Monday, 16 June 2014

More on the smiles in "War and Peace"

What kind of person reads a book like "War and Peace" and only pays attention to smiles?
You must be thinking.
Well I do pay attention to other things, but for the time being, I'd like to write more about smiles.

- Volume I part I chapter 25, when Marya Bolkonskaya talks to her brother Andrey about his wife Liza:
"Prince Andrey looked at his sister and smiled the kind of smile we reserve for people we think we can see through."
- Volume I part II chapter 3, when Kutuzov explains to the Austrian general why he cannot aid the Austrian army:
"And Kutuzov smiled with an expression that seemed to say 'You have every right to disbelieve me, and I don't much care whether you do or you don't, but you have no grounds for saying that out loud. And that's it.'
[...] Kutuzov bowed, still smiling the same smile.
[...] And Kutuzov, with a sardonic smile playing about the corners of his mouth, read out in German for the benefit of the Austrian general this excerpt from the letter of the Archduke Ferdinand..."
- Volume I part II chapter 7, when a German cart with some women passes by a group of soldiers.
"Every face smiled virtually the same smile; every man thought his salacious thoughts about 1 of them.
[...] asked the infantry officer, eating an apple and half-smiling as he stared at the pretty girl."
- Volume I part II chapter 9, when Andrey meets the minister of war to report the situation:
"He had the distinctive head of an intellectual, but the moment he turned to Prince Andrey, the war minister's shrewd and concentrated look changed into a contrived facial expression that he had all too obviously grown used to assuming. His face was left wearing an inane smile- the forced smile, with no attempt to disguise the effort behind it, of a man who receives endless petitioners one after another."
- Volume I part II chapter 15, at Grunth, before Napoleon's attack, the staff officer goes around, with Andrey, checking the officers and criticises Captain Tushin for being barefoot. 
"Prince Andrey couldn't help smiling as he glanced at Captain Tushin. Saying not a word, Tushin was smiling at them, hopping from 1 bare foot to the other and looking inquiringly with his big, shrewd,  kindly eyes from Prince Andrey to the staff officer and back. 
'The men say it's easier in your bare feet', said Captain Tushin, with a shy smile, keen to cover his embarrassment with a joke or 2. But before the words were out of his mouth he could see that this one was going wrong; they didn't like it. He was even more embarrassed."
 -  Volume I part II chapter 17, the battle has begun, Zherkov makes fun of the auditor. 
"... 'That's enough of that', beamed the auditor, with a simple but knowing smile, as if he felt quite flattered to be ridiculed by Zherkov, and wanted to make himself seem stupider than he really was.
[...] 'What was that?' asked the auditor with his naive smile. 
[...] 'That's awful!' But he seemed nevertheless to swell up with pleasure." 


These details remind me of a passage from "The Russian Point of View" by Virginia Woolf:
"There remains the greatest of all novelists — for what else can we call the author of War and Peace? [...] Here is a man, too, who is no savage, no child of nature; he is educated; he has had every sort of experience. He is one of those born aristocrats who have used their privileges to the full. He is metropolitan, not suburban. His senses, his intellect, are acute, powerful, and well nourished. There is something proud and superb in the attack of such a mind and such a body upon life. Nothing seems to escape him. Nothing glances off him unrecorded. Nobody, therefore, can so convey the excitement of sport, the beauty of horses, and all the fierce desirability of the world to the senses of a strong young man. Every twig, every feather sticks to his magnet. He notices the blue or red of a child’s frock; the way a horse shifts its tail; the sound of a cough; the action of a man trying to put his hands into pockets that have been sewn up. And what his infallible eye reports of a cough or a trick of the hands his infallible brain refers to something hidden in the character, so that we know his people, not only by the way they love and their views on politics and the immortality of the soul, but also by the way they sneeze and choke. Even in a translation we feel that we have been set on a mountain-top and had a telescope put into our hands. Everything is astonishingly clear and absolutely sharp. Then, suddenly, just as we are exulting, breathing deep, feeling at once braced and purified, some detail — perhaps the head of a man — comes at us out of the picture in an alarming way, as if extruded by the very intensity of its life..." 


  1. Some really good stuff here. Tolstoy's keen eye misses nothing. And he loves to express unvoiced communication between his characters: through body language, gestures, smiles. See my blog, "U.R. Bowie on Russian Literature," for examples from his "Anna Karenina."

    1. Hi.
      Sorry about my late response. I've been busy, stressed, sick, etc. I know about your blog (referred to it in a post a few days ago), will check out the posts about Anna Karenina.
      Tolstoy's wonderful. You may find this interesting:
      I love what Tolstoy did in "A History of Yesterday" too. The unvoiced communication. The dialogue he had in his head.