It has been a while since I posted about War and Peace, hasn’t it? My last post dates from April. Since that day we have finished Volume II. Plus, a little bit of Volume III for July: Part I.
So, to be honest, this part was not the most interesting thing I read in this book since April – that was definitely June’s installment with Natasha’s “disgrace”. But let’s get back to this month’s reading first.
We start Volume III, Part I with four pages of Tolstoy’s observations on history. I know this book has an epilogue that supposedly tells us a lot about Tolstoy’s views on history, so reading this I wondered if we were getting a small introduction to that; is this, then, finally, some clue as to what the book is all about?
In historical events the so-called great men are labels that give the event a name, which, just as with labels, has the least connection of all with the event itself.
Their every action, which to them seems willed by themselves, in the historical sense is not willed, but happens in connection with the whole course of history and has been destined from before all ages.
Interesting. Nevertheless, I do admit I find it all a little bit difficult to make sense of at this point. I completely agree that the big men of history do not equal all of history – thank you for that Tolstoy. However, I do wonder at what exactly he does imagine history to be: is he saying that history is a force in itself? Do I take that in the Hegelian manner of history being predestined to reach a certain point (Hegel = not my favourite. Hah, understatement of the century). Or, is it connected with power and every act of every human adding up to some unknown “force” of history that directs things in a way that makes that no one human is in full control of his abilities. Or is there something else going on? Funny how he makes us see that “[t]he higher a man stands on the social ladder, the greater of people he is connected with, the more power he has over other people“, which we would initially automatically agree with I think, social standing = power = agency, except Tolstoy seems to reverse it: “…the more obvious is the predestination and inevitability of his every action.“
Again, interesting. Yet, I am not sure what to think just yet. Moreso, I wonder why it is that he precedes the scenes in this part with these observations? Is it because we receive insight into the personalities of Napoleon and Alexander, with Napoleon in particular claiming the power and agency that Tolstoy wants us to reconsider?
I could talk more on Natasha, Tolstoy’s portrayal of women, and his depiction of religion (does anyone else feel he is not particularly positive about religion and yet never outright rejects it – even has one person ridicule Napoleon for his rejection of religisity as backwards?) but I think I will simply ponder some more on these subjects. There’s always next month, right?
How are you faring with War and Peace? Are you still reading? Is any of this tempting you to read it one day if you have not yet?