So now, at last, we are finished with War and Peace. The two-part epilogue consists of a few chapters with the characters Natasha, Pierre, Nikolai, and Marya, eight years after the war with Napoleon, aging and changing; and lots of Tolstoy-essays about the nature of war, history, freedom and power. The Appendix, published originally partway through the final text’s publication in a respected journal, consists of Tolstoy himself explaining some of his intention and outright stating that he blames a sense of predestination on the events of history—which I view as something of a cop-out and resist.
As these last sections are for the most part underwhelming and unnecessary and lack passages that jump out to a close reader and as the novel itself is so bloody long, I think I’ll take a page out of Harry Bagot‘s book and opt for general appraisal of the novel rather than summary.
Last week, as she watched me near the end of this book, my girlfriend asked me if it was very difficult. I thought for a moment and answered that it wasn’t; that it’s grouped in with other extremely long white whales of literature for other reasons:
- Its length
- Its scope and therefore the time-span it covers and large number of characters
- The fact that a lot of people consider it to be one of the greatest novels ever written.
Caught in the chaos of a deserted and burning Moscow, Pierre is accused of arson and put on trial, in a scene echoed in one of Stanley Kubrick’s finest films, Paths of Glory:
These questions, leaving aside the essence of life’s business and excluding any possibility of discovering that essence, like all questions asked at trials, were aimed only at furnishing that channel down which the judges wished the answers of the accused to flow, leading him to the desired goal, that is, incrimination. As soon as he began to say something that did not conform to the purpose of incrimination, the channel was removed, and the water could flow wherever it liked. Besides that, Pierre experienced the same thing that an accused man experiences in any court: perplexity as to why all the questions were being asked of him. He had only the feeling that this trick of furnishing him with a channel was being used only out of indulgence or courtesy, as it were. He knew that he was in the power of these people, that it was only power that had brought him there, that only power gave them the right to demand answers to their questions, and that the only purpose of this gathering was to incriminate him. And therefore, since there was power and the wish to incriminate, there was no need for the trickery of questions and a trial. It was obvious that all answers would lead to finding him guilty. (960-961)
Pierre’s predicament during his trial is that the purpose of the French trial is not to discover the truth of what happened, but rather to prove his guilt. The comparison that Tolstoy makes is to directing water flowing down through channels; if it doesn’t go the way the prosecutors and judges want it to, it’s allowed to spill over and is ignored. Continue reading
Two passages for the third volume, the first of which contains something very close to the work’s title (I have to believe that in the original Russian, it was the title word-for-word). It’s from a conversation between Andrei and Kutuzov before the decisive battle of Borodino:
[C]hanging the subject, Kutuzov began speaking about the Turkish war and the peace that had been concluded. “Yes, I’ve been reproached a great deal,” sad Kutuzov, “both for the war and for the peace … but everything came at the right time. Tout vient à point à celui qui sait attendre [Fr.: ‘Everything comes at the right time to him who knows how to wait.’].” (744)
Kutuzov mentions being blamed for both war and peace; that is, both his success and his failures as a military commander. This reflects two things: the fickleness of high society and Tolstoy’s revisionist goals with much of his prose, especially the essay chapters since the start of the third volume.