Truth-telling in Tolstoy's War and Peace
I am in the last pages of the Andrew Blomfield's original version of War and Peace. I am itching the read the canonical version next!
This has been an easy read. My reading of Tolstoy resists any drive to increase the speed - only patience will tell the tale. But the boring scenes have been few, and many the scenes of greatness.
The long sequence of Nikolai and Natasha hunting was dull; only a hundred pages later when Nikolai charged the dragoons imagining he was back on a hunt, did it make any sense why Tolstoy had bothered including it.
The fuss with Natasha and Andrei is unfortunately a bit kitsch. I sincerely hope in the canonical version Andrei and Natasha do not overreact so absurdly to Anatole's attempted seduction.
There are lots of loose ends. The passage I quoted a month ago where Nikolai Rostov is told off by Andrei and wishes he could become mates with him implies they do in fact become mates, and given the time Andrei spents at the Rostovs they ought to have, and yet there is no follow up.
What are the most astonishing moments of the original War and Peace? For me the hermeneutic dimension of one of Tolstoy's lecture on intellectual self-deception is the most engaging.
Here is a really proud guy, Leo Tolstoy, humbly describing in the most brilliantly clear way the total limitation and fallibility of intellect and reason in other people. And yet his faith in his own intellect remains solid, and he invites the reader to trust and admire the male leads Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrei not on the basis of their good hearts, but on their rational capacity for self-control! It seems to be as if poor Count Tolstoy knew his intellect was fatally flawed and felt we had no alternative but to reason it through and hope for the best in spite of all the bad results arising from self-identification with intellect.
This lecture is great also for its truth-telling about the nature of war, on page 755:
"War is a boy's dream. The highest honour is military honour. And what is required to wage war successfully? In order to be a genius, you need:
1. Provisions - organised theft.
2. Discipline - barbaric despotism, the extreme restriction of freedom.
3. The ability to acquire information - spying, deceit, betrayal.
4. The ability to employ military tricks and deceit.
5. What is war itself? - Murder.
6. What are a soldier's activities? - Idleness.
7. Military morals are depravity and drunkenness.
Is there a single vice, a single bad side of human nature, that is not one of the conditions of military life? Why is the military calling respected?"
To this astonishing rant, I can only reply with Prince Vasili on the first page of this great novel: "Good heavens, what a ferocious attack!"