War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace is not one of those that can be read in a sitting. Tolstoy serves the reader four books in one novel, 1,444 pages of history, witty remarks and a remarkable understanding of the human nature. Flipping the last page is immensely satisfying, improving to the mind and of course, spiritually awakening. Reading through the intimidating volume, I could not help but underline a few lines here and there. Here are a few written in their entirety lest I water down their import.
“He spoke with such self-confidence that no one could be sure whether his remark was very witty or very stupid”
                                                                                                                        Prince Hippoplyte
“Influence in the world…is a capital which has to be used with economy if it is to last”
Prince Vasili
“Moreover, he could see by her manner that she was one of those women-mostly mothers-who once having taken a notion into their heads will not rest until they have attained the desired object, and if opposed are ready to go on insisting day after day and hour after hour, even to the point of making scenes. This last reflection made him waver”
Prince Vasili on Anna Mihalovna
“In considering the action of a statesman, one has to distinguish between what he does as a private individual and as a general or an emperor.”
Prince Andrei on Napoleon
“It seems to me rather useless to spend time in reading what is unintelligible and can therefore bear no good fruit. I have never been able to understand the mania some people have for confusing their judgment by devoting themselves to mystical books which only arouse their doubts and excite their imaginations, giving them a bent for exaggeration utterly contrary to Christian simplicity”
Princess Maria writing to her friend Julie
“Without turning their heads the soldiers glanced at one another out of the corners of their eyes, curious to see the effect on their comrades. Every face from Denisov’s to the buglar’s, showed around lips and chins one common expression of conflict, excitement and agitation.”
Russian army at the imminent war
“Nikolai Rostov  turned away and, as if searching for something, started to gaze into the distance…how beautiful the sky looked, how blue and calm and deep! How brilliant and majestic was the setting sun! How tenderly shone the distant waters of the Danube! And fairer still were the purpling mountains stretching far away into the river, the convent, the mysterious gorges, the pine forests veiled in mist to their summits…O Lord God! Thou who art in heaven, save, forgive and protect me!”
Nikolai Rostov wounded in war
“Bilibin enjoyed conversation only when it could be made elegantly witty. In society he was always on the watch for an opportunity to say something striking, and took part in a conversation only when this was possible. His talk was always plentifully sprinkled with amusingly original and polished phrases of general interest.”
Bilibin, a Russian diplomat
“My vocation is to be happy in the happiness of others, in the happiness of love and self-sacrifice”
Princess Maria
“Temptations to Pierre’s besetting weakness were so strong that he could not resist them. Again, as in Petersburg, whole days, weeks and months of his life were busily filled with parties, dinners, lunches and balls, allowing him no time for reflection. Instead of the new life Pierre had hoped to lead, he still lived the old one, only in different surroundings”
Pierre’s spiritual struggles
“The Bible legend says that the absence of toil-idleness-was a circumstance of the first man’s blessed state before the fall. Fallen man, too, retained a love of idleness but the curse still lies heavily on the human race, and not only because we have to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow but because our moral nature is such that we are unable to be idle and at peace. A secret voice warns us that for us idleness is a sin. If it were possible for a man to discover a mode of existence in which he could feel that, though idle, he was of use to the world and fulfilling his duty, he would have attained to one facet of primeval bliss. And such a state of obligatory and unimpeachable idleness is enjoyed by a whole section of society-the military class. It is just this compulsory and irreproachable idleness which has always constituted, and will constitute, the chief attraction of military service”
On the idle state of the Russian army
“Though the enemy was nearing Moscow, Moscovites were not inclined to regard their situation with any greater degree of seriousness: on the contrary they became even more frivolous, as is always the case with people who see a great catastrophe approaching. At the advent of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the human heart: one very reasonable invites a man to consider the nature of the peril and the means of escaping it; the other, with a still greater show of reason, argues that it is too depressing to think of the danger since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general march of events, and it is better therefore to shut one’s eyes to the disagreeable until it actually comes and to think instead what is pleasant. When a man is alone he generally listens to the first voice; in the company of his fellow-men to the second. So it was now with the inhabitants of Moscow. It was a long time since Moscow had seen so much gaiety as there was that year…
…There was that feeling of everything was about to collapse, and that a sudden change was imminent, but up to the 1stof September things still continued the same. Like a criminal being led to the gallows, who knows that in a minute he must die but yet stares about him and straightens the cap sitting awry on his head, so Moscow automatically carried on with the routine of daily life, though aware that the hour of destruction was at hand when all the conventional condititions of existence would be torn asunder”
On Moscovites before the invasion of Moscow by the French army led by Napoleon
“According to her understanding, the whole point of any religion was merely to provide recognized forms of propriety as a background for the satisfaction of human desires”
Hedonistic Hélène having converted to Catholicism for the sole purpose of obtaining a divorce from her husband Pierre who was in war that she may marry a young foreign prince
“There were, it is true, some rigid individuals unable to rise to the heights of the occasion who saw in the project a desecration of sacrament of marriage; but such people were few and far between, and they held their peace, while the majority were interested in Helene’s happiness and which would be the better match for her.”
                                                 Minority’s view and silence concerning Hélène’s seeking divorce
“The one thing Pierre desired now with his whole soul was to get way as quickly from the terrible scenes through which he had lived that day and return to ordinary conditions of life, and go to sleep quietly in his own room in his own bed. He felt that only in the ordinary conditions of life would he be able to understand himself and all he had seen and experienced. But such ordinary conditions of life were nowhere to be found.”
 Pierre after witnessing the ravages of war
“Man can be master of nothing if he were afraid of death. But he who does not fear death is lord of all. If it were not for suffering, man would not know his limitations would not know himself.”
Pierre’s meditations
“In quite, untroubled times every administrator believes that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his charge is kept going; and in this consciousness of being indispensible lies the chief reward of his pains and exertions. So long as the calm lasts, the administrator pilot holding on to the ship of the people with a boat-hook from his frail bark, and himself gliding along, naturally imagining that his efforts move the ship he is clinging to. But let a storm spring up, let the sea begin to heave and the great vessel toss about of itself, and any such illusion becomes impossible. The ship ride on in mighty independence, the boat-hook no longer reaches to the moving vessel and the pilot, from being the arbiter, the source of power, finds himself an insignificant, feeble, useless person.”
                                   On Count Rostochpin, governor of Moscow, upon Napoleon’s invasion of it
“When a pause occurred during his short visit Nikolai, as people do when there are children, turned to Prince Andrei’s little son, caressing him and asking him whether he would like to be a hussar. He took the child on his knee, played with him and looked round at Princess Maria. With a softened, happy, shy look she was watching the little lad she loved in the arms of the man she loved. Nikolai caught that look, and as though he divined its significance flushed with pleasure and fell to kissing the child with simple-hearted gaiety.”
Blossoming love between Nikolai and Princess Maria
“In men Rostov could not endure to see the expression of a lofty spiritual life-he referred to it scornfully as philosophy and moonshine; but in Princess Maria that very sorrowfulness which revealed the depth of a whole spiritual world foreign to him was an irresistible attraction.”
        On Nikolai’s Rostov’s spiritual awakening attributed to the fairer sex-Princess Maria
“His Speech, his voice, and especially that calm, almost antagonistic look betrayed the detachment from all earthly things which is so terrible for a living man to witness. He plainly found it difficult to understand the concerns of this world; yet at the same time one felt that he failed to understand, not because he had lost the power of understanding but because he understood something else-something the living did not and could not understand, and that entirely absorbed him”
         Prince Andrei on his deathbed
“His physical strength and agility during the first period of his imprisonment were such that he seemed not to know what fatigue or sickness meant. Every night before going to bed he repeated: ‘O Lord, lay me down like a stone and raise me like new bread;’ and when he got up in the morning he would give his shoulders a certain shake and  say: ‘Lie down and curl up, get up and shake up.’…He was always busy and only at night, allowed himself to indulge in conversation, which he loved and singing. He sang not as a trained singer does who knows he is being listened to, but like the birds, obviously because he was as much obliged to give vent to those sounds as one sometimes is to stretch oneself; and his singing was always light, sweet, plaintive, almost feminine, and his face the while was very serious…In the eyes of the prisoner, Platon Karatayev was just an ordinary solder like the rest of his kind…but to Pierre he always remained what he seemed that first night-an unfathomable, rounded off, eternal personification of the spirit of simplicity and truth”
     On Platon Karatayev (one of the most amiable characters of the novel)
“In burnt and devastated Moscow, Pierre experienced the almost extreme limits of privation a man can endure…And it was just at this time that he attained to the peace and content with himself for which before he had striven in vain. He had spent long years in search for that tranquility of mind, that inner harmony…he had sought it in philanthropy, in Freemasonry, in the dissipations of society life, in wine, in heroic feats of self-sacrifice, in romantic love for Natasha; he had sought it by the path of intellectual reasoning- and all these efforts and experiments had failed him. And now, without any thought on his part, he had found that peace and inner harmony simply through the horrors of death, through privation, and through what he had seen in Karatayev.”
         On Pierre’s spiritual wakening when he least expected or sought it
“And it never enters anyone’s head that to admit greatness not commensurable with the standard of right and wrong is merely to admit one’s own nothingness and immeasurable littleness. For us who have the standard of good and evil given us by Christ, nothing can claim to be outside the law. And there is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent.”
                                  Tolstoy refuting the appellation “c’est grand” given Napoleon by historians
“After the deaths in such rapid succession of her son and husband she felt herself a being accidentally forgotten in this world. She ate and drank, slept and lay awake, but did not live. She wanted nothing from life but peace, and that peace only death could give her…her existence had no manifest aim but was merely, so far as could be seen, occupied by the need to exercise her various functions and proclivities. She had to eat, have a little sleep, ruminate and reminisce, shed a few tears, do some handwork, lose her temper occasionally, and so forth, simply because she had a stomach, brains, muscles, nerves and a liver.”
                                                                                                             On Countess Natalia Rostov
“Nikolai put down the book and looked at his wife. The radiant eyes gazed at him questioningly: would he approve or disapprove of her diary? There could be no doubt not only of Nikolai’s approval but also of his admiration of his wife. Perhaps it need not be done so pedantically, Nikolai thought, perhaps it need not be done at all; but this constant, tireless, spiritual application, the sole aim of which was the children’s moral welfare, enchanted him. If Nikolai could have analysed his feelings he would have found that his proud, tender, assured love for his wife rested on this feeling of awe at her spirituality, at the lofty moral world, almost beyond his reach, in which she had her being.” 
   On Nikolai upon discovering a diary that his wife, Princess Maria, kept of their children
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