osprey_archer: (books)
"So too in history what is known to us we call the laws of necessity; what is unknown we call free will. Free will is for history only the expression for the unknown remainder of what we know of the laws of human life."

Tolstoy comes to a perfectly good ending halfway through his epilogue (which is of course a hundred pages long), but he just can't help himself: he tacks another twelve chapters on just in case we haven't quite understood his theory of history yet, and indeed it does clarify things, because it is only in this last section that he comes right out and says that he thinks the whole idea of free will is bogus, an illusion that masks the fact that history works out according to the ineluctable workings of natural laws.

In a way I admire him for sticking to a theory that he knows is going to be dreadfully unpopular (he compares it to Copernicus's theory that the earth revolves around the sun), but at the same time I wish he would have done it elsewhere. A pamphlet perhaps. Or he could have started his own magazine to expound on his theory of history. He's a count, he has the funds.

...I was going to go on a bit more about the goofiness of Tolstoy's theory of history - he seems to be singularly naive about how power works, for instance - but then I decided that it had probably all been said before and I didn't care enough to reread any of it in order to refute it.

So let's talk about Tolstoy's characters! Princess Marya manages to marry Nikolai Rostov, yesssss! I'm not convinced it's the best match ever - I don't think Nikolai has it in him to understand her, although to be fair Nikolai knows this and admires her fine qualities the more for it - but Princess Marya always wanted to get married and have children and has at last been granted this earthly happiness and I am happy for her.

It occurs to me that both of the big matches at the end of the book involve one partner who is more spiritual and intellectual and one who admires that quality from afar while being too down to earth and focused on the here and now to really understand it. Princess Marya and Nikolai Rostov, Pierre Bezukhov and Natasha Rostov.

In fact in a way both the Rostovs seem oddly diminished by their marriages; I noticed this more in the case of Natasha, because she goes all Happy Housewives in the epilogue (she doesn't sing anymore! Why doesn't she sing anymore?) but they both seem to have become more firmly staid and practical and, well, boring in their marriages than they ever were before.

Also I feel bad for poor Sonya, who is stuck living in her former betrothed's house as a sort of spinster aunt for his children, forced to watch Nikolai and Princess Marya be happy together and endure the fact that Princess Marya doesn't much like her. I don't even blame Princess Marya really - it's an impossible situation; of course there's friction - but still. Poor Sonya.

And she doesn't even have the solace of her best friend! Natasha has transferred her allegiance to Princess Marya, to whom she comments apropos Sonya, "She is a sterile flower, you know, like a strawberry blossom. Sometimes I feel so sorry for her, and at other times I think she doesn't feel as you or I would feel."

Well, that's a nice way to wash her hands of the matter. Poor Sonya; but then, she doesn't really feel anything, does she? At least it would be very convenient for everyone else if she didn't. Can't they at least try to marry her off to someone else?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Who finished War and Peace? THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S ME.

I’ll post about it at greater length tomorrow, but for now I will leave you with this quote: “Pierre’s madness consisted in not waiting, as he had formerly done, to discover personal attributes that he called ‘good qualities’ in people before loving them: his heart overflowed with love, and by loving without cause he never failed to discover undeniable reasons for loving.”

I also read Mary Stewart’s Touch Not the Cat, which is classic Mary Stewart except with added telepathy. Unless she has a lot of books with telepathy and I’ve just missed them until now?

Anyway, I think I should take a break from Mary Stewart books from a bit. I love her formula - the stalwart young heroine who knows gobs about poetry and English wildflowers slowly discovers that she has a murderous nemesis and also falls in love - but it is a formula and I think it will feel fresher if I give it some time to rest.

What I’m Reading Now

Christopher Benfey’s A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, a book that - you can tell by the title - was clearly written with me personally in mind.

It does just what it says on the tin - with the addition of a few other dramatis personae not listed in the title, probably because Benfey figured Henry Ward Beecher would be too obscure for the modern reader, although if that were the criterion then I’m not sure why Martin Johnson Headley is in the title. (Headley was a painter of salt marshes and hummingbirds, and also surprisingly intertwined with the other leading personages in the book.)

In any case it’s kept my attention fairly well despite the fact that I feel as if I am losing my mind, which I feel is a pretty high recommendation of its quality.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have Diana Wynne Jones' Minor Arcana, and I'm looking forward to reading the novella "The True State of Affairs," about a girl who is imprisoned. [livejournal.com profile] ladyherenya posted an excerpt and it struck me there was something rather Code Name Verityish about it.
osprey_archer: (books)

Approximately 75% of Book 4, Part 3 involves Tolstoy expounding his theory of history, which he has already shared AT LENGTH in other parts of the book. And unlike Hugo, who often thoughtfully sets his digressions aside in their very own sections of the book, Tolstoy mixes his in with everything else, so you can’t skip anything without the concern that you might in fact be missing important parts of the story.

I mean, sure, if you skip the whole Waterloo section in Hugo, you would miss the two sentences at the end where Thenardier saves Marius’s father, thus setting off a chain of obligation that binds Marius to his worthless carcass forever after. But Hugo goes on to explain all of this at length later on, so it still wouldn’t matter really if you missed it the first time around.

Whereas if you skipped Book 4, Part 3 in War and Peace, you would get away from a lot of tiresome historical theorizing… But you would also miss the five Petya chapters sandwiched in the middle. And that would be a great loss.

The book has been so intent on explaining why history happens as the result of the concerted action of masses of men driven along by great historical laws, as opposed to as a result of world-historical genius, that we haven’t visited many of the characters in quite some time. No news on how Natasha is holding up in the aftermath of Prince Andrei’s death; nor is there any news of Princess Marya and Nikolai Rostov’s possible impending nuptials.

I’m also not sure Princess Marya knows her brother is dead, which I suppose is yet another thing that might get in the way of her wedding to Nikolai Rostov. I have become disturbingly invested in this marriage and therefore increasingly convinced that it will never be.

Oh! But we do know something about Pierre! After being imprisoned by the French army and then marched halfway to Smolensk, he’s been rescued by Russian forces. One can but hope he will get to go back home to St. Petersburg and nurse his battered feet back to health.
osprey_archer: (books)
I’ve reached the final book in War and Peace! We’re on the home stretch!

In other news, after two false starts Tolstoy finally succeeded in killing Prince Andrei, which seems a bit unfair, frankly. He nearly dies at Austerlitz, then he nearly dies at Borodino, and then he meets Natasha again and they’re reconciled and he seems to be on the mend and then… he just loses the will to live! That’s it! That’s what killed him.

I expect that Tolstoy is saying something deep here about the nature of life and love and something something, but mostly I’m just put out.

On the other hand, it does leave the door wide open for Princess Marya and Nikolai Rostov to get married (which they could not have if their siblings Prince Andrei and Natasha Rostova married, because of how Russian marriage laws worked), so I guess that’s some consolation. If Tolstoy actually lets them get married. I have lost all trust in him!
osprey_archer: (books)
I've passed the thousand page mark in War and Peace! There are only...four hundred more pages to go...

As I suspected, reports of Prince Andrei's death were greatly exaggerated. I strongly suspect that he is Emma's favorite character, after whose second death she quit reading the book - no other characters have fulfilled the requisite criteria of dying (well, having their deaths reported) twice - and I am wondering if there is some way I can gently hint at his continued liveliness.

He's lying in a wagon in the Rostov's baggage train. Natasha doesn't know about it yet, and I strongly suspect that she's going to come upon him by accident and nurse him back to health and thus undo the damage done to their romance by that snake Prince Anatol. Or maybe not? What a missed opportunity if not.

I thought the whole sequence where Natasha convinces her family to leave most of their baggage behind and take wounded soldiers instead was rather splendid.

But now we're back in Moscow with Pierre, who hasn't left the city because he seems to be suffering some sort of nervous breakdown - oddly enough, unconnected with the war; it's everything else in his life that sent him over the edge. A French detachment has just found the house where he's staying, and notwithstanding that the commander has just pronounced Pierre a Frenchman (one can be, it seems, an honorary Frenchman), I feel this will not end well for Pierre.
osprey_archer: (books)
Prince Andrei is ON THE VERGE OF DEATH again! I don't see how he's going to get out of it this time, seeing as he's got a stomach wound and all, but I also read somewhere that he eventually meets Natasha at a ball and she snubs him thoroughly - unless I'm misremembering? - so he can't die just yet.

Tolstoy has actually been quite economical with deaths so far. I think the only named characters who have died were Prince Andrei's first wife Lisa and his father, Prince Nikolai. Either he is saving it all for a big flurry of death in the march on Moscow or he is just not quite as death-happy as Victor Hugo.

In other news, Pierre got curious about this whole war thing and just kind of... rode out to the battlefield to see it. He shows up on the eve of the battle and expects to be shown around and everyone treats this like it's perfectly natural, which I suppose it is, seeing he's a count and all. He can go where he will and see what he wants! I am a little baffled that what he wants is to be nearly mown down by artillery fire, but I guess we all have our foibles.
osprey_archer: (books)

Oh, and also Napoleon is invading Russia, and he is coming EVER CLOSER to Moscow (the Muscovites have not yet quite assimilated the fact that their city is about to be invaded, and they're partying), and also Tolstoy is having a jolly good time expostulating on the fact that history happens because... I suppose history forces itself to happen somehow, even against the will of its participants?

I find his theory a bit puzzling. He emphasizes that Napoleon was very foolish to invade Russia at all, or to give battle at Borodino; I'm not sure why he concludes from this fact that the forces of History swept Napoleon along, rather than that Napoleon behaved foolishly and history is often decided by the foolishness of supposedly Great Men.

Speaking of foolishness, Pierre has decided that now is the time to join the army. Oh no, Pierre! Stay safe! I worry about him: he's clever about books and ideas, but otherwise he doesn't seem to have the sense God gave a goose.

But all of this pales in comparison to Princess Marya's happy fortune. After her father's death - the book does not expect us to feel deeply sad about his death, but I think I felt even less sad than I was supposed to; he was so awful - Marya was trapped on her estate by a recalcitrant peasantry, unable to flee as the French army loomed ever closer - and who should arrive but a gallant Russian officer, who saves her from her peril and, in this incomparably romantic situations, falls in love with her! And she, of course, swoons over her knight in shining armor.

The only fly in my ointment is that this gallant Russian officer is Nikolai Rostov, the beloved of Sonya, who is clearly either going to marry him or pine away and die. I am so torn! I want everyone to be happy! But I think I want Princess Marya to be happy just a little bit more, so poor Sonya is just going to have to pine.

Not that my desires are likely to have the slightest effect on the outcome, mind. Nikolai Rostov might get killed in battle at any moment, and then the whole question is moot.
osprey_archer: (books)
This both is and is not a War and Peace post. I’ve gotten to the part of the book where Natasha falls ill following her broken engagement, and I was feeling a bit smug, as modern people are wont to do when confronted with the medical incompetence of the past, while Tolstoy snipes about the fact that doctors are useful purely for their placebo effect: the doctors “were of use to Natasha because they rubbed her ‘bobo’ and assured her that it would soon be over if the coachman went to the chemist’s in the Arbat and got some powders and pills in pretty boxes for a ruble and seventy kopecks, and if, without fail, she took these powders dissolved in boiled water and intervals of two hours, neither more not less.”

But then I came across this terrifying article, Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science, the gist of which is that modern medical research is also pretty awful at figuring out what’s actually wrong with people and how to fix it: “80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong.”

Eighty percent! Forsooth!

The article goes into some depth about why this is so. Basically, a study that suggest drug X or nutrient Y can cause dramatic health improvements net researchers funding and career advancement, and therefore researchers desperately want those findings. They aren’t usually lying outright; they’re led astray by their own wishful thinking. And drug companies will test and retest a drug until they get a study that shows it having an effect.

The article is based on the meta-analysis of John Ioannidis, who offers the cheerful advice that the layperson should just ignore medical research. Most of it’s wrong, and anyway the body is an immensely complex system and we barely understand it. There is no one best diet or exercise regime, no magic bullet to ensure longevity, so just chillax.

From one point of view this is cheerful advice: no more fretting over dueling studies about whether a glass of red wine with dinner will lengthen your life or hasten your demise! But, like Natasha, I think that most of us like to have faith that someone out there knows how to fix what ails us, and from that point of view none of this is cheerful at all.


In other War and Peace news, Napoleon is invading Russia, and Pierre, God bless his strange soul, has become interested in numerology. By dint of adding up the letters in his name (using a different variation of his name each time), Pierre has discovered that his name adds up to 666 - the mark of the beast - just like Napoleon’s! Which means that he must in some mystical way be connected to Napoleon!!!

Oh Pierre. I love Pierre. He really is not the brightest candle in the box, though.
osprey_archer: (window)
Not much progress on War and Peace this week. We've gotten to another war section, which means leaving behind Natasha and Pierre and Sonya and all my other favorites (right when they just suffered some high drama, too!) and following some rando on his mission to convince Napoleon to rethink this whole invading Russia thing.

Napoleon is having none of it. Napoleon is convinced that it is All Russia's Fault that he has to invade, and what can you do with a man like that?

On the bright side, I am now officially halfway through this book! It's taken me a mere two months to get here, so if all goes well I will finish long before my deadline.
osprey_archer: (books)
OH NATASHA NO. I have been screaming this at Natasha Rostova for the last fifteen chapters or so, but did she listen? Noooooo, she went ahead and got infatuated with that cad Anatol, and planned an elopement with him - he didn't bother to tell her he was already married - and probably would have managed it if it were not for the interference of her loving cousin Sonya, not that Natasha's likely to ever forgive Sonya for it.

Poor Sonya. I have heard vague rumbling that happiness is not in store for Sonya (that, indeed, all Sonyas in Russian literature tend to get shafted), so I am worried for her.

Prince Andrei is trying to drown his pain in bitterness, which means that a reconciliation is probably impossible, and his relations are beside themselves with joy at the engagement's dissolution.

I had hoped for better from Princess Marya. But I think that the disappointment of all her own hopes has curdled her religious faith into something cramped and narrow, so I can't blame her too harshly.

In happier (possibly?) news, Pierre has found a new object in life! He had lost his earlier enthusiasm for Freemasonry and was adrift on a listless sea of despondency, but now he's fallen in love with Natasha (everyone is in love with Natasha). I predict that having a new obsession to distract him from brooding will pep him right up.

And now - onward to the invasion of Moscow!
osprey_archer: (books)
At last we've made it through the thicket of the hunting party! And Natasha and Nikolai went to their relative's house and had a marvelous time, although Natasha sank promptly back into despair afterward, musing on the bitter question of whether she will waste her whole life away waiting for Prince Andrei to return. You're only seventeen, Natasha, I think you'll be okay.

Pierre, meanwhile, has sunk into the Depths of Despair. Even his Freemasonry has ceased to help him; he has at last noticed that Masons are just as likely as other people to pay lip service to their ideals while living lives full of hypocrisy and greed, and he just can't stand it. He "had that unfortunate facility common in many men, especially Russians, of seeing and believing in the possibility of goodness and ruth, but seeing the evil and falsity of life too clearly to be able to take a serious part in it... 'Nothing is trivial, nothing important - it's all the same: one should only try to escape from it as best one can,' thought Pierre. 'If only one couldn't see it, that terrible it!'"

I think we're still a couple years out from Napoleon's invasion of Russia, which I imagine might rouse Pierre from his lethargy. But I hope neither we nor Pierre need to wait that long.
osprey_archer: (books)
I left War and Peace behind during my wedding jaunt, which is why I haven't covered that much ground this week. Although this does not mean that nothing has happened!

In the first place, Vera and her new husband Berg have thrown the very most boring party ever, and they are extremely pleased with themselves. Their party was just like every other party they've ever been to, and that means it was the perfect party, right? I actually think they're going to be one of the happiest couples in the book: everyone else may find them dull, but they are clearly extremely well suited to one another.

The same cannot be said of Prince Andrei and Natasha Rostova. They're both totally into each other, or they were when they got engaged, but they haven't announced the engagement yet or seen each other for months and there is, it seems to me, a distance between them. He is literally twice her age and tempered by sorrow, where Natasha is still young and light-hearted and found him frightening until she fell in love. I sense storm clouds gathering.

Princess Marya's new life plan involves becoming a pilgrim and traveling around Russia dressed in rags to visit all the holiest shrines. I think she would enjoy this far less than she thinks, but then enjoyment probably isn't the point, really.

And now the narrative has stopped dead for a few chapters of hunting. I could not care less about hunting and feel rather impatient with this; but then this is one of the interesting things about War and Peace, it's so big and there are so many different things in it that there's something to appeal to almost everyone, but by that same token almost everyone is probably going to have at least subplot that makes them cry "Oh no, not more Napoleon!" (or whatever).

Speaking of Napoleon, he and the Emperor Aleksandr are all buddy-buddy right now. This book has reminded me very forcibly that I know almost nothing about the Napoleonic wars; I hadn't realized that Napoleon and Russia had any kind of peace treaty before Napoleon marched on Moscow in 1812.
osprey_archer: (books)
We are at the ball! We are at the ball with Natasha Rostova - her first ball, and she's practically floating with excitement - and Dramatic Happenings are in the air, although I'm not yet sure what they will be.

Natasha's older sister Vera has gotten engaged to the most boring man in the whole Russian army, but it's beginning to look like the family finances may keep the engagement from coming off. Poor Vera. No one seems to like Vera that much - even her prospective fiance is willing to throw her over if the money doesn't come through - which makes me sad for her, even though at the same time I don't really blame them for not feeling close to her. She's always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and never notices or cares if it hurts people.

Poor Pierre continues to be a failboat at everything. He tries to modernize his estates and liberate his serfs, but he's so befuddled by business affairs that he doesn't make any headway; and then he takes his wife back, and I am pretttttty sure that she's cheating on him again and he's never going to notice because he's so taken up with Freemasonry.

Although he seems to be growing ever so slowly disenchanted with the Masons, so perhaps he is due for another conversion? Although unless it's a conversion to the mysteries of double-entry bookkeeping and the joys of intense management of one's own estates, I'm not sure that it's going to help him in his heartfelt but wholly inept desire to help his serfs.

He did manage to convert Prince Andrei, not to Freemasonry, but to the idea of trying to do some good for his serfs, and Prince Andrei (a much more practical fellow than poor Pierre) has already emancipated the serfs of one estate. I have become fond of him despite everything; of course it doesn't hurt that he feels simply terrible about the way he treated his poor wife.
osprey_archer: (books)
Things have been happening in War and Peace, and by "things" I mostly mean "Pierre," who clearly was not prepared for... anything really, but certainly not for inheriting a vast fortune and being thrust into the center of Petersburg society.

Since we last left him, he has accidentally gotten married, gotten into a duel with his wife's purported lover, run away from his wife, and been converted to Freemasonry during a chance meeting with a guy on the road. Pierre is very easily led and I am concerned where he is going to end up in life.

In other news, Prince Andrei is, as I expected, not dead! But his wife died in childbed and now he will never realize his errors and try to make them up to her.

My friend Emma tried to read War and Peace in high school but gave up when Tolstoy killed her favorite character twice, the death not having stuck the first time, and Prince Andrei's not-really-a-death has me concerned that he's the one. Prince Andrei is the worst! How could he be her favorite? Oh, well, literary taste is an inscrutable thing, and doubtless I had questionable literary favorites in high school.

But still! Prince Andrei isn't even romantic! He's just kind of there, being a bad husband and getting shot in a fruitless quest for glory. If you have to have a problematic fave couldn't it be Dolokhov? Dolokhov is at least wicked WITH STYLE. He just gambled Nikolai Rostov out of 43,000 rubles because Rostov's cousin Sonya turned down Dolokhov's wedding proposal (and 43 was the sum of Dolokhov and Sonya's ages), which is petty and cruel but nonetheless quite dashing.

...It also occurs to me that I still have a thousand pages left to go, so it is ENTIRELY POSSIBLE that there will be another character who dies except not really and then dies again for real.
osprey_archer: (books)
I am three hundred odd pages into this book and I finally think that I have all the characters straight! Oh Tolstoy.

Prince Andrei is mortally wounded! Although there are still a thousand pages to go, so really I think it's too early for him to die, and also if he does then we're not going to have a prisoner of war's eye view on the French army, and surely that's something we all want.

Rostov has fallen in love with the emperor (like seriously, this is how Tolstoy describes it) and he had the opportunity to comfort him right after the battle had all gone to pieces, but instead of going up to him and saying something nice, Rostov panicked and spurred his horse to a gallop to flee the scene with all possible speed. OH ROSTOV. This is totally something I would do, let's be real, and it has made me a lot fonder of him.

Princess Marya continues to be the best, although it is becoming ever clearer to me that my affection for her will result in nothing but sadness. She shows all the signs of being Too Ugly for Love and is going to spend the rest of her life with her emotionally constipated father, and all I want for her is to find happiness and someone who loves her with all the tender kindness she deserves.

We haven't heard from Pierre for aaaaages, but last we heard, he had just gotten married because he was too polite/befuddled/alarmed to say he hadn't proposed to the young lady in question when her father burst into the room and congratulated them heartily on their impending nuptials.

The young lady in question is Ellen, and I am desperately curious if we'll ever get to hear her opinion on this state of affairs. She's the most beautiful young lady in St. Petersburg and could presumably marry just about anyone; does she mind being railroaded into marrying Pierre? Is she just glad he has lots of money? Does she care?
osprey_archer: (books)
You know, my literature classes always gave me the vague idea that no writers had noticed that war was terrible until the war poets during World War I, but actually Tolstoy seems to be pretty on top of the whole "War, kind of unpleasant" thing too. He even has a scene where the French and the Russian soldiers clown around together on the eve of battle, and the absurdity of the whole war is briefly exposed and it seems that there is nothing to do but for them to all go home, but of course the generals have other ideas and soon everyone is shooting at each other.

It is a bit less grindingly miserable than Sassoon, I guess. Perhaps the war poets are different from earlier war writers is not that they realize war is awful, but that they reject the idea that war despite its awfulness offers any opportunity for ennobling personal heroism? This seems like the kind of nuance I would have missed as a high school student.

Having said this, I know Tolstoy became a radical pacifist later in his life, so it's entirely possible that by the end of War and Peace he too will have rejected the idea of war as a vehicle for ennobling personal heroism. I'll just have to wait in see.

And now we're back at Peace again! (So far, at least, each part seems to be alternating from peace to war and back again.) Young Pierre is in Moscow, utterly befuddled by how nice everyone is being to him now that he has come into the possession of a large fortune and vast estates. On the one hand, I sort of feel like he should notice they're flattering him disgracefully, but on the other hand, how could he? They're so good at this flattery thing. So subtle, so thoughtful.
osprey_archer: (books)
We've reached the first war section in War and Peace, and my progress has slowed down accordingly: I have never been all that interested in battles.

Despite this, I once got in an argument with my classmates in grad school that military history, despite being terribly out of fashion, might actually be important. We would all be living in a different world if the Confederacy had won the Civil War! Wouldn't we? Wouldn't we? Mightn't military victories and defeats have some hand in shaping social trends?

They did not seem impressed, although I'm not sure if they were philosophically opposed to this line of reasoning, or if they just didn't want to be railroaded into spending the rest of their lives analyzing the battle dynamics at Gettysburg. Which, you know, fair enough. Neither do I.

...But just because I don't want to do it myself doesn't mean that military history isn't important.

Now, getting back to the book. The Austrian general Metz has lost his army; the Russians are on their own, and in retreat before the French forces. I predict they soon will be rueing the day that they got involved in this war at all.
osprey_archer: (books)
I have finished Part One of War and Peace! Part one of book one, that is, so this is less impressive than it sounds.

So far my favorite character is Marya Bolkonskaya, plain and intensely religious (she begs her brother to take a locket-like icon with him as he goes off to fight Napoleon; I'm calling it right now, this icon is going to catch a bullet and save his life), whose stern, remote father makes her so nervous that she weeps when he gives her a daily geometry lesson.

I realize this all makes her sound like a total sad sack. I can't quite explain my devotion - she's very sweet, sincerely sweet - but nonetheless, it's there.

I've always had a thing for intensely religious characters, anyway. When we read Adam Bede in AP English I fell head over heels for Dinah, the Methodist preacher girl, to the bafflement of my classmates. I wrote a paper that was basically "Dinah! Isn't Dinah the best?" and it didn't get a very good grade because I guess I was supposed to be a bit more analytical about why Dinah is the most awesome.
osprey_archer: (books)
Making another go at War and Peace! I am seven chapters into it (the chapters are about four pages long so this is not very impressive), and so far the only character I can reliably identify is Pierre, because the French name sticks out like a sore thumb - as, indeed, does Pierre himself, who in those short chapters already been terribly gauche at Anna Pavlovna's soiree and gotten in trouble for dancing with a bear through the streets of St. Petersburg while terribly drunk. Otherwise I am lost, lost! in the sea of princes and princesses. But I daresay I'll sort them out eventually.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Peter Carlson’s Big Bill Haywood, which really brought home to me - not that I hadn’t noticed this before; but brought home to yet again - how destructive and useless World War I was. Even the soldiers at the time could see it was pointless: they had a whole song about it, “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here.” Millions of people dead for no better reason than inertia.

This is really just a side point in the book, though, which naturally focuses on the way that World War I destroyed Haywood and the radical labor union he led, the IWW. Haywood and the IWW’s other leaders were arrested for violating wartime sedition laws (which 1) were bad laws in the first place, and 2) they hadn’t even violated), and they ended up cycling in and out of court and prison for the next five years, until Haywood - who was ill and getting on in years, and had been railroaded through an unjust murder trial once before in his life - split for the Soviet Union, where he lived out the last of his days in loneliness.

I also finished the tenth and final Betsy-Tacy book. Oh no! Whatever shall I read for my bedtime story now????

What I’m Reading Now

Actually I solved the whole bedside story thing pretty quickly: my new bedtime book will be War and Peace! The book is very long, but Tolstoy thoughtfully broke it into very short chapters, which is ideal for reading just before bed. And also, I think having a set time to read a little chunk of it each day will make it much easier for me to read. I’m thinking I’ll probably set aside a day each week for a War and Peace post.

I’m still reading the Emily Dickinson book. I’ve also begun Black Dove, White Raven again, and I realize this complaint is petty, but I just have to get it off my chest: the framing device for this story is terrible. Emilia wants the emperor of Ethiopia to grant Teo a passport so she can get Teo out of prison (this is all the first page, I’m not spoiling anything), so she... sends him pages upon pages of their school essays?

The emperor’s a busy man! There’s no way he’s going to have time to read that! Probably receiving this mountain of irrelevant material is just going to make him cranky and therefore less likely to grant their request!

I realize the idea of framing the story with a letter of appeal to the emperor is to give some urgency to the story right from the beginning, but I think it would have worked better to start with a letter of appeal and then segue into Em trying to distract herself from her dire straits by organizing a memory book about her and Teo’s childhood, or something like that.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have decided to make April the month of Books I Have Previously Abandoned - War and Peace is among their number - which means not just Black Dove, White Raven but also Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, A. S. Byatt’s Possession, and… maybe even Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley? I have that on my Kindle so it would have to wait till I’m done with Anne.

Oh, and Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost. I have always felt somewhat guilty that I didn’t read that before writing my New Girl paper.


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