As I mentioned in the recap earlier this week, Week 3's reading brought us our first glimpses of passion and sexual feeling in the book. I know, finally! I was wondering how many hundreds of pages of 19th-century Russian literature I had to turn to get to the parts that the book flips opens to. Can we get a creaking bodice? And on cue, we get the scene of Helene's deployment of her shoulders and bosom to cast a spell on Pierre as he fumbles with a snuffbox. (What is up with all the snuffboxes everywhere?)
He got up, wishing to go around, but the aunt handed him the snuffbox over Helene, behind her back. Helene leaned forward so as to make room and, smiling, glanced around. As always at soirees, she was wearing a gown in the fashion of the time, quite open in front and back. Her bust, which had always looked like marble to Pierre, was now such a short distance from him that he could involuntarily make out with his nearsighted eyes the living loveliness of her shoulders and neck, and so close to his lips that he had only to lean forward a little to touch her. He sensed the warmth of her body, the smell of her perfume, and the creaking of her corset as she breathed. He saw not her marble beauty, which made one with her gown, he saw and sensed all the loveliness of her body, which was merely covered by clothes. And once he had seen it, he could not see otherwise, as we cannot return to a once-exposed deception.(W&P at 206.) Pierre apparently took Beyonce's advice: he liked it so he put a ring on it. (No, you cannot escape "All the Single Ladies", even here!)
At the Bald Hills estate of Prince Andrei's grumpy math-enthusiast father, bachelor Anatole's arrival sends the ladies of the house into a tizzy. Pious Marya dreams her "chiefest, strongest and most secret dream ... of earthly love" with Anatole, but reprimands herself for thinking "these devil's thoughts" and "evil imaginings ...." (Id. at 221.) Her friend Mlle Bourienne has her own fantasies, having been brought to "a high level of excitement" by the arrival of the eligible Anatole, and, unwitting (or wittingly), eliciting a similar reaction in him: "[H]e was beginning to experience for the pretty and provocative Bourienne that passionate, animal feeling which came over him with extraordinary quickness and urged him towards the most coarse and bold actions." (Id. at 227.) He takes such "coarse and bold action" by, first, playing footsie with Mlle Bourienne under the pianoforte. This is merely some foreplay for some hot, high-risk action in the winter garden:
[Marya] was walking straight ahead through the winter garden without seeing or hearing anything, when suddenly the familiar whispering of Mlle Bourienne roused her. She looked up and saw Anatole two steps away from her. Anatole, with a frightful expression on his handsome face, turned to look at Princess Marya, and for the first second did not let go of the waist of Mlle Bourienne, who did not see her.(Id. at 231.)
We're only about a quarter of the way through the book, so we'll have to see how these relationships develop, but it's safe to say, with the none-too-subtle hints that Tolstoy has dropped about Pierre's marital decision, that Pierre was not thinking so much with his head when he decided to marry Helene. Of course, there's also the meddling and scheming of Prince Vassily and Anna Pavlovna in railroading Pierre into the decision and making it pretty much a fait accompli by the time he snaps out of his aroused stupor to figure out what's happening. But Pierre does not resist because he's driven by the same animal feeling that drives Anatole to shockingly play footsie under the pianoforte and get a little action in the winter garden. Pious, sacrificing Marya's decision as to Anatole's offer is made easier after the scene in the winter garden. She gives up her secret dream of earthly pleasure. The simplistic take is, of course, that acting on lust for these characters will turn out to be a bad thing, and that the more pious, who abjure, will be rewarded, or be shown to be correct, etc. We'll see if that stays true throughout.
This week's reading was mostly back to war scenes (and wet splashes of cannonballs wiping people out), so I was able to put away my hands-free reading stand.