book, and my favorite has to be her day at home, the day when Prince Andrei comes to propose marriage. Natasha has overcome her sadness at Prince Andrei’s absence – he had visited her regularly after the ball, then, unbeknownst to Natasha, gone to visit his father to discuss marriage – and she is wearing an old dress and singing solfeggi, which Tolstoy-as-narrator steps in to tell us are voice exercises.

Natasha here seems to be working on her voice both literally and figuratively, training herself in notes but also defining her identity as she moves toward adulthood. She looks at herself in the mirror, too, telling herself she doesn’t need anyone else. When she realizes Prince Andrei has arrived, she looks in the mirror again and, at first, doesn’t see herself. She then sees a pale version of herself. Tolstoy combines her inner thoughts with her actions, and this scene contrasts beautifully with her entrance to the ball, where she looks in a mirror and cannot separate herself from the masses of faces she sees.

Other Interesting Developments: Princess Mar’ia and her religious pilgrims… the unromantic but practical Berg’s bargain with Papa Rostov, asking for more dowry in his marriage to Vera… Berg and Vera’s party, which they model after others’… Nikolai’s latest glimpses of the tsar…

What are your thoughts about these developments in plot and character? 

Oak leaves from Thoursie, through stock.xchng


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