I finished reading War and Peace on Tuesday (that’s more or less an entire year spent reading it). I then spent Tuesday night and the greater part of Wednesday alternately wondering how I was going to blog about it, and procrastinating from thinking about how to blog about it.
I typed out some notes and ideas on Tuesday that I could use as a starting point, or perhaps form into some sort of outline. But the more I thought about it on Wednesday, the more I felt like there was no real point in writing anything about something for which so much has already been written.
Yet, at the same time, I felt like there was so much that I wanted to write about.
When I read Anna Karenina, the character that stood out the most to me, and that had the most impact, apart from Anna Karenina herself, was Konstantin Dmitrich Levin. I think all of the characters were constructed and explored really well, but Levin in particular was given a lot of depth.
One of the main things I remember about Levin, even several years after reading the novel, is how, despite being a well-off landowner, Levin yearned for a simple life of honest labour. There is one part of the book where he helps his muzhiks with the harvest, wielding a scythe alongside them in his fields. To him, it was satisfying work, but not only in the physical sense of “a good day’s work”, but also in a psychological or spiritual sense.
I’ve heard that Levin was the character that Tolstoy most identified with, or that was most closely modelled on his own thoughts and beliefs. In War and Peace the equivalent most Tolstoy-esque character is Pierre Bezukhov. It is not surprising then, that this yearning for a simple and honest life is also experienced by Pierre.
[Warning: spoilers ahead. Please note, also, that I haven’t quite finished War and Peace yet, so please don’t spoil the ending for me.]
Last week-end, I finished playing Mass Effect 3. It is the final instalment in a trilogy of video games, which I would attempt to summarise here except that I’m not sure where to start, and I’m sure there are better explanations already on the internet. In basic terms, it’s a game in which you play as a character named Shepard, who has to save the galaxy from various evils.
It is very much like a “choose your own adventure” book but in game form — at various points in the game, you have to make decisions that will affect what happens next or what happens further along in the game. Even when your Shepard talks to other characters, you choose between different dialogue options to shape your character as more friendly (paragon) or mean (renegade). I suppose this makes it very easy to become personally invested in the game, as it feels like a unique experience shaped by your own choices, which are likely made based on what you would do if you were in Shepard’s situation.
This week I got up to Volume III, Part II in War and Peace, and at the start of this section, Tolstoy enters into a bit of philosophising — or I should say re-enters, as he sort of went over this in an earlier section. In this part of the novel, Napoleon is invading Russia. His army is far superior to that of the Russians, which appears to be in comparative disarray as they are lacking a strong leader.
Tolstoy posits that everyone involved in that war believed they were acting for themselves, according to their own will, but, in reality, they were all “involuntary instruments of history”. In an earlier part of the novel (I forget where, and the book is much too big to go searching for this one particular chapter), Tolstoy wrote something about the great cascade of events that must take place for a war to start, and claims that it cannot be pinned on any one event or person.
If I remember correctly, the main gist of it was that no matter who insults who, or who wants to go conquesting where, there cannot be a war if great masses of people don’t enlist to become soldiers, and there is a great deal that must happen to lead to that.
For several weeks now, I have been thinking of this quote from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and I’ve been meaning to find it so that I could blog about it, but I either haven’t had time or, when I did have time, I just couldn’t find it.
During my first reading of Meditations (now a few years ago), I used some scrap paper to jot down some notes regarding noteworthy passages. For some of these, I copied out the passage (if it was short), and for some I simply noted the book and chapter numbers. I kept these scraps of paper as reminders — some within the pages of Meditations, and the rest on my bedside table. I had hoped that the quote I was thinking of would be on one of these but, alas, no luck.
But, no matter, I thought, there is a helpful index in the back of the copy I own, which can be used to find passages relating to various subject matter and concepts, so I tried this next. I pondered over words that might lead me to the passage, but these either did not take me to where I wanted to go, or they did not exist in the index.
As a last resort — or perhaps just a despairing effort — I flipped through to random pages, hoping to find it by pure luck or coincidence. (Keep in mind that I didn’t do all this searching in one day; it was spread over several weeks, whenever I thought of it and had time.) Unsurprisingly, this tactic proved fruitless too.
Last night, however, I was really determined to find it. I was so determined that I resolved to go through each entry in the index that was even remotely relevant, starting with A and working through the entire index to Z.
A colleague recently gave me some advice that reminded me of the words of Marcus Aurelius. They didn’t use the same words, but the message was essentially the same. Their words actually reminded me of a part of Meditations that I thought I would never blog about — not necessarily because I disagree with it, but because it never sat quite right with me.
When I first read it (a few years ago), I remember that I felt a bit… uncomfortable about it, I suppose is the best way to describe it. But I think, for the most part, I’ve come to terms with it now. I’m sure there is still some part of me that is bothered by it in a way I cannot quite articulate, but maybe acceptance will come with time. Continue reading