Saturday, October 30, 2010

War and Peace

I am close to the midway point in a panoramic masterpiece of the 19th century novel, War and Peace. I have been through drawing rooms, counts and princesses, and the battle of Austerlitz. The Russian aristocracy is completely taken with the French- their language, customs, and their hated/admired leader, Napoleon. I have undertaken this project of a novel in an attempt to read through the great books. It is an interesting exercise that teaches me not only about life in early 19th century Russia, with its slave-like serfs and forays into Enlightenment philosophies, but also about the difficulties in reading such a work outside of the classroom.
I have also learned that the characters of Boris and Natasha, those cold war characters in "Rocky and Bullwinkle", were taken from Tolstoy. Who knew?
I have in addition learned to appreciate the comment made by a football commentator during a ballgame that the quarterback had enough protection from the offensive line to read War and Peace.
I am working my way backwards in European history. A wonderful book on late 19th century to early 20th century royalty, " George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I" by Miranda Carter, was very illuminating. All related to grandma Queen Victoria, these autocrats displayed their arrogance right to the end of their relevance to the European world. At least the British royalty had the good sense to save themselves from oblivion by relinquishing power and changing their last name from Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor.
I have read through the Paris Commune of 1871, in which more destruction was done to the city than in the Revolution and the World Wars, and the disastrous Pranco -Prussian war which preceded it. The French were not always losers on the military battlefield- they controlled much of Europe during the Napoleonic era, which is actually what led me to "War and Peace".
I guess the end of the book ends badly for Napoleon (this is the problem with reading historical books- you can never ask, "so I wonder what happens next?"). But I suppose with millions dead in this 19th century version of world war, it ends badly for everyone, I suppose.

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