Can you imagine? I am writing this post early as it is the third of November and I already finished this month’s section. What can I say? I think the fact that we are getting close to the end finally hit me and I just wanted to read until the finish.
But before I share my thoughts about this section, let me please remind you that you are all very welcome to join our War & Peace Carnival at the end of December, to celebrate having finished reading War & Peace this year, somewhere in the past, or just wanting to join us in celebrating. You can find more information here. Also, you can find the Mr Linky for this month over at Amy’s blog.
I grinned when I found Tolstoy mentioned Russian historians in this month’s sections, after wondering why he seemed to single out French ones in the reading for October.
I still want to argue with parts of Tolstoy’s philosophy of history, and yet, for the first time I found myself actually liking one of the paragraphs he wrote on the topic:
‘This whole strange, now incomprehensible contradiction between facts and historical descriptions comes only from the fact that the historians who wrote about this event wrote the history of the beautiful feelings and words of various generals, and not the history of the events themselves.
They find very interesting the words of Miloradovich, the decorations received by this or that general, and their own speculations; and the question of those fifty thousand men left in hospitals and graves does not even interest them, because it is not subject to their study.” (p. 1074)
For me, as a historian, this is a true and important reminder, particularly in light of some movements within the discipline who again seem to be calling for a study of only those “great” and “relevant” figures in historical processes. Alas, I still don’t think I can agree exactly with what Tolstoy provides as a solution (as if histories of the masses were simple and easy truths, as if this would not lead to its own kind of mythmaking – maybe?). I keep having all these questions I wish to pose to him, however much I like his critique and anger in places. As such, I find myself agreeing with his critique quite often, but less so with his counterclaims.
I also found it surprising to see Tolstoy turn more decidedly in favour of religion in this part again – or at least, with religiously inspired principles. I think we have seen that he disagrees with fanatic religion (as per how he seems to define it): Marya’s overly pious pondering in a large part of the book, Pierre’s adventure with free masons. But now, he’s calling, in another critique of historians, for a Christian judgement of right and wrong when talking about greatness, which I found really interesting (and his critique of historians there was very funny too).
“C’est grand!” say the historians, and then there is no longer any good or bad, but there is ”grand” and “not grand.“ Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand, to their minds, is the property of some sort of special animals known as heroes. And Napoleon, in his warm fur coat, clearing off for home from his perishing men, who are not only comrades, but (in his opinion) people he has brought there, feels que c’est grand, and his soul is at peace.
And it never enters anyone’s head that the recognition of a greatness not measurable by the measure of good and bad is only a recognition of one’s own insignificance and immeasurable littleness.
For us, with the measures of good and bad given us by Christ, nothing is immeasurable. And there is no greatess where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.” (p. 1070-1071)
Turning to the stories of the people, I was so sad that Petya died. And then to see the family fall apart over that (even if Natasha’s mother got on my nerves a little).
As for the couples, I am quite glad that it seems Natasha and Pierre and Marya and Nikolai will end up together. And yet, the distinction drawn between intelligent women and real women? Ugh.
Despite all my frustrations and questions posed to this month’s section, though, I quite enjoyed reading it.
Now we just have the epilogues left!