As I’m sure my readers will be pleased to know, my War and Peace challenge is making relatively good progress. Note that I’m hedging a bit here by using the word ‘relatively’ to describe my rate of reading. I have actually reached page eighty-five and I’m at the point where Count Bezuhov has suffered his sixth stroke and is not expected to live. Naturally enough the heirs presumptive are getting anxious as they can see a fortune slipping from their hands into those of Bezuhov’s illegitimate son Pierre. I wonder what skullduggery may be afoot in the aftermath of the count’s death.
First Edition, 1869
Already many aspects of human nature have popped up during the drama; I’ve met a diverse cast of characters in the action occurring between Moscow and St Petersburg. Not surprisingly I was rather taken with the younger players in the story, who were enjoying (and suffering) their first pangs of love. Natasha Rostov is delightful and I am almost apprehensive about what vicissitudes her life will throw at her, but I’m trying not to leap ahead and plot spoil for myself. I’ve never seen a film version of War and Peace and I’m studiously avoiding plot summaries that I’ve come across.
The thing that I find particularly fascinating is the sheer number of princes and princesses in the novel, to the extent that I’m tempted to try to find out just how many there were in Imperial Russia at that time. It also seems that having the title of prince or princess didn’t necessarily mean that you were wealthy. Having consulted Wikipedia, I’ve discovered that the titles of prince and princess belong to the titled nobility (which could be acquired) as opposed to the ancient hereditary nobility. Wikipedia goes on to point out that,
‘By 1805, the various ranks of the nobility had become confused, as is apparent in War and Peace. Here, we see counts who are wealthier and more important than princes. We see many noble families whose wealth has been dissipated, partly through lack of primogeniture and partly through extravagance and poor estate management. We see young noblemen serving in the Army, but we see none who acquire new landed estates that way’.
Nobles in the time of Catherine the Great
So presumably that accounts for poor old Princess Anna Drubetskoy desperately trying to obtain a placement and funding for her son Boris. This little bit is quite telling, ‘The mother smoothed her dyed silk gown, glanced at herself in the massive Venetian mirror on the wall and briskly mounted the carpeted staircase in her down-at-heel shoes’. A few lines above, her cloak is described as ‘threadbare’ which is noticed by a sharp-eyed servant.
I’m going to dive back into Imperial Russia now, having had a short break to finish a couple of library books, so I’ll hope to post up again soon with a further update.
Back soon….and if anyone else is tackling a hefty tome at the moment please let us know about it!
Picture Credits: Thanks to Wikipedia for the illustrations.