Last night I was about to go to bed when I remembered I had to read my 20 pages of Tolstoy. For a moment I wondered if I should keep doing this. But once I was reading, I had no doubts. And when I stopped reading I felt refreshed and my house for a moment seemed unfamiliar, so powerful is Tolstoy’s art.
The section I read first describes a wild party Pierre attends in St. Petersburg during which Dolokhof, a cavalryman, bets an Englishman 50 sovereigns that he can drink a bottle of rum sitting on a window sill without touching the sides of the window and without once taking his lips from the bottle (not to mention falling to his death on the cobblestones below). Pierre partakes in the festivities, which include visiting a brothel and tying a policeman back to back with the pet bear, Mishka.
Then we move, oh so smoothly, from St. Petersburg to Moscow where the Rostofs are throwing a name-day party for their daughter. The count and countess are receiving and saying good-bye to visitors. There is talk of war because the count’s son, Nikolai, has decided to join the Hussars, and you can see how ambivalent the count is about it. There is also talk about Pierre and the infamous party–the count enjoys the bear story very much–because Pierre is back in Moscow to visit his infamously handsome father who is on his deathbed. Pierre is one of his many bastard sons and everyone is wondering who will get the inheritance.
The children surge into the drawing-room, and Tolstoy brings alive the different realities of childhood and adulthood:
“Meantime, all the young people–the officer, Boris, the son of the Princess Anna Mikhailovna, Nikolai the student, the count’s oldest son, Sonya, the count’s fifteen-year-old niece, and the little Petrusha, his youngest boy–crowded into the drawing-room, evidently doing their utmost to restrain within the bounds of propriety the excitement and merriment that convulsed their faces. It could be seen that there in the rear rooms from which they had rushed so impetuously, they had been engaged in much more entertaining conversation that town gossip, the weather, and the Countess Apraksina.”
Here are a couple of more passages that stood out for me:
“‘Yes, there’s going to be war, they say,’ said the visitor.
‘They have been saying so for a long time,’ replied the count, ‘and they will say so again, and keep saying so, and that will be the end of it.'”
“‘It all depends on the education,’ said the visitor.
‘Yes, you are right,’ continued the countess. ‘So far I have been, thank God, the friend of my children, and enjoy their perfect confidence,’ declared the countess, repeating the error of many parents who cherish the illusion that their children have no secrets in which they do not share.'”
I will, I hope, soon be sharing photographs of The Works of Lyof Tolstoi as a set and then a photograph of each one as I begin it. Each volume has an interesting author photo in the front bound behind a page of onion-skin paper. I will also alert the reader when I have to begin cutting pages with the letter opener and include before and after photos!