War and Peace (Book 1, Part 3)

I’m engrossed enough in War and Peace now to start considering whether it might be worth upgrading to a better copy. I’m reading a very cheap and cheerful Penguin Popular Classics version, the sort you used to be able to buy for £1 in The Works. It does the job but I think I’d have a better grasp of some of the finer plot strands with a clearer translation that held my hand through some of the tougher parts. Looking back I’m not sure I’d have persevered through Daniel Deronda without some footnotes to guide me and with W&P I occasionally feel I need something similar to help me out. I noticed this most recently with some passing references to a character called Tit *snort*, a cook who’s mocked mercilessly by the orderlies. Is he being ridiculed because of his name? Was he called Tit in the original or has this been translated to an English equivalent? Or am I just completely missing the point? I need a bit of help and I’m not getting it with my copy. If anyone can recommend a particular translation or version then it’d be very much appreciated.

In any case, I’m making quite slow but satisfying progress through the book so far. I finished the third part on the train to work this morning and was surprised to realise how far I’d come. This part of the book is divided down the middle so we read both the war and the peace sides of the story back to back and without interruption. The first half follows Pierre Bezukov in Moscow and Marya Bolkonsky at Bald Hills as they both find themselves being pushed (one more tentatively than the other) towards marriages. I love Marya. She’s thoughtful and kind and not easily pushed into doing anything she doesn’t feel is completely right, even if she gets hurt in the process. Her considered approach to Anatole’s proposal makes a stark contrast to Pierre’s bizarre engagement to Helene. That man needs a good shake.

After this the action shifts quite quickly to the Prussian front where Nicolai, Andrew, Berg, Boris, Denisov, Dolokhov, Kutuzov and all the rest are preparing for the next big battle. By the end of this part of the novel the Russians have been defeated at Austerlitz and Nicolai and Andrew, both desperate to prove themselves, have been left feeling horribly disillusioned and disappointed by their idols. Andrew is lying wounded on the battlefield and Nicolai is kicking himself for bottling it when he had a chance to impress the Emperor he loves so dearly. Tolstoy draws a really clear line between the grand ideals of these naive young men – all that glorious dying for your country and your Tsar malarkey – and their real experiences. It’s neatly done.

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