The “travel book” featured today is Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace by Dominic Lieven. I discovered it at my local library and checked it out. Thought it would give me some good background into how Tolstoy and used his sources.
Despite my past record, I’ve gone ahead to make a reading schedule for the rest of March. Twenty-two pages a day will get me through Volume VI and thus through War and Peace by then. The last two days I felt some revulsion towards reading Tolstoy, not sure why; I think it might have had to do with the section I was reading, which is about Pierre meeting the Frenchman, saving his life, in fact, in Moscow. There was something in the talk between the two men that either bored me or pained me, I’m not sure which.
But now I have reached page 158 of Volume V or Chapter XXXIII of Part Eleven, and as always, glad I pressed on. In these pages, Pierre finished his conversation (during which he has poured out his whole life story and thought again of his love for Natasha) with the Frenchman, while the two servants, one Russian, one French, get drunk together and have a high old time speaking to each other in languages they don’t understand. And a fire has broken out in the distance; the first, we know from the narrator, of the conflagration that will consume the city.
Then we are with the Rostofs who are bivouacked twenty miles or so from Moscow. From where they are they can see the fire spread through Moscow. One of the head servants, who has just been shown to be a tough old codger, breaks into tears. But Natasha is in a stupor because Sonya has told her about Prince Andrei being in their caravan. At night she steals away and finds the prince who is in and out of delerium. It is an incredibly moving scene because you have known these two people a long time, (or it feels, through Tolstoy’s art) that you have.
What struck me from these scenes? The first thing that stands out to me, in the conversation between Pierre and the Frenchman, is how Tolstoy declares how differently the men of each nation love women. The Frenchman, Tolstoy says, is interested in creative love, novel situations, whereas the Russian declares he will love only one woman forever (though he does hit the brothels once in awhile). This struck me perhaps because last night I read Quiet Days in Clichy by Henry Miller, an American, but one who I think loved as the French do, at least while he was in France. I bought Quiet Days and The Books in My Life at a used bookstore yesterday. Quiet Days was raunchier than I expected; very funny though, and moving at times. But if it is any indication of how the French love than it corresponds well with what Tolstoy says. (I bought The Books in My Life for the same reason as I bought Out of Sheer Rage; as inspirations for the kind of book I hope to be writing here.) Same but different.
The other thing that struck me was Tolstoy’s description of Prince Andrei’s consciousness after he was been wounded. What is amazing about Tolstoy is that he can describe both the inner and the outer worlds of humans with such precision. This is that Homeric aspect Wilson keeps writing about in his biography of Tolstoy; he’s deft as a surgeon probing a wood and as unconcerned about pain because he wants to do the job well.
“Sometimes his [Prince Andrei} mind began suddenly to work, and with an energy, clearness, and subtlety such as it had never shown when he was in health. And then just as suddenly, in the midst of this fabrication of his brain, some unexpected vision would interpose and interrupt, and he would not have the strength to return to it.
“‘Yes, a new happiness not to be taken from man was revealed to me,’ he said to himself, as he lay in the semi-obscurity of the quiet izba, and looked up with feverishly wide-open and fixed eyes. . . .
“And suddenly the course of his thoughts was broken off. . . . Prince Andrei felt that over his face, over the very center of it, was rising a strange sort of airy edifice of delicate little needles or shavings. He felt–but this was trying to him–that it was necessary for him to keep in perfect equilibrium, so that the growing edifice might not crumble; but nevertheless it fell down, and then slowly rose again. . . . ”
I have spent the last few minutes ransacking for some quote about Tolstoy as I haven’t read very far ahead in Wilson. As I did, I remembered Orwell’s essay on Tolstoy and Shakespeare: don’t worry, I will deal with that at some point. Now I have remembered that I underlined quotes in Tolstoy’s Diaries long ago:
1847: “Let a man withdraw from society, let him retreat into himself, and his reason will soon cast aside the spectacles which showed him everything in a distorted form, and his view of things will become so clear that he will be quite unable to understand how he had not seen it all before. Let reason do its work and it will indicate to you your destiny, and will give you rules with which you can confidently enter society. [. . . ] It’s easier to write ten volumes of philosophy that to put one single principle into practice.”
“Onesidedness is the main cause of man’s unhappiness.”
“I don’t carry out what I prescribe for myself; what I do carry out, I don’t carry out well; I don’t exercise my memory.”
“From the first glance at the Instruction [of Catherine the Great] we recognize that it was the intellectual fruit of a woman who, despite her great intellect, her exalted feelings and her love of truth, was unable to overcome her petty vanity which obscures her great merits.”