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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 her. She did go first to her cousin. 

While there are many developments in these two readings: the slow, steady decline of the Rostov family; old Prince Bolkonsky's growing irritability and difficulty; Princess Mary's wish to run away and be one of "God's Folk;" just to name a few, the main thrust is Prince Andrew's continued evolution and his courtship of and engagement to Natasha Rostova, so that's what we'll focus on.

Prince Andrew is, to me, a fascinating character--perhaps the most fascinating in all of the book. Unlike his friend, Pierre, or his sister Mary, Andrew seems truly unmoored. While Pierre may float from belief to belief, there is always an essential Pierre-ness to him that keeps him fairly consistent. Princess Mary, of course, is define by her steadfastness and devotion. Andrew, however, seems much more willing to change who he is and what he believes. If anything, that is his defining characteristic: when presented with new facts, as it were, he will change his outlook to accommodate them.

The best example of this is Andrew's fascination with, and then disapproval of, Speransky, the great reformer. Influenced heavily by his friend Pierre, as we've seen before, Prince Andrew set about making a great number of reforms to his estates and improvements for his serfs. When he moved to the capitol, then, it was only a matter of time before he would be taken in by the reformers allied with Speransky and, eventually, Speransky himself. Andrew, however, has still not fully abandoned his "great man of history" theory that so marked his actions up to and during the Battle of Austerlitz. Here, his belief that history is shaped by great men simply doesn't allow that Speransky, who turns out to be much less than he seems to Prince Andrew, will truly shape history.

This causes Prince Andrew once again to recede from public life somewhat, though it nicely coincides with his meeting Natasha Romanov. They are both fairly struck by one another, but their love and courtship, for a variety of reasons, doesn't quite follow the course these things often do. Now, some readers, and even some characters in the novel itself, seem to view this as a sign that Andrew doesn't truly love Natasha or vice versa. However, the glimpses Tolstoy gives us into each of their psyches show that not to be the case. While it may not be the romantic love that poets write about, the love Andrew and Natasha share is real and potent. Tolstoy reminds us that it is unwise ever to judge a relationship from outside of it. Just as the world outside is fooled about Princess Helene and Pierre, so, too, may they be mistaken about Andrew and Natasha.

Of course, it is not just public opinion that is preventing Andrew and Natasha from marrying: his father requires a year-long engagement, and Andrew's health requires him to travel abroad for rest. Of course, I know the eventual resolution of the story, so I know the fates of these characters, but, if this is your first time reading the book, what do you think? Will Andrew and Natasha marry and live happily ever after with a single Princess Mary at Bald Hills? Will Natasha, like Lise before her, die in childbirth? Will Andrew fall in love with someone else and break the engagement? Will Natasha? Will the Rostov family fortunes make any marriage impossible? Let me know what you think in the comments, or on Twitter: @WandP2013.

Comments

  1. Well, I got hooked by the characters and events and have read ahead to the start of book 3 now. But putting myself back in this part of the story, I was cheering for Andrew and Natasha to get together. Although I didn't like how he treated Lise, my sense is that Andrew has learned and grown since then. I like that he seems to be finding happiness with Natasha. I certainly think he seems to be genuinely captivated with her. I'm less certain about Natasha, who seems so young and rather impressionable. I'm not sure why her parents seemed suspicious of the match. Wouldn't it be an unexpectedly good one for a family that has fallen on hard times? Ultimately I was (and am) cheering for the best for both of these characters. As well as for Mary -- who I'd love to see find someone who could appreciate her, although it seems far from certain that she ever will.

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    1. I am so tempted to spoil...but I won't. Needless to say, everything turns out, to my mind, in such a way that imagining it turning out in any other way makes no sense.

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