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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: jotur] #2894198
09/25/19 07:02 PM
09/25/19 07:02 PM
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Originally Posted by jotur
Also, Tolstoy emphasizes people's accents, or sometimes speech impediments - I remember one at the Rostov's dinner party I think, And Denisov has "swallowed" r's. In most of the books I read those would not be emphasized, but used sparingly for effect, but Tolstoy has whole conversations using them. Just a note.

Nice observation! Also, there was hussar colonel at the Rostov's for dinner who pronounced his 'b' as 'p' and 'd' as 't'.


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"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2894907
09/27/19 04:26 PM
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I'm about half way thru Part II of Book I, and I think I probably skipped all of this 50 years ago. It is mostly about battles, retreats, things awry, etc. Now that I'm older, and have read a lot more about various wars, I am far more interested.

So, Kutuzov falls back, after having confirmation of Mack's/Austria's loss, burning his bridges as he goes - contrasted with the trick the French pulled at Vienna when they crossed unopposed and put the Austrian court, and Kutuzov, on the run. I couldn't believe that actually, happened, but it did. But Kutuzov is more savvy, and when the French try to pull the trick again Kutuzov uses it against them to let his baggage train catch up and Bagration's small force have a day to recuperate. Napolean blow a fuse at his generals and understands what Kutuzov is doing, and brings his French troops up to the battlefield.

Meanwhile, back with the diplomats, staff, political folks, Andrei sees more of the complete unconcern of those folks with the realities of war - Ippolito is confirming himself as a dunce, Bilibin and friends are simply playing a game they call "diplomacy", the emperor is totally out of touch, and they're all off like chickens when they hear the French are just down the road. Bilibin tries to convince Andrei that his duty is only to himself and he should come with the court, but Andrei does his duty, meanwhile, still with some youthful blindness, and dreaming of saving the Russian army with a genius plan of his own making. Kutuzov knows better, and uses the French to save as much as he can.

My thoughts, over all the book so far, and having read much, much more since I first read W&P, is that indeed, the planning, the strategy, the high stakes of war can be addictive - not a game in the sense that Bilibin sees, but like a high stakes gambler. Not to most of the grunts, of course, tho some of them, too, are forever marked by the adrenaline and high senses, but to those who plan all the moves and deceptions - D-Day in WWII was a world-game frown - and it's only a game, and good for gossip for those who neither have to plan or carry out the plans, or those, like old Bolkonsky, who are well-past it and are living on bravado. It's the weary, the bedraggled troops who are looting the countryside for provisions, wearing boots that are really no longer functional, being sent to delay an army that is 3 or 4 times their size, who take the brunt of it. But I think Andrei is trying to be a good officer.

And again, I think Tolstoy puts you right in the middle of disorganized retreat, as if you are there.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: dumka1] #2894981
09/27/19 10:19 PM
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Originally Posted by dumka1
Originally Posted by jotur
Good question, Stubbie - I've wondered myself if part of the story is going to be of the downfall of Russian aristocracy (or at least the prelude to it) or maybe a story about how much war changed the whole social landscape, much like Britain after WWI
.......As for Stubbie's comment about the Rostov family, I was actually surprised but also see how one can perceive them in such a way. The thing is that in most Russian literary works, such qualities as pragmatism and rationality are presented as Western, markedly non-Russian (for better or worse :)) and are seen as lacking in warmth and humanness. So, the Rostovs are impulsive, impractical, messy but also very warm and emotional (and musical!!!), and this is supposed to redeem them. By the way, in the later scene describing their departure from Moscow in the face of the French invasion, it is the mother who is trying to be practical (as opposed to being irrationally generous and kind) and she is shamed by the rest of the family and eventually realizes she was wrong (you'll recognize the scene when you read it, I don't want to give details here). The German Berg is very practical but is hardly a positive hero of the novel. (I don't endorse this whole binary but this is how Russian literature works; things are more complicated in Goncharov's "Oblomov," but the binary is still there).

Then that's a huge gulf between modern, Western sensibilities and Russian sensibilities of Tolstoy's time in terms of ideas of responsibility and good sense. How is a modern, non-Russian to read W&P then? If it requires a Russian to explain it (and that is no guarantee of agreeing with the interpretation), then the work doesn't stand on its own!


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: Stubbie] #2894990
09/28/19 12:58 AM
09/28/19 12:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by dumka1
Originally Posted by jotur
Good question, Stubbie - I've wondered myself if part of the story is going to be of the downfall of Russian aristocracy (or at least the prelude to it) or maybe a story about how much war changed the whole social landscape, much like Britain after WWI
.......As for Stubbie's comment about the Rostov family, I was actually surprised but also see how one can perceive them in such a way. The thing is that in most Russian literary works, such qualities as pragmatism and rationality are presented as Western, markedly non-Russian (for better or worse :)) and are seen as lacking in warmth and humanness. So, the Rostovs are impulsive, impractical, messy but also very warm and emotional (and musical!!!), and this is supposed to redeem them. By the way, in the later scene describing their departure from Moscow in the face of the French invasion, it is the mother who is trying to be practical (as opposed to being irrationally generous and kind) and she is shamed by the rest of the family and eventually realizes she was wrong (you'll recognize the scene when you read it, I don't want to give details here). The German Berg is very practical but is hardly a positive hero of the novel. (I don't endorse this whole binary but this is how Russian literature works; things are more complicated in Goncharov's "Oblomov," but the binary is still there).

Then that's a huge gulf between modern, Western sensibilities and Russian sensibilities of Tolstoy's time in terms of ideas of responsibility and good sense. How is a modern, non-Russian to read W&P then? If it requires a Russian to explain it (and that is no guarantee of agreeing with the interpretation), then the work doesn't stand on its own!

There is a gulf, and a few years ago, I took a Coursera course entitled "Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communication" just so I could really understand my wife at a deeper level, but do you really think that it is different enough to actually be a barrier to understanding the text? Having taken the above mentioned course, I understand now that there are cultural undercurrents and perhaps intertextuality which can lend meaning and significance to this novel, but my sense is that it is more a refinement of meaning and better understanding of significance, than making intelligible the incomprehensible.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: Stubbie] #2894991
09/28/19 01:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
...then the work doesn't stand on its own!

and to elaborate on something I just mentioned, intertextuality of texts like W&P pretty much guarantee that they never stand on their own, but draw on other "things"...

On a slightly different topic, I found a very interesting essay: "A Humanist Reading of Tolstoy: The writings of Petr H. Bitsilli." It's a humanistic critique of Tolstoy and, among other things, his focus on the enigma of life and death.


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"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
"Pianoteq manages to keep it all together yet simultaneously also go in all directions; like a quantum particle entangled with an unknown and spooky parallel universe simply waiting to be discovered." -by Pete14
Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2895133
09/28/19 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by Stubbie
...then the work doesn't stand on its own!

and to elaborate on something I just mentioned, intertextuality of texts like W&P pretty much guarantee that they never stand on their own, but draw on other "things"....
I think what happens is the author loses control of what he meant his work to say/mean. The author might be astonished and/or appalled by the gap between what he intended to say and what readers understood him to say.

Originally Posted by dumka
The thing is that in most Russian literary works, such qualities as pragmatism and rationality are presented as Western, markedly non-Russian (for better or worse :)) and are seen as lacking in warmth and humanness. So, the Rostovs are impulsive, impractical, messy but also very warm and emotional (and musical!!!), and this is supposed to redeem them.
I would add foolish to the list of impulsive, impractical, and messy and, for me, being warm and emotional is not at all redeeming if you're on the receiving end of impulsive and impractical and foolish.

The Rostov's world was small and didn't extend far beyond the walls of their home (which they were continually putting at risk with foolish spending). Prince Andrei, on the other hand, saw beyond the gates of his estate. He gave thought to the soldiers he commanded, to the larger political and moral world, and gave consideration to his serfs (if I'm remembering this correctly). In the end, Prince Andrei dies a slow and painful death and Natasha (after marrying Pierre) gets plump and matronly and has been apparently successful in blotting the war, in all its tragedy, out of her mind. I read this as Tolstoy commenting on the aristocracy and not so much as how the war changed people.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2895143
09/28/19 10:53 AM
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Ah, Stubbie, losing control of the meaning. I think this is the way of the world, and certainly for authors. I, too, read the Rostovs much like you, good-natured perhaps, but silly in many things. It helps for me to understand the context of the times and the culture, but I live in my own times and culture, and my own head, for that matter. So - I can expand my vision some, tho I am, personally, a pretty provincial person - I am much more limited in my vision than Tyrone is, and many other people that are on this forum. I'm even being thrown for a loop quite recently by a post on FB and later discussion that sees my own/my family's history in radically different terms than I've seen it, even tho I've known for a long time that each individual's recollections/interpretation are different. It's like having the ground shift under my feet!

So thank you for speaking up - I'm with you - there are other values even than Tolstoy's laugh


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: jotur] #2895173
09/28/19 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by jotur
Ah, Stubbie, losing control of the meaning. I think this is the way of the world, and certainly for authors. I, too, read the Rostovs much like you, good-natured perhaps, but silly in many things. It helps for me to understand the context of the times and the culture, but I live in my own times and culture, and my own head, for that matter. So - I can expand my vision some, tho I am, personally, a pretty provincial person - I am much more limited in my vision than Tyrone is, and many other people that are on this forum. I'm even being thrown for a loop quite recently by a post on FB and later discussion that sees my own/my family's history in radically different terms than I've seen it, even tho I've known for a long time that each individual's recollections/interpretation are different. It's like having the ground shift under my feet!

So thank you for speaking up - I'm with you - there are other values even than Tolstoy's laugh
The fortunate thing is that this doesn't stop us from enjoying the book and finding meaning in it, even if it's not what the author intended. Any book (or movie or recording) that has me thinking about it months later and finding and refining my thoughts about it is a successful piece of literature.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2895366
09/28/19 11:59 PM
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The epic novel is, though, timeless. So much of human nature can be found in the book, and it is interesting that the basic human nature doesn’t change, regardless of century, culture or location.

I also found that about my favorite, The Count of Monte Cristo - it was absolutely timeless. If you substituted the mode of transportation (horses for cars), you wouldn’t know it was written ages ago.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2895368
09/29/19 12:06 AM
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I just read about the hunt. Very interesting, and it led me to a bit of internet research on wolf hunting. I also read about the history of Fair Chase, which Wikipedia seems to think was a term developed by Teddy Roosevelt, when in actuality Tolstoy, via Uncle, referred to “Fair For The Chase” throughout the section. I even learned about the origin of The Teddy Bear.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2895697
09/29/19 10:15 PM
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Originally Posted by cmb13
The epic novel is, though, timeless. So much of human nature can be found in the book, and it is interesting that the basic human nature doesn’t change, regardless of century, culture or location.

I also found that about my favorite, The Count of Monte Cristo - it was absolutely timeless. If you substituted the mode of transportation (horses for cars), you wouldn’t know it was written ages ago.


I agree - our emphasis on what traits we value may shift from time to time or from culture to culture, but folks are still folks. I feel the same way about the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament - I don't read it the same way I did when I was 10 but I still read it - it's all there smile


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2895979
09/30/19 09:44 PM
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Hi everybody, I didn't check this forum for several days, was swamped at work (I even canceled my piano lesson, which made me very sad). It's an interesting question about the universal vs. historically/culturally specific readings of a classical work. As you all said, one can indeed enjoy and appreciate the work at many levels, without necessarily a historical commentary. Before I became a literary scholar, I read tons of nineteenth-century novels, Russian and French (including lots of Dumas; by the way, The Count of Monte-Cristo is my dad's favorite novel ever), and I just enjoyed them for their characters, plot twists, psychological insights, etc., without fully realizing various contexts behind them. But when I teach literature, I give my students the historical and cultural contexts, as well as make them pay attention to literary techniques, otherwise why take a university course in literature. These are just different approaches, all rewarding in different ways.

So, I'm not saying that the reading of the Rostov family in a more negative light is "wrong"--but I just wanted to put them in a context. Obviously, Tolstoy doesn't hold them as an ideal to emulate--he shows their weaknesses, but it seems to me he still portrays them as irresistibly likeable. The same is true of the Bolkonsky; their family atmosphere is much more stifling and oppressive if more orderly (recall Mar'ia being completely terrified of her father and his rigid discipline, as opposed to Natasha getting in bed with her mother, sharing her thoughts and them both laughing uncontrollably), but there's still a lot to admire about them. Both are very human, with all their weaknesses and charming traits. But of course, individual readers can have their own reactions to the characters. I always thought of Helen as an unquestionably negative character, but last time I taught the novel, my students surprised me finding her quite sympathetic from a more modern, feminist standpoint. I can explain this later, it's quite interesting.

The gentry decline in Russia is usually associated with the 1860s reforms (the abolition of serfdom above all), so 1820, when the epilogue of the novel is set, would be way too early (although Tolstoy is writing the novel precisely in the 1860s, so his anxiety about the gentry might have affected his portrayal of this class in the novel). But now that I'm thinking more about it, aristocracy is not the same as gentry and there's indeed a concern in the novel that true aristocracy, true servants to the state are disappearing. If you recall, the old prince Bolkonsky, Andrei's father, belongs to the eighteenth century, the era of heroic generals, like Suvorov and Kutuzov, and he despises current aristocracy (like the Kuragins) who gain privilege and status not through serving their country truly but through scheming, careerism and intrigues (Boris's family is up there as well, Cathy, of course :)). And Andrei has this aristocratic family pride and an ethos of serving honestly and valiantly, and he's killed. So, yes, I see Stubbie's point here, definitely. On the other hand, Nikolai Rostov is doing pretty well at the end and Pierre survives as well, although they end up in different ideological camps...

In any case, I love Tolstoy most of all for his amazing insights into human nature, for creating those absolutely "living" characters, for nuanced portrayals of the workings of human psyche and, in this particular novel, for the sheer epic scale of the world he creates and the level of detail in each aspect of life. It seems that you guys agree here.

Cathy, I loved it that you appreciated Tolstoy's portrayal of military scenes. When I read the novel as a young girl, all I cared about was the love plots and I tended to skip the "war" part, but later realized how powerful they are.

Yes, the hunting scene. Absolutely fascinating. The wolf gets a point of view (in Anna Karenina, a dog will be given an internal monologue during a hunt scene). Social hierarchies are somewhat reversed (Danilo yells at the nobility). Humans act in a more "wild," animal-like way. A very different world.

(Sorry for the long post).

Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2897157
10/04/19 10:57 PM
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Wow, thanks for all the previous. I'm going to save this thread - I think I can e-mail it to myself, but otherwise I'll just make a pdf of it - because there's so much here, and I get bogged down enuf as it is.

I just finished Part II of Vol I - sigh - and I can't begin to cover everything I've thought about. I won't recount the plot - goodness knows you've all read it already, but here's some other comments:

Hurray for the internet. I love looking up the regiments and seeing pictures/paintings of the uniforms et al. The grenadiers had mitre-shaped hats! I don't know how many times I've seen canon/pictures of canon on a limber, but I never knew what it was called!

Tolstoy used repetition effectively in this section - everything from the "left...left...left" of the marching soldiers, to the "22-year irreproachable general" (tho these exact words were not repeated these concepts were emphasized over and over in the description - again, I found this comical), to the "gloom" of the night of the retreat.

The contrast between Zherkhov's mockery in the opening chapters when Kutuzov reviews the troops and his 3x failure to deliver the orders for retreat; the contrast between the general upgrading Tomokhin and Dolokhov and their later proof they were the only soldiers in good order who could fight; the contrast between Andrei - who stays to help Tushin's retreat - and Rostov - who has a "bruised arm" and is in total confusion in the hussar attack; the contrast between what Andrei observes Bagration doing - which looks almost like nothing but confirming what is already happening - and Bagration's effect, which calms the men - and also that Suvurov had given Bagration his own sword - so he is apparently worthy.

The most poignant scene, for me, was when the soldiers from both lines were talking with each other, baiting each other, and the remark that, after one of the Russian soldiers had talked "babbled" French it should have just bowled over the French so they'd turn and just go home...and then the next paragraph: the canons are still there, they're still loaded - there's grimness ahead.

I also had to look up Andrei's "wondering if this would be his Toulon" - apparently the siege of Toulon in 1793 was where Napolean was first recognized as a potentially outstanding leader. So Andrei is still an admirer of Napolean at this point, but after the debriefing abut Tushin he walks away just that much more disillusioned. And Rostov, of course, can't believe they're trying to kill *him*! Talk about disillusioned.

I'll try to go a little faster - it's not likely I can catch up but I might be able to finish while there's still other people reading this thread laugh


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2897303
10/05/19 12:57 PM
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These are all wonderful observations, Cathy. I agree about the poignancy of this scene you mentioned--Tolstoy will end up, of course, being an influential pacifist, and we see his condemnation of war in this novel already (and even in earlier works), but here he's still sometimes caught in the feeling of patriotism which he'll later reject altogether.

I always found his depictions of Nikolai Rostov's confusion and fears in the beginning of his military career absolutely amazing and psychologically insightful. Nikolai is still very young and inexperienced here, he was raised surrounded by loving parents and siblings, so it's hard for him to quite accept the fact that there are people out there trying to kill him (again, the reality of war vs. some bookish perceptions). Andrei is older (even though still young), more experienced and realistic, of course--although his Napoleonic fantasies indeed betray some Romantic streak in him, a cult of a hero.

Speaking of heroes, I'm glad, Cathy, you mentioned this scene with Bagration observed by Andrei. I think it's a very important scene because it gives us the first glimpse into Tolstoy's philosophy of history that will become more explicit as the novel progresses, the main idea being that history is not made by "great men" and not affected by the decisions and acts of individual leaders but by a confluence of innumerable seemingly random factors; the best leaders instinctively recognize this, remain passive and go with the flow of events, adding something intangible, like Bagration's calming and encouraging effect on the army.

Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2897431
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Yes, I just began the next book, and came across this philosophy of Tolstoy’s. He believes that there were numerous factors that combined to produce a war between Napoleon’s French and Alexander’s Russians, any of which had been different could have saved millions.

But before that.....Natasha Rastova really disappointed me. I liked her so much, but she really mucked things up for herself, under the influence of Anatole, a treacherous louse of a man. The truth is, has it not been for Andrei’s forced exile and delay of the wedding, it all would have been different. So Andre’s father is really to blame. Another confluence of events that changed history, on a micro level, for those involved.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2897440
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Originally Posted by cmb13


But before that.....Natasha Rastova really disappointed me. I liked her so much, but she really mucked things up for herself, under the influence of Anatole, a treacherous louse of a man. The truth is, has it not been for Andrei’s forced exile and delay of the wedding, it all would have been different. So Andre’s father is really to blame. Another confluence of events that changed history, on a micro level, for those involved.


I know! The last part of book/volume 2 is quite a roller coaster. Do you guys know there was a recent Broadway musical based exactly on this part of the novel--called "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812"? I saw it in NYC 3 years ago (with Josh Groban as Pierre), it was quite good. Then the musical was canceled, because of a casting controversy. But you can get a soundtrack, if interested (it uses quite a bit of Tolstoy's text for the songs, actually).

What a great idea about the parallelism between individual, private "histories" and Tolstoy's philosophy of history. And, yes, Andrei's father and his despotism are to blame to a large degree. Natasha is too full of life to put her feelings on hold for a year, it seems. My students also pointed out that, because of this delay, she ended up in a limbo, stuck for a year as neither a girl nor a woman... Of course, Helen played a nasty role luring Natasha into her and Anatole's depraved world.

Just a technical comment, if you don't mind--the description of the opera in that part is a great example of Tolstoy's signature technique which critics have labeled "defamiliarization" (or "estrangement"--ostranenie in Russian). He often describes some familiar processes. social conventions or rituals as if they're seen for the first time, thus exposing their artificiality. For example, Tolstoy has a whole story narrated from the point of view of a horse who doesn't understand why the person who only rides him twice a year calls him "his own," but the one who actually takes care of him (the servant, we are meant to understand) doesn't. So, the opera is described in War and Peace as just people running on stage, waving arms, singing something for some reason, etc. In this particular case, it seems that the goal is to show Natasha's fresh perspective (it's not that she doesn't know what opera is like but she just came to the city after a long stay in the countryside and she is more sensitive to things that are not natural) but also to show how she gradually loses this freshness and naturalness. Towards the end of the performance, she accepts the opera's conventions, as she also falls under the spell of Helen and the fake values of high society she represents. (Sorry about the lecture, but it's one of my favorite things about Tolstoy's style, so I wanted to mention it).

Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2897466
10/06/19 02:52 AM
10/06/19 02:52 AM
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That’s cute, the story from the perspective of the horse! What is that called?

The opera scene was a gem, probably worth rereading more carefully in fact. I understand it’s use as a vehicle and metaphor; very clever indeed! Thank you for pointing it out.

Cathy, don’t worry about your pace, it’s fine. I’ll keep checking in! I did have a big head start, after all.


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2897547
10/06/19 09:26 AM
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Originally Posted by cmb13
That’s cute, the story from the perspective of the horse! What is that called?

The opera scene was a gem, probably worth rereading more carefully in fact. I understand it’s use as a vehicle and metaphor; very clever indeed! Thank you for pointing it out.

Cathy, don’t worry about your pace, it’s fine. I’ll keep checking in! I did have a big head start, after all.


The story is usually translated as "Strider" (it's "Kholstomer" in Russian--the horse's nickname). The horse becomes the actual narrator after the first couple of chapters of the story.

Cathy, I'd also say, don't rush and enjoy the novel. I'll stick here for you smile

Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2899022
10/10/19 03:12 PM
10/10/19 03:12 PM
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Just checking in. My wife and I watched the BBC miniseries this week. I caught up to and passed where I was in the book. The series was well done, although due to time limitations they left out some scenes that I liked in the book, such as the hunting scene. We reviewed the character development, which was superb.

The thing we discussed the most was how it took a series of events to change the course of everyone's lives. One event was not enough, but the culmination of events that led to the relationships in the end. Some happy, some sad, but life is a series of twists and turns.

Back to the novel....


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Re: War and Peace - Tolstoy [Re: cmb13] #2899058
10/10/19 05:30 PM
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BTW another thing that strikes me is the unabashed search for marrying into wealth. Nickolai, for instance, was given the guilt trip of the millennium for loving Sonia. I guess you can still see that here, sometimes, but not to the same degree.


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