Sunday, 22 June 2014

An affair, and a duel

So, in volume II, we meet Pierre again at Nikolai's banquet. He sits there in silence, deep in thoughts, as he has known about his wife Helene's affair with Dolokhov. Anger's being built up inside him, then it explodes when Dolokhov impertinently grabs a letter to Pierre and makes him furious, at which point Pierre challenges Dolokhov to a duel.
1/ The affair, undoubtedly, makes me think of Anna Karenina
2/ Pierre challenges Dolokhov to a duel and wounds him. There's no duel in Anna Karenina
3/ The affair is not acknowledged by Dolokhov and Helene. Neither does Pierre bluntly ask the question.
4/ Pierre is slightly different. He, of course, no longer has the look of a socially awkward guy back from foreign countries, alone and unfamiliar with everything and rather disoriented. The fortune he inherits together with its consequences- power, respect and relations, changes him. What doesn't change is that he's not a man of reason. He acts on emotions- getting immersed in thoughts whilst being in public, letting the bad mood take over himself, behaving badly at the banquet, getting angry, impulsively suggesting a challenge, then deciding to leave his wife. Not the stoic, controlled, duty-bound type like Karenin. His reactions are signs of weakness.
5/ Helene is also slightly different. Initially, she appears perfect- superficial, yes, but gorgeous, elegant and always smiling. Then the nasty side is exposed, when nobody else is present and she screams at her husband. Helene might make one think of Anna, because of her beauty, and the affair, but she is shallow and doesn't seem to torment herself with guilt and self-questioning the way Anna does. At this point, one doesn't know what she thinks, however. 
6/ Dolokhov makes one wonder whether he loves Helene, the way Vronsky loves Anna, or he's more like Anatole. But there's a cool thing here. Tolstoy adds another facet to Dolokhov's personality, in the scene after the duel.
"Rostov went on ahead to do as he was bidden. To his utter astonishment he found out that the rough, tough Dolokhov, Dolokhov the swaggering bully, lived in Moscow with his old mother and a hunchback sister. He was a loving son and brother." 
Inconsistent? Perhaps, but I don't doubt such people do exist in life. And people are inconsistent and self-contradictory. 
7/ Does Tolstoy condemn adultery? And Helene? 
It's not so simplistic. Pierre isn't blameless either. 
"'It's not my fault, is it?' he asked himself. 
Yes it is. You weren't in love with her when you got married and you pulled the wool over our own eyes and hers." 
8/ Luckily, Marya Bolkonskaya doesn't marry Anatole. I like the way the 2 sequences are juxtaposed- 1st Prince Vasily tries to make Pierre marry Helene, Tolstoy describes in detail how Helene entrances Pierre, how Pierre feels, how he struggles against it- weakly, and then gets trapped in it; right afterwards prince Vasily comes with Anatole and makes a proposal to Marya, Tolstoy now depicts magnificently Anatole and the effect he has on 3 women, the old man Bolkonsky's reaction and Marya's final decision. These pages are marvellous, no one can improve them in a million years. 
9/ Now, having seen Dolokhov, gentle and vulnerable, as he faces death and when he's with his mother, I can't help wondering what he's like when he's with Helene. 

So far so good. No, War and Peace gets better and better. 

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