Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Reading “War and Peace”

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I did start rereading War and Peace, this edition—and on my Kindle, no less. I got my favorite translation (the Maude translation). It costs only $2.50 and includes linked footnotes and translations of the French used in conversation.

The problem I have is keeping track of the names. I have generally sort of faked it, having a firm grip on some names and a vague recall of the persons with other names, and I generally lose track of the relationships among the characters. I had a very nice little cheat-sheet showing the families and all, but I seem to have lost that.

So what I decided to do was highlight the sentence or two that introduces each character as I go, and also any brief descriptions of characters that occur by the way. And since characters are not only named when introduced, but provided with their family connections and social standing, I ended up highlighting and thus noticing those. And, as Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s soirée proceeds, those family connections give life to the dialogue. You can view the highlights in a list by clicking the “menu” icon and then “Notes” which has a tab for the list of highlights.

I also end up noting things I would otherwise miss. For example, take this paragraph:

The vicomte was a nice-looking young man with soft features and polished manners, who evidently considered himself a celebrity but out of politeness modestly placed himself at the disposal of the circle in which he found himself. Anna Pavlovna was obviously serving him up as a treat to her guests. As a clever maître d’hôtel serves up as a specially choice delicacy a piece of meat that no one who had seen it in the kitchen would have cared to eat, so Anna Pavlovna served up to her guests, first the vicomte and then the abbe, as peculiarly choice morsels. The group about Mortemart immediately began discussing the murder of the Duc d’Enghien. The vicomte said that the Duc d’Enghien had perished by his own magnanimity, and that there were particular reasons for Buonaparte’s hatred of him.

The scene continues with Anna Pavlovna gathering guests, setting the stage (as it were), and moving things along, but I was struck by the image of the vicomte as a tasty morsel, enticing to all the guests—who, had they seen him backstage (in the kitchen, as it were), would not have cared for him at all.

What is the metaphorical kitchen in which the vicomte would be unattractive? I’m a bit at a loss, but I suppose that if you strip the vicomte of dress and decorations, you see not the celebrity—the cultural icon build of those cultural signifiers—but just a nice-looking young man with soft features, not someone so impressive as to be the pièce de résistance but rather just a plain young man.

But that’s only a guess. It is an odd image, difficult to untangle, and it’s clearly not a problem of translation but a problem of the image and what that part of—the unsavory view in the kitchen—might mean.

The takeaway: if you start War and Peace and have not read it before, make your own table of characters: names, to whom they’re related, what their character is like. Making the list provides a useful reference and—more important—pushes the information into your memory so when you see the name later you recall the details you recorded.

UPDATE: Well, the highlighting is useful, but it’s not enough. I’m reading now with my computer open to a Web document in which I am listing characters as I encounter them, along with brief description of them and their relationships. The advantage is that I can easily add to the document as I learn more about the characters.

For historical characters I am providing links. For example, the Dowager Empress to whom Anna Pavolova is maid of honor is Marya Feodorovna (Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg) who turns out to be an interesting character in her own right. When her husband Tsar Paul I was assassinated, she made a motion toward assuming the throne as Empress/Tsarina, but gave it up so her sons succeeded to the throne. (She had ten children, among them Tsar Alexander I, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, Grand Duchess Maria of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Queen Catherine of Wurttemberg and Queen Anna Pavlovna of the Netherlands. Still, she gained precedence over the Empresses, which was unusual.

UPDATE: I am adding the Kindle location number for the source of the statement or insight I record. Highlighting turns out to be too much work, but I am certain there are passages that I will hightlight.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2017 at 7:38 pm

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