Friday, 15 February 2013

Part 2 "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy

Last post was about Sonya from "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy

The central images of the novel are two antipodes, Maria Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostova. 

Look how far their destinies stand at the beginning! Natasha is charming, tender and young. She is trained to sing, dance and ride horses. Deprived of parental tyranny, she enjoys a great success in the high society, falls in love and is being loved. In one word Natasha looks like a beautiful white flower that grew up under the warm sun. Princess Mary is actually imprisoned in a provincial estate, she is neither beautiful nor graceful and she does not have skills to charm. If people are interested in her, it is because the old maid is one of the richest Russian brides. Her father is a jealous tyrant who for some reason decided that his daughter should understand geometry. (You, modern women, tell me, how many times the ability to solve problems on parallelograms helped you in life?) The only joy that she has is to write letters to her friends, however even her letters are being checked sometimes by the father. Mary dreams of becoming friends with her sister in law; however the latter dies tragically during a difficult childbirth. Mary renounces the dream of leaving home and becoming a wanderer - she is sorry for her old father and the little orphan, her nephew, little Nicholas.

Later, the lines of two girls begin to converge imperceptibly and gradually. At the ball, the young widower, Mary’s brother, Prince Andrew, at the request of his friend, Pierre Bezukhov, invites a debutante, Natasha Rostova, to dance. Here are few paragraphs that describe the meeting of Natasha and Andrew.

The chapter of the book, which describes Natasha’s first ball, is one of the most popular among women. I love it!  

“Prince Andrew liked dancing, and wishing to escape as quickly as possible from the political and clever talk which everyone addressed to him, wishing also to break up the circle of restraint he disliked, caused by the Emperor's presence, he danced, and had chosen Natasha because Pierre pointed her out to him and because she was the first pretty girl who caught his eye; but scarcely had he embraced that slender supple figure and felt her stirring so close to him and smiling so near him than the wine of her charm rose to his head, and he felt himself revived and rejuvenated when after leaving her he stood breathing deeply and watching the other dancers...

Like all men who have grown up in society, Prince Andrew liked meeting someone there not of the conventional society stamp. And such was Natasha, with her surprise, her delight, her shyness, and even her mistakes in speaking French. With her he behaved with special care and tenderness, sitting beside her and talking of the simplest and most unimportant matters; he admired her shy grace. In the middle of the cotillion, having completed one of the figures, Natasha, still out of breath, was returning to her seat when another dancer chose her. She was tired and panting and evidently thought of declining, but immediately put her hand gaily on the man's shoulder, smiling at Prince Andrew.

"I'd be glad to sit beside you and rest: I'm tired; but you see how they keep asking me, and I'm glad of it, I'm happy and I love everybody, and you and I understand it all," and much, much more was said in her smile. When her partner left her Natasha ran across the room to choose two ladies for the figure.

"If she goes to her cousin first and then to another lady, she will be my wife," said Prince Andrew to himself quite to his own surprise, as he watched her. She did go first to her cousin”

Natasha’s purity, tenderness, lack of pretense and affectation conquer Andrew. But Princess Mary sees Natasha as a frivolous girl, unable to replace the mother of little Nicholas. What a pity that these two rare natures did not understand each other from the first time!
Natasha conquers the reader, we forgive her for everything. Even her temporary insanity (I cannot call otherwise her desire to run away with Anatole!)  We understand that her mistakes are from the lack of love, it is because Prince Andrew, at the request of his father, lives abroad for a year and Natasha fades and dies without love... So, the engagement between Natasha Rostova and  Prince Andrew is broken.

Princess Mary is in a seemingly hopeless situation - she needs to go somewhere to escape from the French (it is the war of 1812 with Napoleon), but her father has an apoplectic stroke, and Mary takes care of him until the last hour of his life. After burying her father, Mary wants to go, but her own peasants revolt and hold her in the estate. Her savior is none other than Count Nikolai Rostov, brother of Natasha Rostova. Princess is in tears (and the author mentions that Mary becomes prettier when crying!) As for Rostov, he does not pay attention to her appearance; the only thing he sees is a helpless lonely girl in need of support and protection. He helps her out of the village and gets her away from the battlefields.

Natasha and Mary meet again at the bedside of the dying Prince Andrew. Natasha hears that Andrew is among the wounded that were loaded on their carts. At night, she sneaks into his room and is horrified to see that he is not long for this world, she begs for his forgiveness. She takes care of him giving herself entirely to that ...
Mary’s and Natasha’s soulls  recognize each other, their sorrow makes them sisters, and from now on they are inseparable.

Princess Mary sees the grief of Natasha but does not know how she can help. Only Pierre Bezukhov, kind, forgiving and suffered greatly, gets Natasha out of her black suffering. So, the sister of Prince Andrew herself blesses Natasha's marriage with Pierre, she does not think that Natasha should be faithful to her deceased brother all her life.

In the meantime Nikolai Rostov, knowing that their family is ruined, resigns from the army, enters the civil services and tries to pay off the debts. He is too proud to marry a fortune, so he does not want to maintain any relationship with Princess Mary. But soon he realizes that he is the only outlet in her joyless life, he sees the beauty of Mary’s soul and he does not imagine another wife for himself.

Neither Natasha nor Mary are deprived of women's happiness, both have families, children, they are related; they are friendly with each other. It is difficult to say which of them is more charming – shining with happiness Natasha or a gentle spiritual Mary.

Decide this question for yourselves, (re-)read the novel!

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