Sunday, December 18, 2005

Emperors

now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

"And why the devil are we going to fight Bonaparte?" asked Shinshin...
The colonel...took offense at Shinshin's remark.
"It is for the reason, my dear sir...that he cannot view with indifference the danger threatening Russia...the safety of the Empire, its dignity, and the sanctity of its alliances...and the desire, which constitutes the Sovereign's sole and irrevocable aim: to establish peace in Europe on a firm foundation, has now brought him to the decision to dispatch part of the army across the frontier, thereby implementing new endeavors toward the achievement of this purpose." ...
"Do you know the old saying: 'Yeroma, Yeroma, you'd better stay home, the fences you mend should be your own'?" inquired Shinshin, furrowing his brow and smiling. "That fits us perfectly. Why, even Suvorov was beaten all hollow, and where will we find a Suvorov today? I ask you--" he said, continually shifting from Russian to French.
"We must fight to the last drop of blood," said the colonel, pounding on the table, "and die for our Emperor, then all will be well. And reason as little as possible..." -----pp.96-97


So many of the men are marching off to war, leaving their ladies and girlfriends and pregnant princesses behind. Some disagree, but the manifesto has been written and they set forth. In this book, as in real life, a lot of aimless young men turn to war as a vocation, not knowing quite what else to do.

I read an interesting comment about that shortly after September 11th. Young men, let's say ages 17-25, are often at the peak of their restlessness, and lest it turn into recklessness or worse, many societies require something of the young men right around that age. For example, mandatory military service. Or, I thought, for another example, Mormons send the boys off to serve missions for two years when they turn 19. It's almost as if you get them through that roughest spot and they might just turn into fine human beings. Otherwise, the temptation to turn to things like gangs or suicide bombing looms large. I found that commentary fascinating, and the dinner debate quoted above reminded me of it.

As for the comparisons of that quote to our current war, they go without saying.

Napoleon and Russia are both convinced the peace of Europe is at stake and they alone must save it, except not really "alone," because there are the hundreds of thousands of soldiers sent to make war to attain this peace.

Meanwhile, Natasha's got her eye on Pierre as he ambles into the Count's fortune, much to the dismay of most of this little circle of upper crust. Will he steal her heart away from Boris? She's a charming little character. So is Marya, who I think is in love with Julie and that's why she's so lackadaisical about marriage. I was once considering writing a thesis (well, for starters, getting a master's in English, obviously, which I still might do, who knows? anyway, the thesis--->) on lesbian relationships in 19th-century literature and how they relate to notions of revolution and freedom. This might just be some more material. We shall see.

I didn't have much time to read this week at all either, but this book really goes quickly. If I ever sit down to read more than 10 minutes at a time, and maybe every day instead of once or twice a week, I might not have to take the whole winter to read it!

2 comments:

michael schaller said...
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michael schaller said...

hey there Linda (and other w&pers)--regarding the w and napoleon connection: I find it interesting how (at least at the start of the book) ol' napoleon is this character in the story who is never "on stage" but often talked about...and also how the French language is a dominating cultural force...and so I was wondering how that compares to Bush in Korea. Do Koreans talk/discuss/care about Bush and American foreign policy? Is there any resentment that English is becoming the language of finance and business in the world?