August 22, 2020
I saw the BBC’s “War and Peace” on a Saturday and a Sunday. I spent the following week getting other books “out of the way,” so to speak. On Monday I did my Zoom reading on a “Moby-Dick” marathon, which finished the next day (in the middle of a tropical storm left over from Isaias). I finished reading Louise Erdrich’s “The Birchbark House,” which is such a wonderful book that in other circumstances I would have spent more time reflecting on it – not to mention more time reflecting on “Moby-Dick,” which briefly came alive for me again through the Zoom reading.
On Friday the Briggs translation of W&P arrived.
“War and Peace” is not only fun, it’s actually funny in places. The chapter detailing Boris’ courting of Julie Karagin is delicious satire and had me laughing out loud – particularly the marriage proposal, which is not depicted in the miniseries.
Watching the series, I was practically on the floor laughing as Prince Vasily Kuragin and his son Anatole were rejected by Princess Marya and summarily dismissed for the day.
I have read much more of the last half of the book than the first.
I’ve never read a work of fiction out of order. I do that a lot with nonfiction books, the main kind of books that I’ve always read. But I’m doing it with “War and Peace,” and not just starting in the middle, but going back and forth to re-read some things, mostly because I’d prefer to enjoy much of the book rather than risk starting it and never finishing.
Homer may have found it more interesting to begin a tale in media res, and for me that is often the best way to dig into a book. Honestly if I’d started “War and Peace” from the beginning I may not have continued. The comet, followed by Napoleon’s invasion, was a perfect place for me to “get grabbed” by the book and to grab back.
I plan to read more from the first half before we go back to the city.
Just three days ago this came out: “War and Peace — folks, it’s good“
Her article gives many reasons why Tolstoy’s novel is both enjoyable and even an easy read. She also comments on this passage from the novel:
With the enemy’s approach to Moscow, the Moscovites’ view of their situation did not grow more serious but on the contrary became even more frivolous, as always happens with people who see a great danger approaching. At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to think about what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally listens to the first voice, but in society to the second. So it was now with the inhabitants of Moscow. It was long since people had been as gay in Moscow as that year.
Ironically by reading “War and Peace”, I am very definitely doing some of the avoidance that the author refers to. After following politics intensely throughout the Trump administration I’m tired, and have less resilience than ever for even the smallest personal disturbances.
Thousands of things have been suggested as activities specially suited for coronavirus quarantine. No single ideal activity can exist of course, and I’m not sure how you can even identify a set of activities “ideally” suited to the times. All I can say is that “War and Peace” is incredibly nourishing. And maybe the way that it does seem to contain all of life in its pages – old and young; fun and serious; reflection and action; war and peace, etc. – at a time when we’re cut off from life, might have something to do with my love for it right now.
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