St. Ives, patron saint of lawyers, Charles Bridge, Prague
As previously noted, I was struck by how much of this week's reading had to do with legal issues, legal proceedings, statutory compilations, etc. And as I mentioned earlier today, I thought Denisov's pathetic and obsessive attempts to have his petition heard held a particularly Dickensian and/or Kafkaesque flavor. Hopefully many of the lawyers involved in our summer reading group (and it's now officially summer!), enjoyed the Bleak House-type bits of this week's reading.
On to the recap:
-Pierre visits Andrei at his country estate. Pierre and Andrei debate the meaning of good and evil, love of one's neighbors, etc. Pierre blathers on about his new mission to save humanity; Andrei responds with his cynical and jaundiced worldview. Still, Pierre's talk of God and truth and virtue touch a chord with Andrei: "[H]e looked at the sky Pierre had pointed to, and for the first time since Austerlitz saw that high, eternal sky he had seen as he lay on the battlefield, and something long asleep, something that was best in him, suddenly awakened joyful and young in his soul." (389)We're very close to midway now. I'll be posting the poll for our next book shortly. Page 532 by Sunday.
- Denisov, out in the field in the army with Rostov, commandeers a convoy without authority, to feed his troops. This is apparently some terrible breach of regulations, and proceedings are initiated: "Denisov spoke disdainfully of the whole affair; but Rostov knew him too well not to notice that, in his soul (concealing it from others), he was afraid of the trial and suffered over the affair, which was obviously going to have bad consequences. Every day papers of inquiry came, summonses from the court, and on the first of May, Denisov was ordered to turn over command of the squadron to the next in seniority to report to the division staff for explanations of the case of violence in the provisions commission." (401) Denisov is then wounded, and ends up in a gruesome army hospital, a place filled "by the stench of rotting flesh ...." (402) When Rostov finds Denisov, he sees that Denisov is changed, a fearful, obsessed man:Rostov even noticed that Denisov found it unpleasant to be reminded of the regiment and generally of that other, free life that went on outside the hospital. It seemed he was trying to forget that former life and was interested only in his case with the provision officials. To Rostov's question about how the case stood, he immediately pulled from under the pillow a paper he had received from the commission and the draft of his reply to it. When he started reading his paper, he became animated and particularly drew Rostov's attention to the biting remarks in it directed at his enemies.(405) The monomaniacal obsession, the hopeless nature of the case, the sudden animation in reading the doomed petition-- these are all classic tropes one finds in BLEAK HOUSE, and in many of Kafka's stories, such as "Before the Law". The law's delay (which is, of course, one of life's negative factors Hamlet itemized in determining whether to shuffle off the mortal coil) has two aspects: there is of course, the deadening plod of process, but there is also the dim but ever-tantalizing prospect that while the law may be slow to react, it may, one day, pick up one's petition and redress the wrongs enumerated. This is all nicely set out in the bit about Denisov's petition, which does eventually, and most improbably, reach Alexander himself, via Rostov, and then a general. The sovereign refuses to personally intervene in Denisov's case, saying, in a line that could have been lifted from "In the Penal Colony": "I cannot, General, and the reason why I cannot is that the law is stronger than I ...." (413)
- Rostov is disenchanted and confused after watching Alexander and Napoleon trade courtesies, present medals to each others' troops, seeing Alexander dismiss Denisov's petition, etc. What was the point of all the death and destruction he had witnessed, Rostov thinks? "Why, then, those torn-off arms and legs, those dead people?" (416) In a drunken fit, he goes into a Dostoevskyian rage of logical extremes and overstatement: "We're told to die -- and we die. If we're punished, it means we're guilty; it's not for us to judge. If it pleases the sovereign emperor to recognize Bonaparte as emperor and conclude an alliance with him--it means it has to be so. And if we start judging and reasoning about everything, then there'll be nothing sacred left. Next we'll be saying there's no God, no anything...." (417) These kinds of speeches always make me want to stomp out onto a field of fresh snow under a bright winter moon somewhere in Russia, drinking from a giant bottle of vodka.
- Andrei, newly filled with spirit to do good works for Russia, heads to Petersburg, where he meets Speransky, whose clarity of mind and reason attracts Andrei. Together, they begin work on a commission on military regulations. Andrei begins revising or drafting part of the civil code, drawing on the Code Napoleon and the Justiani. (433) (Footnote 9 has some interesting background.)
- A series of Dear Diary entries from Pierre, who is amazed and disbelieving that his wife Helene has somehow become a respected intellectual figure in Petersburg, holding soirees where poetry, philosophy, and literature are discussed. In his entries, Pierre reveals that he tries to read scripture with the proper mindset and tries to rouse himself out of bed at a respectable hour. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to keep a daily log of his weight.
- Berg proposes to Vera Rostov. Vera's father, deeply in debt, hems and haws about her dowry. Berg demands at least "thirty thousand in cash" or he will call off the wedding. Desperate to save face, Count Rostov makes promises for a large dowry that he will be hard pressed to keep.
- Natasha is reunited with Boris, who knows he should not get involved, as he has bigger plans, but can't help being drawn back to Natasha. (449) Natasha's mother realizes that nothing good will come of this and puts it to an end. (452)