Thursday 10 July 2014

Concluding notes on "War and Peace"

So I've finished reading War and Peace (8/6- 9/7).
a) I probably won't watch any adaptation. As with The Sound and the Fury, I've had quite vivid images of the characters with which I don't want someone else's vision to interfere; even though none of these characters have touched me in the strange, inexplicable way Caddy has, I spent 1 month with them.
And what can a film adaptation offer that the book doesn't already have?
b) I began reading the epilogue, preparing to say that War and Peace didn't need an epilogue, yet couldn't say so. It isn't unnecessary. Tolstoy discusses life and history, expands his ideas, elaborates, gives arguments and counterarguments, and challenges commonly accepted views. A novel doesn't need them, indeed, but War and Peace is more than a novel.
c) War and Peace isn't without flaws. It may be a loose baggy monster. Some parts may be tedious or hard to read. There may be lots of repetitions. Tolstoy's views may be debatable. A few details may be contrived. Etc, etc. But so what? Is any great novel flawless? Here is an epic with an immense panorama of humanity- through it Tolstoy expands the scope of a normal novel and at the same time tackles the lives of individuals, which are missing in the works of historians. Here is a masterpiece that overwhelms, which makes one wonder how 1 person could write a book of such size and scope, with that many characters (or more specifically, how did he know how a girl felt?). Here the author presents to us a war, a period, a nation and a people, and with great insight and vivid descriptions lets us enter the characters' minds and feel as though experiencing what they go through; he depicts them in war and in peace, describes their reactions to societal issues such as war, national identity... and to personal ones such as love, betrayal, fear... Here is a work of art about all kinds of experiences, such as birth, death, dancing, hunting, gambling, fighting, falling in love, falling out of love, etc, making one feel alive and love life in all of its manifestations. Here is a book which deals with tragedy, doubt, sorrows, broken-heartedness, disappointment, disillusionment, betrayal... but which doesn't have a cynical, bitter tone, as Tolstoy, in spite of everything, believes in goodness and makes us also do.
The imperfections are therefore insignificant.
d) Choosing between War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as the better work, is difficult.
I can only say that I prefer Anna Karenina, but it's personal, perhaps largely because I read it 1st.
e) I was indeed hard on Liza. She doesn't deserve that, nor does she deserve the way she's treated by the Bolkonskys.
f) The scenes between Marya and Nikolay before their marriage are magnificent. Jane Austen couldn't have written it better.
g) Marya, irrespective of her piousness (and her perfection, to Nikolay), has her defects. She has pride. She has prejudices, against Natasha (though they later disappear) and then against Sonya. She finds herself unable to love Andrey's son as much as her own children. And these things make her human.
After a while it's not only pity- I come to like her a lot more in the end. She also grows stronger.
h) If I were asked to pick some languages I wished I could speak without learning them (because quite frankly, I have no gift for languages), I would definitely include Russian (others: French, German, Spanish and Japanese).
i) Now, to end the post, I don't know what to say, so here is a quote by Isaak Babel:
"If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy."

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