War and Peace Newbies Read-Along: All’s Well That Ends. (Well…)

happy ending

How Convenient

Alternate post title: All’s Well That Ends Well (If You Are A Rich, Titled Male)

“All’s Well That Ends Well” was the working title of what eventually became War and Peace. AWTEW was to be set just after the Crimean War, in which Tolstoy fought during the 1850s. But Tolstoy decided he couldn’t just start there. If he was going to talk about the Crimean War, he had to explain the Decemberist revolt of 1825, so he started again, with the working title The Decemberists. Then he backtracked even more, to the French invasion of Russia in 1812, but he couldn’t very well talk about Napoleon without talking about his 1805 antics. It’s all very Captain Underpants (… for those without children, flashbacks in Captain Underpants are always preceded by the line “But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story…”)

Did it all end well, though? Let’s not worry about the posts I skipped (lesson learned: eleven weeks is too long for a read-along) and see where our friends ended up in the epilogue, seven years after the events of 1812.

Old Bolkonsky, Old Rostov, Anatole, Karataev: Dead (old age, old age/depression, wounded in the war, executed)

Berg, Vera, Boris, Julie, Ippolit, Bourienne, Anna Pavlova, Dolokhov: ???

Andrei: Died of horrible, festering wound (but reconciled with Natasha first)

Helene: Died of attempted abortion and/or suicide (in a pretty major departure from the adaptation, it’s not clear totally clear why Helene decides to kill herself, since we’re never close enough to her in the narrative to know what she’s thinking)

 

Natasha: Stepford wife:

…all the powers of her soul were intent on serving that husband and family, she could not imagine and saw no interest in imagining how it would be if things were different…At home Natásha placed herself in the position of a slave to her husband, and the whole household went on tiptoe when he was occupied—that is, was reading or writing in his study. Pierre had but to show a partiality for anything to get just what he liked done always. He had only to express a wish and Natásha would jump up and run to fulfill it.

Marya: Mommy blogger:

Nicholas looked into the radiant eyes that were gazing at him, and continued to turn over the pages and read. In the diary was set down everything in the children’s lives that seemed noteworthy to their mother as showing their characters or suggesting general reflections on educational methods. They were for the most part quite insignificant trifles, but did not seem so to the mother or to the father either, now that he read this diary about his children for the first time.

Under the date “5” was entered:

Mítya was naughty at table. Papa said he was to have no pudding. He had none, but looked so unhappily and greedily at the others while they were eating! I think that punishment by depriving children of sweets only develops their greediness. Must tell Nicholas this.

Nikolai: Farmer, dead inside. I know not everyone likes babies, but c’mon man,

“How sweet!” said Countess Mary, looking at and playing with the baby. “Now, Nicholas,” she added, turning to her husband, “I can’t understand how it is you don’t see the charm of these delicious marvels.”

“I don’t and can’t,” replied Nicholas, looking coldly at the baby. “A lump of flesh. Come along, Pierre!”

 

Sonya: Basically just around to serve tea to her ex-boyfriend and his wife, children, and friends:

Pierre nodded, and went on with what he had been saying when the children had interrupted. Countess Mary sat down doing woolwork; Natásha did not take her eyes off her husband. Nicholas and Denísov rose, asked for their pipes, smoked, went to fetch more tea from Sónya—who sat weary but resolute at the samovar—and questioned Pierre.

Pierre: Married to his dream girl, still rich, enlightened by his hardships, no longer dissapated, Big Important Man Doing Big Important Things which don’t include writing letters to his wife, apparently:

Two months previously when Pierre was already staying with the Rostóvs he had received a letter from Prince Theodore, asking him to come to Petersburg to confer on some important questions that were being discussed there by a society of which Pierre was one of the principal founders.

On reading that letter (she always read her husband’s letters) Natásha herself suggested that he should go to Petersburg, though she would feel his absence very acutely. She attributed immense importance to all her husband’s intellectual and abstract interests though she did not understand them, and she always dreaded being a hindrance to him in such matters. To Pierre’s timid look of inquiry after reading the letter she replied by asking him to go, but to fix a definite date for his return. He was given four weeks’ leave of absence.

Ever since that leave of absence had expired, more than a fortnight before, Natásha had been in a constant state of alarm, depression, and irritability.

All’s Well That Ends Well, indeed. More like It’s Good To Be Pierre.

So! I really hated the ending (and I’m not the only one). I’m not even getting into the second epilogue. That said, this article helped me understand why Tolstoy ended things the way he did. Maybe Pierre wasn’t nuts in thinking he had something in common with Napoleon. They both showed up out of nowhere and stirred shit up. Russia and France (and the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs) were never the same.

Now, I’m treating myself to a rewatch of the mini-series. I need to get the ickyness of the epilogues out of my head by replacing it with pretty costumes and sets, and by remembering the feeling of reading the first 1,100 pages, which was great.

Oh, there is one person other than Pierre who can celebrate: Arya of Arya’s Fangirl Lexicon is the winner of the draw for the Litographs shirt! Arya, I’ll be in touch, and yes, it’s okay if you didn’t finish the book.

Let’s all celebrate being DONE. Time to get down, Ilya-Rostov-Before-He-Spends-All-His-Money-And-Dies style:

war-and-peace-ilya

Thank you all so much! Though I lost steam in the last few weeks, this was by far the most fun I’ve had hosting a read-along. See you all back next year for The Count of Monte Cristo? What can I say, I have a thing for 1000+ page translated novels…

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14 comments

  1. hadasn

    I can’t believe I discovered your read-along yesterday, two days after finishing the book myself! Even weirder is the fact that we started on the exact same day. Oh well. I love the posts! Definitely made me laugh out loud a few times.

  2. Daniel Cordeiro

    I am sorry I am this late. I was on vacation in August and couldn’t manage to keep up the reading while travelling.
    Anyway, I am so glad I finally finished the book last week. Thank you for helping me take the first steps!
    Personally, I loved every bit of it. W&P is really a great novel, Tolstoy makes the main characters feel real indeed. I noticed few people make comments on the war parts, but I liked them a lot. I especially enjoyed two moments.
    The first is when Pierre is about to be shot along with other Russian prisoners and the rookie French soldier gets shocked after killing the Russians. The other moment is when the Russians are around a bonfire and two French soldiers show up. One of them gets drunk, Russians and Frenchmen keep trying to communicate, and one of the Russian guys pretends to speak French. They all end up having a lot of fun.
    Tolstoy is always so interested in the movement of the masses, but he is so delicate, so thoughtful in pointing out one-to-one interactions like those. That’s what it comes down to when you really get in touch with another person instead of hating them from a distance.
    I had quite a hard time reading the second epilogue, had to read some parts over and over, and though I am not so sure I was able to grasp everything (free will is never piece of cake), his philosophy regarding history as a science is really interesting, and made me think a lot. I mean, it does seem that Napoleon and Alexander couldn’t have taken decisions that were too different from those they took.
    Anyway, I had gone as far as the first epilogue, I couldn’t just leave aside the second. Actually, if I ever re read W&P, I might start by the second epilogue to read everything from Tolstoy’s point of view.
    Thanks again for the experience, I really enjoyed it!

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