Yay! I just finished August’s instalment for our War and Peace read along as I am writing this. This part certainly felt like it was taking me forever.. Perhaps because it was the longest in the bunch thus far?
As always, Amy has the Mr. Linky and shares a lot of thoughtful ideas on the book herself.
So here are some of my thoughts in bullet points:
- First, I really do think that perhaps it is the spaces of time in between reading War and Peace that makes it less immediately engaging for me. On the one hand, I think it is the fact that I have committed to a one-year read along that has kept me going, and I might have given up before if it weren’t for that. On the other, by reading 100 pages a month I seem to spent 29 days not picking the book up and then one day reading all the pages at once. It takes me about at least 30 pages to get into the feel of the book again each time.. So you can see how that might be a problem;
- As Amy says, there seems to be an underlying theme of building nationalism and heroism resulting in disillusionment and defeat running through this novel at different points. I might be imagining this, but it sometimes feels like Tolstoy casts religion in a similar role? Although Andrei eventually seems to find peace in religion, it is perhaps the only time I have come across the theme as remotely positive. Whenever religion is broached it is almost placed outside of the immediate personal sphere, casts as somehow very finely intertwined with personal fictions and ultimately emptiness. I cannot shake the feeling that Tolstoy was not a fan of much of the religious landscape of his time, but of course I know very little about him and his context, and I am only going by a gut feeling while reading;
- I thought the scene about the fine put on speaking French very funny, because in a few pages it seems to capture the pretense of the upper class, and the loss of expression and somehow “identity” upon taking that sign of distinction away. Very funny, I felt;
- While, as Amy says, I am also not a great fan of Napoleon’s personal scenes, I did think the scenes before battle are very well-drawn. It is never said outright, but in between the lines, there is a definite sense of Napoleon’s personal insecurities and nerves before battle, which I felt were interesting to see described, particularly in contrast with Tolstoy’s big critique of history;
- As for that critique, Tolstoy is really hitting us over the head with the idea that “history’s course” is not decided by the few big men, isn’t he? I find his argument intriguing, but at times I wonder how truly convincing he has managed to portray it thus far. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t agree with him more that nothing is ultimately decided by a few privileged people without other forces or persons also having a say. But it is exactly this latter part of his argument that I cannot yet truly trace fully in his writing. Except for his insistence that winning a battle is about the spirit of the army men, it is his insistence rather than his actual portrayal that carries his argument thus far. I am still waiting for something that will draw it together, that will make it more visible than the tracing of personal lives. I haven’t a clue how that is to be done.. Or perhaps he really does manage to do so, and I am instead still puzzled about this idea of an “outside force” that remains somewhat elusive the whole time.
Enough philosophising for 11 at night. I had better go to sleep and schedule this for the morning. Perhaps I will be good this month and actually pick the book up again before September 29.