War and Peace Readalong: Vol. 4 (aka Victory!)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This is my fourth and final post (here's the first, second and third) for the War and Peace read-along hosted by A Literary Odyssey.

The final volume of War & Peace covers a lot of ground. We get to know Petya Rostov a bit more. He’s a kind, sweet young man, but unfortunately he’s killed in action. Prince Andrei’s wounds worsen and he ends up with the Rostovs in his final days. His sister Marya travels to be with him and through this time she grows close with Natasha. Andrei’s death scene was one of my favorite sections in the book. It’s such a powerful look at a man in the final moments of his life.

Natasha’s character reaches maturity as she cares for Andrei, until his death, and then her mother after they hear news of Petya’s death. She’s completely lost in her grief for Andrei and really only survives and grows strong again because her mother needs her. There was something beautiful in the salvation she finds in that selfless action. Natasha is left so changed by her loss that Pierre literally doesn’t recognize her (p. 1112)

“But the same wound that half killed the countess, this new wound called Natasha to life… A wound in the soul, like a physical would, can be healed only by the force of life pushing up from inside.” p.1080

Nikolai, on the other hand, seemed to become less matured as the novel progressed. It was disappointing that he was so easily swayed when people told him what he wanted to hear (p. 950). I was disappointed in his character across the board. It seemed like he did what he wanted and though he did make sacrifices for others, he also made some incredibly selfish decisions.

Sonya’s life was one of the worst fates I could imagine. I know she was able to remain with the family that took her in, but she’s used badly by them. She’s forced to sacrifice her love for the good of the family and in the end she lives a quiet life caring for the Countess (who made her give up Nikolai) and having to watch the man she loved with his wife everyday. All the while, the people around her say she is a “sterile blossom” and compare her to a cat with little feeling. I can’t imagine that’s true and my heart broke for her.

In the first half of the book I was worried Pierre would never grow up and get a backbone. I was thrilled that this proved not to be the case. I loved how his story unfolded. He found his courage in the midst of his worst trials. He witnesses some terrible things, like an execution, but he grew through those experiences and became a better man for them. He realizes that he doesn’t need all of the silly social things he thought he needed and they were in fact making him deeply unhappy. In the end he ends up with the love of his life and he finds contentment. (p. 1013).

In one strange section, Tolstoy extols the virtues of women who aren’t intelligent (p. 1117). He talks about how “real” women aren’t intelligent and how wonderful it is to talk to “real” women because they listen instead of giving intelligent responses to what you say. What an awful way to view the other sex! I can’t believe that he (through his characters) would rather have a mindless nodding ditz than someone he could actually discuss things with.

A few final thoughts on the book:

I could have done without about 300 pages of battle scenes and strategizing in the book. I know they’re important, but to me they just distracted from the main plot that I wanted to follow.

There are elements of War & Peace that remind me of Gone with the Wind. The characters are so carefree in the beginning of the story. They attend balls and there’s a constant stream of proposals as everyone falls in and out of love. By the end of the book they have been changed by the horrors of war and they mature because of the strain they’re under. They are worn down and brokenhearted because they have lost so many loved ones. Yet there’s still hope and new life that keeps the story moving.

“When man finds himself in motion, he always thinks up a goal for that motion. In order to walk a thousand miles, a man needs to think that there is something good at the end of those thousand miles. One needs a vision of the promised land in order to have the strength to move.” (p. 1028)

In the end, reading War & Peace isn’t like reading your average novel. It reminded me of reading Les Miserable, The Odyssey and Atlas Shrugged in the way that it is completely engrossing. You may not love every second of it, but you become completely immersed in the world created by the author. You feel as though you know the characters and you’ve known them for years. It’s not just a book; it’s an experience, a journey that you undertake with the author and not one I’m soon to forget.

"Once we're thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost; but it's only here that the new and the good begins. As long as there's life, there's happiness. There's much, much still to come."

p.s. A huge thanks to Allie for hosting this readalong. I’m sure I would have read this eventually, but it was so much better to read with a group and be able to discuss the things we loved and struggled with. This was an intense two-month adventure and I’m so glad I did it!


Kristi said...

Congratulations! It feels wonderful to have finished, right? I finished at nearly midnight and my post is pretty sparse. You made some great points.

I was so saddened by Sonya's fate too. I thought what Natasha said about her not feeling as much as others was a bunch of crap. She may deal with it well, because she's a good person, but that doesn't mean it hurts any less.

Nikolai didn't bother me as much, nut he wasn't a favorite. I still wish he had married Sonya, but I was happy to see that he did love Mayra and that he hadn't just married her for her fortune.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

It does feel so good to be finished! I'm a pretty fast reader, so spending 2 months with one book never happens. I have so much more room in my purse now!

I think Natasha was just trying to justify how everything went down because she was friends with Marya now. Not cool.

I was glad Nikolai loved Marya in the end, but I felt like he had so much potential early on. In the final section he was this guy that people respected, but didn't like, who beat his servants because of his awful temper. I guess that's just how life turns out sometimes.

Kristi said...

During the epilogue, Nikolai was starting to remind me of Levin with all of his farming. I wasn't a fan of how he seemed to be isolating himself. He treated his nephew pretty poorly too.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I thought of Levin too! Tolstoy loves his farmers.

Amanda said...

DONE. Done done done done done.

Selene said...

Congratulations! I was so glad to finish this one, and totally agree I wouldn't have kept with it if it wasn't for the readalong. Many thanks to Allie!

I felt most sorry for Sonya, too, and poor Helene who I quite liked and who got killed off for a plot device. Sonya living on with the family is just too sad.

And this book was a total annoyance as a feminist, women were pretty dreadfully portrayed, were all super passive. *sigh*

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amanda - Huzzah!

Selene - Was it just me or did Helene's death come out of nowhere? There were some pretty awful portrayals of women, but I was glad Tolstoy had Natasha mature quite a bit by the end of the book.