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War and Peace 2013: Entry 23--The Second Epilogue

N.B.—This post will deal exclusively with the Second Epilogue and the argument it and its related passages throughout the text make. The First Epilogue and the conclusion of the narrative elements of the text will be covered shortly in a separate post. Yes, I'm posting this first, because I'd rather close by discussing the story than by waffling on about history and free will.
So, after all that, what Tolstoy leaves us with—the final thoughts he gives us—are of the illusory nature of free will, how it makes the science of history impossible, and why we’ll never understand the laws governing human behavior en masse, i.e., history, unless we abandon our attachment to it.
It seems to me that a little intellectual history is in order here for, even as Tolstoy would allow, writers, such as himself, are, to some extent, shaped by the ideas presented by the writers who live contemporaneously and previously to them. Indeed, if we take his argument seriously, Tolstoy’s argument is but…

And for 2014...

When I first started my Odyssey blog in January of 2012, I wasn't even sure I would finish it. I certainly didn't think that, two years later, having (almost) reached the conclusion of a second full year of blogging, this time on War and Peace, that I would be announcing the third year's project--my most ambitious yet.

I say the most ambitious yet, and, in terms of page count, that is absolutely true, because instead of reading one book by an author, we're reading all the completed major works by a single author. Unfortunately for readers, she only left us six completed novels when she died--a perfect number of perfect novels, as an old teacher of mine once wrote. Fortunately for readers, however, Jane Austen's six completed works are all among the greatest novels in English and will provide me with ample material to explicate and riff on in 2014.

This choice will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, as Austen is my favorite author, and I have read all of…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 22--Readings Twenty-Three and Twenty-Four

N.B.: This post will be discussing events through the end of Book IV, which means pretty much everything not in the Epilogues is fair game. So, spoilers, etc.

"Nothing remained for the representative of the national war but to die, and Kutuzov died."

Nothing remained for the novel but to end, and it ended. Rather abruptly, with little fanfare, and seemingly almost at random. Sure, there is still an epilogue--two, actually, but only one continues the story--to come, but that is, by definition, not part of the main thrust of the story. The story is told--the story of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, and Russia's almost emetic expulsion of the invader, is complete. Once Tolstoy has told that story--and, more important, presented his commentary on it--he quickly moves on. The fact that we, as readers, are probably more entangled in the lives of characters that in the movements of nations is secondary. As we'll see as we conclude the book--the First Epilogue wraps up the…

The Eighth Doctor & His Awesomeness

So, apparently, the Eighth Doctor made a little appearance today. To which, all I can say is...SQUEE!!!!! *ahem* Anyway, given the wonderful little prelude (I refuse to call it a "prequel") that is "Night of the Doctor," a lot of people may be wondering how to get into the Eighth Doctor. After all, between audio plays and books, he's one of the most written about Doctors. So, here are my suggestions of 3 audio plays and 5 books to, hopefully, get you hooked on one of my favorite Doctors: the troubled romantic Doctor, the poet Doctor, the one who keeps his thoughts to himself but wears his heart on his sleeve.

Audio
Quite a few people listen to Big Finish Audio plays and have been making decent suggestions today as to what plays to listen to to experience McGann in audio form. Obviously, the first story with any companion is a good jumping on point, the Lucie Miller series (beginning with Blood of the Daleks) being an especially good place to start, as the format…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 21--Readings Twenty-One & Twenty-Two

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book IV, Part 2. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers.

"Man's cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man's soul."

By the time Tolstoy has reached Book IV of his sprawling epic, it's hard not to detect a sense that old Leo has given up on writing anything resembling a "novel" and is instead concerned almost solely with writing a philosophical tract about...well...everything. War, history, theology, love, death, etc.--everything that constitutes life as it has been experienced since the dawn of time interests Tolstoy. Except, by and large, his own characters. Part 1 of Book IV is Tolstoy trying to rush as many plots toward their eventual conclusion as he possibly can, while Part 2 is largely composed of either dispatc…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 20--Death of a Hero

N.B.--This post will focus almost exclusively on one character, including his/her death. If you haven't read through Book IV, Part 1, there's still time to turn back without getting spoiled. In fact, here's a picture of a young Tolstoy looking pretty dapper to separate this note from the bulk of the post to provide a buffer zone.


After lingering in a liminal state due to the severe wounds he received at the Battle of Borodino, Prince Andrew Bolkonsky dies surrounded by those he loved and who love him best. Of course, he really "dies" because Tolstoy wishes it to be so. The question is why?

I deliberately set this post somewhat aside from the main flow of posts because I think Tolstoy's treatment of Andrew's life and death deserve some space of their own. And I was taught to state my thesis in my title if possible, so I named it "Death of a Hero." Andrew is, for me, the true heroic figure of the novel--only, as often happens, the heroic figure of…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 19--Reading Twenty

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book III. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

"'But all that is only life's setting, the real thing is love -- love! Am I not right, Monsieur Pierre?'"

The French officer whose life Pierre instinctively saved was talking about love of a fairly earthly sort when he made his comment, but it nevertheless seems to me to be the central truth of this massive, amazing, insane, crazy-making book. All that--the war, the intrigues, the money, the pride, everything--all that is only life's setting: the real thing, for Tols…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 18--Readings Eighteen and Nineteen

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book III, Part 3, Chapter 25. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

Secondary N.B.: Somewhere along the line, my number system for the readings got all screwy. I've gone back and updated the headings, so they should be accurate. The "through the end of" figures were correct, however.

"On the way Pierre heard of the death of his brother-in-law, Anatole, and of Prince Andrew."

Believe it or not, this sentence is the reason I waited to write about these two readings together. Firstly, we find out only a few chapters la…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 17--Reading Seventeen

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book III, Part 2, Chapter 33. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

"Now they will stop it, now they will be horrified at what they have done!" --Pierre's thoughts during the Battle of Borodino

If Tolstoy's thorough examination of the Battle of Borodino wasn't enough for you, the Wikipedia entry linked to above does a nice job of laying out the ebb and flow of the battle. For me, however, the most interesting thing about Tolstoy's (lengthy) description of the battle is that he seems to profess to understand what r…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 16--Reading Sixteen

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book III, Part 2, Chapter 17. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

Again, this is another catch-up post, so it will be less polished than I might wish.

"Sometimes, when [Mary] recalled [Nicholas'] looks, his sympathy, and his words, happiness did not appear impossible to her."

There's a (very) short story I first read some time ago--"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin (go and read it if you haven't--I'm not kidding about its brevity)--that I couldn't help but think of while reading this section. …

War and Peace 2013: Entry 15--Reading Fifteen

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book III, Part 2, Chapter 5. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

And now, having kept up with the readings, as I am sure have you all (right?), I am going to try to knock out a few quick and dirty blog posts to catch us up. So forgive me if this goes astray--though I wasn't dreaming when I wrote it.

"By omitting the e, though incorrectly, Pierre got the answer he sought. L'russe Besuhof made 666. This discovery excited him."

Pierre's manipulation of his name and various epithets and titles attributable to him in or…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 14--Reading Fourteen

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book III, Part 1, Chapter 15. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

"A king is history's slave."

A month late, but finally, here we are, at the point in War and Peace where chapters go by on end without any of our main characters appearing, or without even the broader historical context being moved forward. Instead, we have Tolstoy the philosopher of history, espousing his theory that, as mentioned above, we are all bound to history, none moreso than the king.

In a way, it's a pity that he presents the abstract formulatio…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 13--Readings Twelve and Thirteen

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book II. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

"[Julie] knew that for the Penza estates and Nizhegorod forests she could demand this, and she received what she demanded."

These two readings take place during a time of relative peace in Russia (one of the few over the course of the book), allowing Tolstoy to focus on the subjects of love, marriage, and courtship. It is these sections and storylines that often make me think of War and Peace as a close cousin of Jane Austen's novels--Pride and Prejudice with more snow and furry …

War and Peace 2013: Entry 12--Readings Ten and Eleven

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Part 4, Chapter 8 of Book II. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

Before we get to the book proper, I'd like to apologize for the delay in posting these updates. I had some personal issues arise that made keeping to the schedule impossible. However, with the eliding of these two readings, we'll be just about back on track, with the next post following a few days after.

"If she goes to her cousin first and then to another lady, she will be my wife," said Prince Andrew to himself, quite to his own surprise, as he watched …

War and Peace 2013: Entry 11--Reading Nine

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Part 2 of Book II. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

"Though outwardly he continued to live in the same old way, inwardly he began a new life."

What first strikes me about this reading--one of the shorter we'll have this year--is the way that Tolstoy continues to weave thematically linked narrative events together, allowing us to see how his different characters change and evolve with regard to particular qualities. In this case, after a reading largely spent on Pierre's acceptance of Freemasonry, we see several other…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 10--Reading Eight

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Chapter 10 of Part 2 of Book II. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

While April 2013 has been one of the best months I've ever had in some ways, it had some major drawbacks: it left me precious little time for writing, for one. So, apologies for the lateness of this post. Also, in the spirit of being both a day (fine 14 days) late and a dollar short, it's going to a somewhat abbreviated post--I hope you'll forgive.

"...obedience--which did not seem to [Pierre] a virtue, but a joy. (He now felt so glad to be free from hi…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 9--Reading Seven

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Chapter 11 of Part 1 of Book II. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

Before I proceed, I want to apologize a) for being late with this blog post, and 2) for stopping this reading in the wrong place. Obviously, it should have concluded with Chapter 9 and the Christening of Andrew's baby. Oops. In a way, though, I'm quite pleased that the reading concluded where it did, because it gave me this blog post's epigram.

Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly!

Again,…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 8--Reading Six

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Book One. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.

Apologies for being late with this update. If you feel betrayed by my delay, just look at it this way--now you can look forward to another post within a week!

"How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last!"--Prince Andrew

And so it begins. You may not have noticed it (actually, you probably did), but this reading marks Tolstoy's first all-out salvo against the "Great Man Theory" of history--which, while heavily out of favo…

War and Peace 2013: Entry 7--Reading Five

N.B.: This post will discuss only the events through the end of Chapter 7 of Book III of Part 1. Unlike with The Odyssey, the eventual resolution of the story is not necessarily common knowledge, so I will make every attempt to avoid spoilers as we go. Also, there seems to be some weird chapter numbering going on with some editions of the novel, Kindle and otherwise. I've updated the reading schedule to make it clearer where the readings end and will be more than happy to answer any questions if you're confused.



"My vocation is to be happy with another kind of happiness, the happiness of love and self-sacrifice."--Princess Mary Bolkanskaya

This reading is composed of three vignettes which hop between the three main families of the novel (Pierre [a family unto himself now], the Bolkonskys, and the Rostovs) by using the fourth, supporting family (the Kuragins) as a bridge. Whatever else one thinks of this novel, I think credit must be paid to the construction of it: Tol…