I'm reading War and Peace throughout 2011 as part of a reading challenge hosted by Jillian at "A Room of One's Own". This post is discussion number two - click here to check out discussion number one!
As I said last time - spoilers abound in this post! I'm recapping each section. There's so much going on, and it's my way of keeping it all organized.
Volume II, Part 1
Nikolai Rostov and his friend Denisov visit the Rostov family. The family really loves Denisov. Natasha says she does not wish to marry Boris (even though as kids they intended to), and Nikolai finds himself drifting away from Sonya as he enjoys life as a young eligible bachelor.
Count Rostov arranges a dinner party. Pierre learns, much to his sadness, that his wife Helene is compromising her virtue with Dolokhov. At the party, when Dolokhov makes a toast to "beautiful women", Pierre takes it as an insult - and an insinuation of goings on with his wife. He challenges him to a duel. During the duel, Pierre accidentally pulls the trigger, injuring Dolokhov severely, remaining unhurt.
Pierre assumes (incorrectly) that Dolokhov was killed, and decides that the crux of the matter is that he was wrong to marry Helene in the first place. When she hears of the duel, she calls Pierre an idiot. Pierre suggests that they separate.
Meanwhile, at Bald Hills, the old Prince Bolkonsky is informed of the assumed death of his son, Andrei. Andrei's sister, Marya, decides to withhold this information from Andrei's wife, Liza, as not to risk harm to her unborn child. Soon after, Liza goes into labor. While she is with the midwife, Andrei surprises his family by returning home! Liza gives birth to a healthy son, but dies in the process.
Denisov falls in love with Natasha, proposes, but is refused.
I continue to dislike Nikolai Rostov. I left Volume I finding him spoiled and childish - and for me, it's further confirmed in Volume II. I'm bothered by the fact that he brushes off Sonya - who is young, beautiful, and obviously devoted to him. I feel bad for her, and I feel irritated at him. Furthermore - how irresponsible can you be to accumulate all that gambling debt? I know people like this. There's an air of "I'll be reckless - I'll feel bad about it, but I'll still do it - and I know daddy will get me out of it". It's very distasteful. Am I being too harsh on this character?
I agree with Pierre. He should never have married Helene. She's the wrong match for him on multiple levels. Am I the only one who finds it almost comical that he wound up in a duel over this? Helene is obviously a bit of a hussy - or at the very least, she uses her looks to her advantage, and you've got to expect that when you do that, people will talk. I find myself shaking my head that he winds up defending his and her honor in this duel. Reconsiders. Accidentally shoots his opponent, and feels horrible about it. It's the kind of situation that only Pierre (of all the War and Peace characters...) can find himself in. I find him so endearing.
I'm proud of him that he made the split from Helene.
Volume II, Part 2
After leaving his wife, Pierre is sitting alone in the train station feeling sad and miserable. He sees a mysterious stranger who he later discovers is a Freemason. The pair launch into a deep philosophical discussion. Pierre asks for guidance. Upon arriving in St. Petersburg, Pierre is approached by a Freemason and eventually becomes a Freemason himself.
The following day, Prince Vassily visits Pierre and urges him to reconcile with Helene. Pierre forcefully asks him to leave, and sets out to visit his southern estates.
At one of her society parties, Anna Pavlovna - who has recently taken a great interest in Boris, after his rise in the military - introduces Boris and Helene. They soon see each other socially on a regular basis.
Prince Andrei's father has been appointed as a military commander. Prince Andrei has renounced active warfare and remains at home with his sister and son. Prince Andrei's son is suffering from a high fever, and when the fever finally breaks, Prince Andrei realizes that his love for his son is one of the only good things about his life.
Pierre visits his southern estates and tries to manage them in accordance with his new Masonic ideals. His managers quickly realize how to use this to their advantage. Pierre leaves thinking that he has done good for his people, however in reality, they are worse off than before.
Pierre visits Prince Andrei at Bald Hills. Pierre sees a very glum and sad Prince Andrei, and the two men exchange ideas on the concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, etc. Pierre's good nature begins to have an effect on Prince Andrei, who begins his slow climb out of his sad state of mind.
Back at the front lines, Nikolai Rostov is happy to be back, and is resolved to re-pay his gambling debts to his family. Denisov hijacks food from a provisions transport for his men, who are practically starving. He is accused of theft and takes the news badly, finding himself facing a court-marshall. Before the court-marshall can take effect, Denisov is wounded and elects to go to the hospital as a way of postponing his potential consequences.
When Nikolai visits Denisov at the hospital, he is horrified at the poor conditions. Denisov is at first unwilling to seek a pardon from the tsar, claiming it is against his honor, but by the end of his visit with Nikolai, he agrees to sign a request for pardon.
Nikolai tries to help Denisov get his pardon, meeting up with Boris (who is not very polite to him...). Boris appears unwilling to help, so Nikolai decides to go directly to the tsar. A general listens to Nikolai, asks the tsar, and is denied. The tsar meets with Napoleon and is asked to bestow an honor upon a Russian soldier. A soldier is chosen almost at random, and this disheartens Nikolai.
I find it interesting that Pierre becomes a Freemason. I've gotten the impression, from the start, that he is really searching for something - almost a way of defining himself. I think that his association with this society is part of this searching.
I found myself rolling my eyes at how he is being taken advantage of by his managers at his southern estates. He has an innocent, almost slightly slow quality about him. Ordinarily qualities like this kind of annoy me, but in this case I find Pierre so likable. You get the feeling that his heart is in the right place.
In Volume I, I wasn't that crazy about Prince Andrei. I started to come around on him in this part of the book. He seems so sad and full of loss, it's hard to judge him harshly. It's obvious that he is in a very dark place emotionally, and it's fitting that Pierre is the one who begins to lift him out of it.
I enjoyed these good deeds by Nikolai. I still feel irritated by him, but his loyalty to Denisov is helping to begin to change my mind. It's interesting to note that when Pierre displays an almost childlike innocence I find him lovable and sympathetic. Yet, when Nikolai displays the same characteristics I want to smack him. I think this is because at the root of it all, I believe that Pierre is a good person - a bit blundering at times, but ultimately kind. I find Nikolai to be selfish - a quality that, to me, is one of the worst traits imaginable.
Volume II, Part 3
By 1809 Prince Andrei is still hard at work at Bald Hills. He has followed Pierre's example - more successfully - and has freed his serfs and made them wage earners. This is one of the first examples of this system in Russia. Despite this, Andrei feels depressed.
Business necessitates Andrei visiting the Rostov family. Circumstances lead to Andrei staying the night, and as he sits by his window, he hears Natasha and Sonya on the balcony above his window. They are full of life and this awakens a youthful feeling within Prince Andrei. He returns to St. Petersburg with the beginnings of a change of heart.
Pierre continues to work for the Freemasons, although some of his ideas are met with resistance and he is becoming discouraged. Helene goes to Pierre directly and attempts to reconcile their differences. Pierre agrees, and the pair live together once more. Helene has been involved/present in many meetings between the French and Russians - and in this time, has earned a reputation of being not only beautiful, but intelligent. Pierre is very confused by this (as Helene is decidedly not intelligent). He spends his time writing in his diary - occasionally about his jealousy toward Boris, who is still very close to Helene.
The Rostovs are not doing well financially. While in St. Petersburg, Vera becomes engaged to Berg.
Boris visits the Rostovs, and is surprised to find a much older, and much more beautiful Natasha. Although he knows that she will not be able to provide him with the dowry he needs, he can't help but continue to visit. Natasha appears to be equally starry-eyed. Countess Rostov lets Natasha know that the match will not work between she and Boris. The Countess later tells this to Boris, who stops frequenting the Rostov home.
On New Year's Eve, the Rostovs attend a ball - Natasha's first! Natasha is worried that she will have no dance partners, but Pierre helps by steering Prince Andrei toward Natasha. Here we see the beginnings of Andrei falling in love with Natasha. The next day, he goes to dinner at the Rostov home and after hearing Natasha sing, begins to feel stronger.
Vera and her new husband host a party. It is at this party that Pierre begins to notice that there is something going on between his friend Andrei and Natasha. The next day, Natasha tells her mother that she is in love with Andrei, and Andrei tells Pierre that he is in love with Natasha. Prince Andrei leaves St. Petersburg to tell his father of his marriage plans. His father requests that in order to receive his blessing, Prince Andrei wait a year. When Andrei finally proposes to Natasha, she is pleased, but unhappy about the condition of waiting a year. Andrei departs for an extended absence. Natasha is very upset, but recovers within a couple of weeks.
I really enjoyed this part of the story! It was a lot of fun to get to know Natasha more as a character. Although she is still extremely young and immature, her lightheartedness and love of life is charming. Seeing Prince Andrei react to her, I started to warm up to him a bit. She brings out a happiness in him that we have not yet seen, and it's refreshing.
Seeing the love that begins between Andrei and Natasha, it becomes more painfully obvious that the match between Pierre and Helene is a poor one. She is a hardened woman - interested in herself and furthering her reputation. Pierre has the potential for so much kindness and happiness, yet she does not bring these qualities out in him. Instead, she turns him into a gloomy and jealous man.
I loved reading about the ball. You can call me a girly-girl if you want to, but I adore scenes like that.
I found these sixty chapters far easier to navigate than the first sixty. I have a sense of who the characters are, and how they are involved in the story. It was so nice not having to frequently flip to the main character list at the beginning of the book! :) In that vein, the reduction of characters speaking French is very welcome! I find myself cruising through the story much easier not having to keep jumping to translations.
Of course, because the battle scenes are not my cup of tea, I enjoyed all the "peace" time in these sixty chapters. I especially loved reading about the New Year's Eve ball. The meet-up between Andrei and Natasha was great. I knew it was going to happen (because I'm a cheater and I've seen the movie...) so it was with great anticipation that I read how the events unfolded.
I'm still finding this challenge fun and not overwhelming. There were a couple of weeks where I found myself behind, but I fixed that pretty quickly. It seems like the story is becoming more and more interesting the deeper we go, so I wouldn't be surprised to find myself getting pretty ahead - if my personal life permits!