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Checking in for week 2 of the #WarandPeaceNewbies readalong!

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After the issues with the translation from last week, things have settled down a bit and I’ve now finished part 2, the first ‘war’ section of the book. I was a little apprehensive about this, to be honest, as battle scenes are not normally my thing. However, I needn’t have been, as Tolstoy, in his wisdom, focuses on more than just fighting and this part of the book was fascinating.

At the end of part one, Prince Andrei set off to war, abandoning his beautiful, young and pregnant wife – which possibly tells you a lot about Tolstoy’s attitude to marriage! Also setting off to battle was young Nikolai Rostov, eager to prove himself. This section of W&P follows both of their experiences, although they are moving in very different spheres: Nikolai is a mere cadet, but Prince Andrei has been attached to the higher ranks and is thriving.

Alan Dobie as Andrei in the BBC’s 1972 adaptation

Inevitably, we see more of Andrei’s adventures: throwing himself into battle, watching the troops move and fight, mixing with the high and mighty; and all through this his emotions fluctuate wildly. He’s obviously happy to be away from the restrictions of home and society, and in many ways has found himself within the manly structure and discipline of the army; but he has noble notions that are often dashed. Andrei has studied battle strategies and imagines these things take place like clockwork, following a plan; and his ideals are somewhat shaken by the reality of the conflict and the chaos around him.

Because chaos it certainly is, and Tolstoy captures this disorder brilliantly in a series of vignettes, conveying how it feels to be caught in the middle of a conflict with one element not knowing what the others are doing and no real cohesive command. He paints a vivid picture of the chain of command, from the generals at the top working on strategies down to the common soldier who’s the one who bears the brunt of the battle, often with his life. No-one in that chain really knowing what the overall picture is, instead dealing simply with their small area of the fighting. And it became obvious that the inability to communicate effectively was a major element in the failure of a battle – often nobody knew where they were and who they were meant to be fighting. The one successful action in this particular battle was because of a small battalion with an inspired captain who ignored orders and just fought.

However, just because this was a ‘war’ section didn’t mean there was no character development, because there was. We met a wonderful mixture of soldiers and civilians of all types, all memorable and well-drawn. I particularly warmed to Captain Tushin, the maverick soldier who kept his battalion fighting away when all around him were withdrawing; and Dolokhov, an officer reduced to the ranks, determined to redeem himself.

Somehow, despite his close-up view of the fighting, Tolstoy manages to convey the wide panorama and the sheer scale of the war. He doesn’t stint on his description of the conflict and portrays a muddy and bloody reality. Both Andrei and Nikolai enter the battle expecting one thing, some kind of nobility, and finding a very different reality. Nikolai, in particular, has his first skirmish and it’s anything but glamorous; and we leave him in a rather precarious situation at the end of the section.

So, a gripping and thrilling read, wonderfully written and capturing the gritty and confusing reality of being in the middle of an old-style battle. I found I really enjoyed it, which I wasn’t expecting – so that bodes well for the rest of the book, in particular the war sections!

#warandpeacenewbies – Week 1 update

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Ermmmm – what was that I was saying about the Maudes’ version? 😦

Lovely as it is, I hit a major snag fairly early on with the Everyman volume of “War and Peace”, despite finding the book readable and easy to handle… Unfortunately, the Maudes render Prince Andrei as Prince Andrew, and that’s going to be a deal-breaker.

Maudes version with Andrew and Pierre….

Pierre is left as Pierre and not Peter, and as OH commented when I mentioned this problem to him, it sounds like the Prince belongs in Scotland and not Russia. And then I discovered that Kirill is rendered as Cyril…  No. I want my Russian characters to sounds as if they *are* Russian. So I switched to the Edmonds version, as she has the Prince as Andrei, and once I settled down again, the reading has gone swimmingly!

The Edmonds version character list

So, putting these irritations aside, how have I got on with my first week of reading “War and Peace”? Quite well, actually. I’ve found the reading easy and very enjoyable, and boy am I impressed again with Tolstoy’s storytelling abilities. He plunges straight into the action, right into Russian society of the era, and in the first part we get introduced to what I believe are most of the main players. Instantly, we learn about the kind of behind the scenes machinations that go on, favours being called in to get your son into the right regiment, or your idiot son married off. The war against Napoleon is on everyone’s lips and Andrei (as we shall correctly call him) is heading off to fight, mostly it seems to get away from his young and light-headed pregnant wife. Pierre, our other main character, comes into money and title through to even more machinations on his behalf. And Natasha is still a young girl.

I love the way Tolstoy moves the action on, with the result of the actions in one chapter being revealed almost in passing by a character in the next. And all of the players are leaping off the page, wonderfully realised, so that’s a plus.

I think these posts are not so much going to be a review as such (how can you encapsulate such a massive work in some blog posts, after all?); but I shall probably be more using them to record my reactions as I read. What’s clear is that Tolstoy is very good at observing the small details in life, using his snapshots of relationships to build up a bigger picture. He captures the interplay between characters brilliantly and is not afraid to build up to a dramatic climax, such as the one which occurs at the end of the first part of the book.

So I’m about 100-odd pages in, and so far loving “War and Peace” – let’s hope all continues this well!

#warandpeacenewbies – Here we go…..

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Well, today is the day we officially get going with our reading of “War and Peace”, but I have to confess that I’ve been dipping my toe in already. I decided to read the first few chapters (they’re short!) of each of my editions to see which one I would read.

The translations I have, as I mentioned, are by the Maudes and Rosemary Edmonds, and to be honest there isn’t much to choose between them. The French sections are rendered in English, which is a relief to me as I can’t read in French and I don’t want to have to keep checking notes – I want to go with the flow and just immerse myself.

My two available options

And so far, both versions seem very readable; several of the major characters have already made an entrance; and I’m feeling a little more confident about coping with the length as I seem to have read through these parts quite quickly.

So it may come down to something as simple as the physical ease of reading the book; because it *is* big, and the little hardback Maude I have flops open quite nicely, and the paper is very thin India paper, so it’s really manageable. That may be the decider – I’ll let you know in the next update! 🙂

Onward and upward!

A tentative commitment #warandpeacenewbies

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Yes, you read that correctly. In the year of planning to have no plans, I am making a tentative commitment to join in to a group read! Gulp!

So far this year the only real project I’ve got involved in, apart from our reading years of course, is the LibraryThing Virago Group’s monthly author choice. This has been enjoyable, and I feel that I can drop in and out of this one as necessary, so there isn’t any pressure.

Old hardback Maudes version

However. When I read that Laura of Reading in Bed was hosting a War and Peace Newbies read over the summer, I was sorely tempted. Tolstoy’s great work is one I’ve intended to grapple with for years and have simply never got to. Yet I loved “Anna Karenina” so there’s no good reason not to, apart from size!

Laura’s read is split up into manageable weekly chunks and looks doable. She’s come up with a Q&A to go with the tag and you can read her thoughts here. I thought I would have a go, too, so here’s my take on the meme!

Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

No, basically. I’ve owned a copy for decades but I don’t think I’ve got farther than reading the first two pages.

What edition and translation are you reading?

I have two copies of “War and Peace” in the house if I’m not sure of which translation I fancy reading. One is a lovely two-volume set with box that came out at the time of the old BBC adaptation, and it’s translated by Rosemary Edmonds. The other is *very* old – and I’ve had it for decades – and is the Maudes version. I tend to always go for a contemporary rendering if I can so that would suggest the Maudes – we shall see.

The BBC tie-in version

How much to you know about War and Peave (plot, characters, etc)?

Not a lot really – I know the names of some of the main characters and that Napoleon’s in there, but apart from that I come to War and Peace with little foreknowledge!

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc?)

I’m not. I figure I want to come to this with no preconceptions and I already have some as I visualise Pierre as a young Anthony Hopkins! So I’ll try to judge it as I find it, and I’ll have all the plot twists to come with no expectations.

The hardback even has a lovely little map inside

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

I don’t actually know! But I loved Anna Karenina – one of those books you kind of live through – and I’m hoping for a similarly immersive experience.

What are you intimidated by?

The length. And having a schedule. I don’t do too well with schedules….

Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

Definitely not. You need to have the contrast between the two elements. I shall try to read each page, despite any occasions of my attention flagging during battle scenes.

So – I will give it a go and see if I can stick to a small section of “War and Peace” every week. I’m not always good at disciplined reading that like but I think it’s worth the attempt – to see if 2017 will be my Summer of “War and Peace”!

If you’re keen to join in, do go and check out Laura’s site – it should be fun! 🙂

Well, you can’t blame me, can you???

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A few more books made their way out of the house today to the charity shop, and I made a point of not browsing too much – but I really couldn’t resist this:

w & p

I do, of course, already own a copy of “War and Peace” which if I recall correctly is the Maudes translation. Whichever one it is, it’s riddled with the original French passages which Tolstoy put in the book (as upper class Russians of the time only spoke that language) and this has always been a stumbling block for me as my French is very, very, VERY basic.

However, this lovely box set which was produced to tie in with the old BBC adaptation is translated by Rosemary Edmonds and hurrah! the French is translated! So it may that this is the impetus I need to get me reading W&P at last.

w & P spine

Plus it’s really pretty, in great condition and it only cost £1.50 – amazing! As I’ve said before, I do love the local charity shops! 🙂

Russian Reading Month – Some More Thoughts on Translation

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It’s amazing how my reading and book thoughts have gone off on such a tangent with the Russian Reading Month. I felt obliged to dig out all my classics to see who they are translated by; I’m researching online, seeing what other people think; sending off for other editions with new translations. Yesterday found me particularly focusing on Tolstoy who I confess I’ve never made much headway with.

I own a few Tolstoy volumes – “The Kreutzer Sonata” which I attempted and gave up on recently (translated by David Duff); “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, a Wordsworth edition with no translator credited that I can see; and the two big books as follows:

My War and Peace is a lovely old hardback OUP World Classics which even has a fold out map!

My Anna Karenina, however, is a strange Pilot Press 2 volume edition.

On reading up about Tolstoy, it became clear that the translations by Aylmer and Louise Maude are something to be reckoned with as they knew Tolstoy personally and he approved their work. My W&P is the Maude translation and so I’m happy to go with that! My AK however, doesn’t state a translator and so I felt I really must have a Maude version. After a bit of research, I found that the current Wordsworth Classics version is the Maude one and it looks like this:

So a quick trip to my local branch of The Works was in order yesterday – at £1.99 there’s not a lot to complain about. A quick comparison with the first few paragraphs of my Pilot version shows differences, so I’m happy to have both and when there’s a spare day or two may actually get round to reading them!

However, the point I’m getting to is one which came up during my researches. It seems that in 2010 Oxford University Press published War and Peace in a version which contained the Maude translation revised by Amy Mandelker. This was apparently felt necessary to update the language to be more in keeping with modern speech, and that’s an argument I’ve seen given for the current slew of Pevear/Volokhonsky translations. I can’t say how much this offends me! The Maude translations were written in an English that was contemporary with Tolstoy’s Russian and so surely should be left in that version! Do we say we should re-write Dickens to update him because modern readers can’t cope with decent length sentences, slightly archaic words, richer vocabulary? I think not! We need to stop treating readers as idiots, spoon-feeding them as if they don’t have any wider experience or knowledge of history, literature etc. Some volumes I’ve read recently have had a ridiculous amount of footnotes, over-explaining everything – with the World Wide Web available to us, if there’s a word or an allusion we don’t get, it’s quite easy to look it up!

Enough ranting – my favourite translator of the moment is definitely turning out to be the discreetly prolific Hugh Aplin – having just finished his “Notes from the Underground” I’m very impressed and shall review soon. Russian Reading Month continues!

(As a footnote, many of the Wordsworth Classics versions of Russian authors are the much-criticised Constance Garnett versions – an inexpensive way for anyone that wants them to track them down).

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