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War and Peace Book 2

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The last 20 minutes of the first episode of the BBC series is equally divided between all of book 2 and the first 5 chapters of book 3. This perfectly encapsulates the problem this TV series has with adapting the "war" part and it's themes from the book.

For obvious reasons Tolstoy's thought on was are more relevant now than in 2016. One can summarize his position as "War is a useless waste of human life and goes against human nature. No rational person would ever engage in it". There I saved you reading the book

Tolstoy detests Napoleon and many of his passages on history serve to argue against the myth of "great man shaping history", which Napoleon represents. Throughout the book he tries to demystify him, points out how his genius is exaggerated, how much of it was luck and most of all argues against the idolisation of a man who committed many atrocities (He insists on calling him murderer). I want to put a quote here from the first epilogue:

In Africa a whole series of outrages are committed against the almost unarmed inhabitants. And the men who commit these crimes, especially their leader, assure themselves that this is admirable, this is glory—it resembles Caesar and Alexander the Great and is therefore good.

Kutuzov, the only good general in the Russian army.

In book two both Nikolai and Andrei get their first experience with war. Their expectations of adventure and glory respectively are contrasted with the reality of the pointless slaughter of human life that war is. Tolstoy is not subtle about his anti war sentiments. Both Nikolai and Andrei get loads of character development here, which the TV series completely fails at when it comes to Andrei. I still did not like him in the book, but at least he was interesting.

In the book Andrei's motivation is a quest for meaning and purpose and he thinks he can achieve that by chasing glory in the war. Before the first battle Andrei is riding around inspecting the preparations, making strategic plans and imagines winning the battle for Russia (as he always thinks he is better than everyone around him). Maybe while dying heroically for the glory. While he is still contemplating his brilliant plans the battle just starts and all is chaos. Here he just stands melancholic in a field for a minute and then the battle starts.

Nice cinematography, but some character development would have been cool. Andrei's character in the TV series is: Bored and might as well die in war... In love with Natasha... Depressed and might as well die in war.. Dies in war (spoiler).

During the battle he notices that the most successful generals are the ones that do not make great plans, but react to the actions of the man during battle. It is one of the first instances of Tolstoy's subversion of the idea of "great man of history". He focuses on Tushin (a captain), who is not concerned with glory or recognition (very short appearance in the TV series) and therefore is one of the deciding factors in the "victory" (They stop the French, giving themselves time to regroup, nothing more). He is shat on for it and Andrei comes to his defense. None of this in in the TV series.

When he goes to the Austrian court to announce the "victory" it is shrug off as unimportant. His great heroic moment thwarted from all sides. He is disillusioned with war and the army command, except Kutuzov. No one has a regard for the common soldiers or even cares if they win or loose and only tries to use any battle as a political play to advance their position.

Nikolai's part is much better. His naivete at the beginning, seeing was as a big adventure is shown very well. Jack Lowden plays him as excitedly nervous. I like his budding friendship with Denisov. I am very grateful they did not make the actor speak with the speech impediment Denisov had in the book, it was so annoying to read. When he finally is in the middle of the battle he absolutely panics. He throws his pistol at the French instead of firing it and then runs away. It is a very short scene in the TV series, but Jack Lowden nails it, not only showing shock and fear, but also confusion, as described in the book:

"Who are they? Why are they running? Can they be coming at me? And why? To kill me? Me whom everyone is so fond of?" He remembered his mother’s love for him, and his family’s, and his friends’, and the enemy’s intention to kill him seemed impossible.

Dolokhov is missing, though. He has a whole adventure, capturing some French in the book. It is alluded to by him being called a war hero in the series. I had to stop reading and laughed out loud when it turned out he is a sharpshooter.

Photo of the week - Grass in sunlight

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Looks like something you find in Ikea

War and Peace Book 1

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I wanted to talk about this book for some time, I have been reading it the past month and I love it. I do have to keep the discussion on my intellectually low level though, so I decided to follow the BBC series from 2016. I had watched this series before reading the book, which is why I did not give up this time. The first time I tried to read it the Russian names defeated me, especially in the second book, when Tolstoy keeps switching between calling Prince Andrei, Prince Andrei and Bolkonski in the narrative. Now that I had an image of each character in my mind, it was easier to follow. Part of this will be my random thoughts on the book and comparing the TV series to it. I read a version of the book, where it was divided in 15 books and two epilogues.

Book 1 (Episode 1, the first 40 minutes)

Paul Dano is a wonderful Pierre. Pierre is deeply flawed and makes hilariously irrational decisions throughout the book. He doesn't become comical or annoying in the book because of his kindness and emotional honesty, which Paul Dano is perfect for.
His introduction sets him up perfectly, showing his idealism and social awkwardness (I love the small detail of him just handing Anna Pavlovna his glass in this scene and her confused reaction on this complete breaking of etiquette), without making him look intentionally rude.

(He says in a room full of overfed aristocrats)

While his defense of Napoleon is funny, his interaction with Lise is peak Pierre, awkward, from a place of kindness.

"I'm not..." (realizes that mentioning pregnancy would be inappropriate)..."I mean life is...."(notices he can't save it)..."Oh, this is wrong!" Pretty much as in the book, too.

His weaknesses are a bit tuned down in the TV series. His womanizing is only addressed in the first episode, the drinking is only mentioned once again. He is more confused here than weak willed (more about it in book 2 and book 5). They also have the party only in fast cuts, lessening the impact of Pierre's stupid behaviour, such as trying to copy Dolokhov's dare and the bear incident, focusing on his regret instead.

I like how some small details are kept, such as the servant drinking the wine at the party when he thinks no one is looking. Pierre is a big man in the book, somewhere in my notes it says "Stop body shaming Pierre, Tolstoy!" as he constantly mentions him being stout "He placed his stout body in a chair". Paul Dano plays him with big clumsy gestures without it looking comical.

Strangely the TV series then makes Pierre look a bit callous about his father dying by going to Natasha's name day party. (They do not mention that it is also her mother's name day party, who is also called Natalya). When Pierre comes to Moscow in the book, he is repeatedly told that his father does not want to see him, because of the bear incidence and that the shock of hearing about the scandal is what caused his stroke(s).

Pierre can dance in the book, he just does not know that particular dance at the name day party, but obliges Natasha, because that is who he is. He is not in love with her at this point (because she is 13 in the book), but it makes sense to change it for the TV series, where they are closer in age. In the TV series he says "I can't dance" and never dances again. Probably because Paul Dano did not want to. In the book, when he later moves to Moscow, one reason he is so liked is because he is always up for dancing to make sure none of the ladies have to sit around without a partner. He also can play clavichord.

Lily James is great as Natasha. She manages to play her like a teenager at the beginning. It is some very subtle physical acting, I don't think they needed that horrible fringe. I love that her main concern with the bear incidence is if the bear is alright (she asks twice).

Nice how Anna's Mikhaylovna (there are a lot of women either called Marya or Anna in the book, adding to the confusion) motivation to help Pierre later is set up by Vasili Kuragin refusing to give her an allowance from the inheritance at the beginning of the episode. Funny, if Vasili had said yes, he would have inherited, as Pierre would have never been able to notice the conspiracy to cheat him out of the inheritance. The death of the father is pretty much as in the book, with Pierre utterly confused and Anna guiding him through how to behave like a grieving son AND uncovering the conspiracy, securing him the inheritance.

(Perpetually confused Pierre)

She deserves the allowance for her son she'll get from Pierre. I like that they kept Vasili's line "we lie and deceive, but for what, it all ends in death" it is a nice bit of nuance for the character.

Andrei in the TV series is as insufferable as in the book. He is arrogant and even worse to his wife in the book. She is not portrait very sympathetic, it's a Tolstoy and women thing. His reason for going to the war is a bit different, in the book he thinks he is too good for St. Petersburg society and is looking for glory, even if it means getting killed, but glory not boredom is his main motivation.

Andrei's father is way too likable in the TV series at the beginning. I think part of it is the actor, he is really well known and plays usually sympathetic characters. He terrorizes his family, especially Marya (who is great) from the get go. Andrei knows this and his wife, Lise is scared of his father as well. Lise is in the right. She is pregnant with her first child and scared. Instead of being supportive Andrei sends her off to his family in the countryside, to a father she is scared of, away from her friends and proper doctors and goes off to war we to chase glory and maybe die.

I think fear is the appropriate reaction here, Andrei. You are going to be so sorry in book 4.

One of my complaint is not enough French. Tolstoy uses the upper class speaking mainly French as one of the signs of their estrangement from the "Russian soul". Pierre even mentions it in the TV series in his rant about Napoleon: "Our drawing rooms are full of overfed aristocrats, who have no idea what real life is. Who have even forgotten how to speak their own language." And then the only French sentence ever spoken is this:

It would have been nice to have some characters speak more French phrases, the way Tolstoy inserted them in the book.

Picture of the week - Flowers in black and white

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Cool German Words - Extrawurst

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We go from bread to sausages. Extrawurst literally means an extra sausage. You use it to describe the kind of people who always want there to be an exception for them, or always need special privilege. It also works for German counties. Bavaria is the county of "Extrawurst". Whenever there is a new law made in Germany, Bavaria needs special exceptions to be made for them. When same sex marriage was made legal in Germany, for example, Bavaria needed to have an exception for them, so now same sex marriage in Bavaria is not called marriage but something like "registered live partners". This is number 42 on my list of why Bavaria is stupid and should just be given to Austria. Speaking of Austria, there "Extrawurst" is actually a type of sausage.

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