*Potential Mild Spoilers In This Post*
As you venture into Volume 3, Tolstoy gives the reader another longer section set at the war and battlefield. We had the first big section earlier on but then I felt like the war and battlefield scenes were kind of sprinkled in after that. Volume 3 starts out with a philosophical digression that leads right into that second longer section. As I began to read that, I found myself asking – Is all this focus on the war and the battlefield really necessary Tolstoy? These sections felt somewhat disconnected from the storyline of the key families in the book. Yes, we have some of our main characters going off to the war and we follow them when they’re on the battlefield. But it felt distant; as if it wasn’t really impacting the key families that much. I posted a video on my Instagram where I talked about this and how these parts compared to Les Misérable. You can watch my video over on my Instagram page.
But then I kept reading and y’all, it DOES connect even more! It DOES come together more! The war scenes begin to entangle themselves into the lives of our key families even more when Napoleon marches closer and closer to areas where some of them live. The Bolkonsky’s and Rostov’s end up having to vacate their homes and flee. And also, Napoleon decides to descend upon Moscow. So all those war parts of the book? Well, Tolstoy brings it to the doorstep of key families in our story more so than just having some of the characters going off to war and reading about them while they are there.
Speaking of all those minute details Tolstoy gives in those war sections, did I want to read through some of them fast so I wouldn’t get bogged down by them? Yes. And I did in some parts. But I don’t think that detracts from the overall scope of this novel. And while maybe we don’t need all of the detail Tolstoy gives, I think that it’s all these different details that give it the panoramic scope that it has. I think that despite the tendency to want to read really quickly through some of those parts, it’s all the attention to detail that makes this book grand and all-encompassing.
Now, let’s back up and and I’ll share some more various tidbits from my reading in Volume 3. This volume starts out with Tolstoy introducing the section philosophizing on the nature of history and human actions. I found it quite interesting and thought-provoking. Some of what he said even reminded me of the concept of interbeing that Thich Nhat Hanh talks about. For instance, in the first chapter of Volume 3 Tolstoy says:
“A deed once done becomes irrevocable, and any action comes together over time with millions of actions performed by other people to create historical significance.” (p. 670)
When talking about interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh has said: “Everything relies on everything else in the cosmos in order to manifest—whether a star, a cloud, a flower, a tree, or you and me.“
While Tolstoy’s views probably weren’t exactly like that of interbeing, Tolstoy’s quote above just brought that concept to my mind. His whole digression was interesting to read. I feel like it was a glimpse into the life of this author and what he believed.
Of course there was a ton of character development. Too much to try to write about.
One thing I’ve noticed in this book, and I marked a number of examples of it in this particular volume, is how Tolstoy will contrast something hard (such as the war, or a personal struggle with a character, etc.) with the beauty of the natural world. I thought this was not only interesting, but magnificently done. Here are a few examples:
“The evening sky, recently so clear, was blotted out with smoke. A new crescent moon stood high in the heavens, weirdly distorted through the smoke.” (p. 774)
(It’s talking about Princess Marya here.) “She was thinking about the finality of death and her own vileness of spirit, which she hadn’t known about until now, until it had emerged during her father’s illness. She wanted to pray, but hadn’t the courage to do so; she could not turn to God in her present spiritual state. She lay like this for a very long time. The sun had gone round to the other side of the house and the slanting rays of evening light filtered in through the open window, casting a glow across part of the morocco cushion Princess Marya was staring at. Suddenly her train of thought was broken.” (p. 801)
“It was the same place, the same vista that he had enjoyed yesterday, but now the entire landscape was covered with troops and gunsmoke, and in the clear morning air, as the bright sun came up over Pierre’s left shoulder, it bathed the whole scene with slanting rays of piercing light, touching everything with gold and pink, and leaving long, dark shadows.” (p. 876)
Isn’t that writing magnificent? The way Tolstoy intermingles the beauty of the natural world with the smoke from the battlefield or a character’s personal struggle. Stunning.
I just continue to marvel at Tolstoy’s writing. I’ll end this post with another passage I marked. I found this to be such a powerful passage!
“The whole plain, which had looked so lovely and bright earlier in the day with all those puffs of smoke and the bayonets glinting in the morning sunshine, was now shrouded in a cloud of dark, damp mist and smoke reeking with the strange, pungent smell of saltpetre and blood. One or two dark clouds had come up, and a fine drizzle was sprinkling the dead, the wounded, the fearful, the weary and the wavering. ‘Good people, that’s enough,’ it seemed to say. ‘Stop and think. What are you doing?’” (p. 908)