in the house of Bolkonsky

Perhaps this will seem rather random, but I’m only writing this post in order to remember this early part of War and Peace. I’m quite sure that if I don’t write progressive notes (which will take the form of blog posts for my own ease of reference), by the time I finish the whole book, I could very well forget a lot from the earlier chapters.

At just over 200 pages in, I already reread some parts of the first few chapters in order to remind myself of who did what and who said what. And I am still referring back to the “principal characters” guide at the start of the novel now and then.

Last week, I read past the part in War and Peace where Prince Vassily Kuragin brought his son Anatole to the home of old Prince Bolkonsky so that Anatole could offer a proposal of marriage to his daughter Marya (although initially it was just Vassily and Bolkonsky talking to each other about the proposal). I thought this part was quite touching, not because it was romantic — it was far from that — but because the inner monologues of Marya and Prince Bolkonsky himself were endearing in their own ways.

Marya, upon learning the reason why Anatole is visiting (they had never met each other before), is both overjoyed and apprehensive. For her, who is quite lacking in physical beauty (Tolstoy puts it much more harshly than this, and repeatedly tells us too), it is hard to believe that someone could love her and want to marry her. 

Prince Bolkonsky is inexplicably irritated by Vassily, and personally does not want his daughter to marry Anatole. Aside from thinking the marriage wouldn’t work, and deeply disliking Vassily, he loves his daughter and doesn’t want to have to part with her. Nonetheless, he leaves the ultimate decision to Marya: “Yes or no? Yes or no?” He all but shouts at her to make a decision.

Bolkonsky is quite a strange and eccentric character. At first, I didn’t really like him. He’s introduced in the novel as someone very austere and stern. He always follows a routine and will not allow anyone to interrupt. He seems to have quite the temper, and Marya seems right to be frightened of him.

Still, there is something sweet in this father-daughter relationship that came out in the whole proposal business. If nothing else, Bolkonsky is a highly entertaining character, and all the more so when he is worked up about something.

None of these characters (including Vassily and Anatole) come across as particularly wonderful people, but not all characters are meant to be role models. 

Actually, come to think of it, I’m still not sure who the “hero” of this story is meant to be. Possibly there isn’t one, but I guess I’ll find out…

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