Let’s Read This Thing : War and Peace is the culmination of my jotted notes and highlights while reading Leo Tolstoy’s epic for the first time. Some spoilters. And guess what- we’re halfway through!
And thus begins the chapters full of philosophical musings and narrator commentary about the nature of life, war, and in this case… history.
Volume 3 opens with questions on why history happens. Are small little events directly responsible for war, or is it just a collection of tiny unrelated coincidences? Tolstoy argues that historians often like to point to single issues and occurrences, but in reality everything is unpredictable. It is the tiny unknowns that lead to conflict, chain off of each other in absurd ways.
Volume III, Book 1 is really all about absurdity in war. About how no one is ever really in control because it is impossible to control everything on a battlefield (much to Napoleon’s ultimate dismay). Napoleon himself is at the center of much of this narrative, and is painted as a man who is far less shrewd and logical than his successful campaigns might suggest him to be. He is egotistical and arrogant in ways that will ultimately lead to his final downfall.
It is quite interesting knowing the ultimate fate of this single character when I’m still in the dark regarding those of the fictional protagonists. Napoleon is a historical figure taking part in a very well known historical conflict. I know how his story ends, and, for the most part, how these individual battles and campaigns culminate as well. It creates a vastly different experience knowing where all of this will eventually lead. One benefit to an undergraduate degree in European history (and a half-completed Russian major) I suppose?
Anyway, speaking of the fictional characters- we see Andrei, Nikolai, Pierre, and the Rostovs over the course of these pages- each of them experiencing different facets of the newly reignited war. Andrei, who still feels slighted by the Natasha and Anatole incident, scrambles around from post to post hoping to accidently run in to that scoundrel so that he can duel him. He is a character that has experienced so many massive life upheavals and changes of outlook. From the start he is antsy to fight and be rid of his wife. Then his injury and the loss of the Little Princess makes him depressed and despondent and wracked with guilt. Natasha gives him life again, but that ends, and now he is a man who seems almost numb to everything. War is absurd. Life is absurd. Get this guy some Camus?
Natasha herself is not doing so hot. She has completely shut down and doctors can’t figure out how to cure her melancholy. Only Pierre is able to pull any happiness from her, but she is a shell of her old self.
Nikolai is faring a tad better emotionally than the other two, but it’s not all roses. He first experiences camp life before engaging in battle and being commended for honors that he doesn’t doesn’t feel as especially deserved. How far this boy has come- he wants glory, but then acquires it merely by being the man who is less terrified. You never get exactly what you ask for.
Finally, the Book ends in a way similar to how it began. Only this time, instead of a narrator musing about what drives history we have Pierre. Though he comes up with some weird Masonic secret Doomsday code that is totally stretching it, he does try to reason with the conference that argues for political and military solutions that over overly simple. There is no one easy fix to things, remember? War is unpredictable, and history is the result of a million little causes and effects. More bloodshed is on the horizon.