The first and last time that I read War and Peace through was about 25 years ago; I have since picked it up to reread various sections. This time I have found the book hard to set aside. Yet I have set it aside at page 500-something for now, since I will be traveling for the next fortnight.
It occurs to me to wonder how much in those 25 years I have unconsciously quoted Tolstoy. For example, he is very good on the charm of young women and girls who are aware that they are young and attractive. This seems to me something I could easily enough have noticed independently, but reading Tolstoy makes me wonder. It is in a way like reading Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass, where Carroll’s version of dream logic is so persuasive that I have wondered whether he simply reflected the nature of dreams or whether my recollection of my own dreams has been affected by the reading. (I think the former.)
I have also noticed the inverse relation between beauty on first arrival in the War and Peace and good fortune later. The ugly ducklings sometimes turn into swans, but do in any case (if young enough) marry happily; the beauties at best marry duds.
We picked out Hadji Murad for our neighborhood book club to read last year or the year before. In re-reading that I was struck by how much it is about death: attitudes toward death by young men who don’t yet believe that they will die; the attitudes of those who expect it as an occupational hazard; the death of a Russian infantryman and Hadji Murad and his followers. War and Peace takes a while to get to that point. Pierre is back in Moscow in 1810 or 1811 when this starts to appear.