Terrible dating habits of War and Peace: An analysis

As you might remember, I’ve been on a bit of a Russian lit kick for the past couple of years. What’s funny to me is that this “Russian lit kick” is only made up of four books, but they’re so long that I’m still on the same reading trend after two years. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever finish this fourth book, but I’m slowly making headway.

I was inspired to read War and Peace after seeing the musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. The musical dramatizes part of Volume 2, Part 5, when several of the characters all meet in Moscow in the middle of Bonaparte’s invasion into Russia. Many men are off at war, Natasha’s being a classic teenage girl with a crush, and Pierre is depressed. The Broadway musical was my most magical experience at a theatre, but this post isn’t about the musical.

Epic novels like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Les Misérables are all fascinating because their characters are so intertwined. You might need Wikipedia to figure out exactly who everyone is and what their family tree looks like, but they’re like teens at a small private school. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone’s related to everyone.

Basically, everyone in this book makes terrible decisions and really needs to date outside their circle.

Natasha/Natalya/Natalie is a beautiful and flirtatious girl who is quick to fall in love. She’s the girl with the bright smile that all the boys were enthralled with in middle school. Yes, she’s 13 when she’s introduced in the book, and she has a childish crush. She has several other suitors as she gets older.

Sonya is Natasha’s cousin, you know, the poor relation that 19th century families always take in. Her childhood sweetheart is Natasha’s Brother, which explains why she doesn’t flirt with anyone in the musical. At some point, she rejects a guy who gets super pissed at her, goes off into a dangerous part of the war, and then comes back a war hero. But who cares that she rejected a guy who’s now The Bachelor War Hero With The Rose, because she’s still in love with Natasha’s Brother.

Oh, and after Sonya rejects Bachelor With The Rose, he gambles with Natasha’s Brother and thus steals away all the family’s money. I haven’t actually watched The Bachelor, but this Bachelor War Hero is a pretty terrible person.

Natasha gets engaged to a Rich Widower Prince who’s crazy about her because she’s so bright and full of life, but then his dad won’t let him commit, and he leaves. While she’s lonely, a Hot Guy comes in and convinces her that this is what love is like. Oh, and Hot Guy is best friends with The Bachelor With The Rose.

By the way, Hot Guy is a total meathead, and he’s already married. He’s really into having affairs with married women, and his family runs in some of the same circles that Natasha’s does.

Prince Rich Widower Fiancé refuses to take Natasha back because she cheated (fair) and broke up with him (fair), so he goes off to war. I think he also meets Natasha’s Brother at some point? Honestly, it’s like there are only four officers in the entire Russian army, and they all know Natasha.

I’m just past the point in the book when the Russian army thinks that all might be lost, and Bonaparte might win. Rich Widower Ex-Fiancé’s family tries to flee their estate, but the serfs refuse to let them leave until Natasha’s Brother literally rides in on horseback and rescues the Princess in Distress. So of course she decides she’s in love with him.

I think the lesson of this novel might be ask everyone you gamble with if they once proposed marriage to your sibling. If they say yes, they’re probably going to rob you of your fortune.

Or it’s to find better love interests, because these people don’t make good decisions. At this point in the book, I’d say that they’re all around 20-40, so they don’t all have the excuse of youth.

I’m sure there are plenty more poor decisions left in this novel. Like any good soap opera, I can’t wait to see who actually ends up married to whom.

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Hello again

Well it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

So much for “My New Year’s Resolution is to blog more.” Though, technically, I started a new job about two months ago, and I’m writing some professional blogs for it now, so I kind of am blogging more.

Onto books!

I’m about halfway through War and Peace. It’s fantastic (and the battle scenes aren’t as dry as some other classic novels with war scenes). I am almost done with Candide, which I started reading about a week before my friend and I saw the operetta at the Kennedy Center. I’ve started reading a collection of William Blake poems. I was amazed when I read in the introduction that he was actually a pretty radical guy. The writers of the Romantic Era were the same ones rebelling against their governments and starting revolutions. I’m looking forward to getting to his later poems when his politics and hopes shine through, because they sound more interesting than simple poems about the seasons.

This month’s Vogue had a review of Caroline Weber’s nonfiction book Proust’s Duchess, which is, of course, about Marcel Proust. So now I’ve downloaded all the volumes of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. Seems like it could be an interesting read. Actually, I want to read Proust and Proust’s Duchess.

Are you reading anything interesting at the moment? What suggestions do you have for my reading list?

After all this time?

That title was supposed to be a Harry Potter reference, but I didn’t want to answer my own question in the first sentence.

Thank you very much to everyone who has read this blog in the last few months since my last post. I got a promotion, then life happened. The Actually Currently Reading section of my Currently Reading list is also composed of rather long novels, so it might be a while before I actually get to the last page of anything.

I am still reading War and Peace and giggling because none of the characters are how I would expect after seeing Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. For one, Anatole is less suave than Natasha thinks he is.

I binged all of the webseries from The Candlewasters sometime during the summer, and I fangirled so much that my current ringtone is now a song from their adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. I’ll tell you all my thoughts on their storytelling in an upcoming post.

I bought a few French books this week at Half Price Books. One was a book of poetry by Charles Baudelaire, and another was a novel by Gilles Leroy about Zelda Fitzgerald entitled Alabama Song. I know I’m technically already reading four books at the moment, but none of them are in French, so I think I’m clear to add two more.

I started hand sewing a new part of my Regency costume that I once wrote about. Classic literature was my gateway into history and fashion. My other main hobby besides reading is studying the intersection of fashion and society. This might become a section of this blog.

I’m going to try to return to writing, now that I’m not in training at work anymore. The tone might be a bit different from two years ago when I started this thing– but, then again, it was two years ago. What I read for pleasure has changed a little bit.

Thanks for sticking with me. I’ll see you later.

Always,
Bethany

The return of Peter and Wendy

It’s back it’s back it’s back!

The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, I mean.

Around this time last year, I wrote about my excitement for the crowdfund for Season 3 of this modern adaptation of Peter Pan. Under the pens and brains of Shawn DeLoache and Kyle Walters, Peter Pan and the Darling children become twentysomethings trying to figure out how to do careers and relationships. They have quarter life crises, and they grow up.

The new season premiered today, and I am so excited for the resolution of the story.

If you’ve never watched the show before, here’s the playlist. Yes, Tinker Bell is an actual fairy, and no, we haven’t seen her yet.

And if you watched the last two seasons, here’s a Season 2 recap.

To recap that recap, Peter used to bully Jas Hook. They don’t like each other. Wendy broke up with Peter because he didn’t want to grow up, so she got a big city job with Jas and started dating him. Now Wendy and Jas are back in Neverland, Jas owns everything (and is super devious), and Peter is going undercover to try to win Wendy back.

Oh, and as for side romances: Michael is dating Lily, which still confuses me; and John Darling and John Smee were a thing, but now they’re not.

For me, the highlights of these two new episodes are Lily’s terrifying trash talk and John’s “societal collapsing word vomit.”

To Season 3!

North and South and flawed lovers

I love a flawed character. I think that started around the same time that I started specifically looking for truth and authenticity in art. I loved Ed Sheeran’s first album because he wrote about the pain of losing a child (“Small Bump”) and a girl with a drug addiction (“A Team”). I love Once Upon a Time partly because classic heroines like Snow White and Belle are complicated and sometimes make bad decisions. I loved Disney’s live-action Maleficent because it reinterpreted the motives and history of a classic villain. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that goodness always wins, but I like when art reflects life’s messiness. If Snow White is still Snow White when she makes mistakes, then maybe it’s okay to stop pretending to be perfect.

Last year around this time, I wrote about the danger of waiting for a Perfect Mr. Darcy to come along. This year, I want to talk about another classic romance that I like more than Pride and Prejudice.

You might have heard of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel North and South. You might not. It was published around 40 years after Pride and Prejudice by a woman who was friends with Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.* Like her friends, Gaskell wrote novels about social problems. North and South was a story about industrialization.

The novel follows Margaret Hale as her minister father quits the Church of England and her family flees their comfortable Southern country home for a city in the North. Because he can no longer preach, her father begins to teach rich men in the city. One of these men is John Thornton, the New Money guy who rose to the top and now owns one of the major factories in town. Thornton falls in love with Margaret immediately, but she Does Not Like Him because 1) she sees him beat up a worker, 2) her best friend works in the mill, 3) she’s Old Money, and 4) both of them are proud.

It’s a story about social dynamics. Margaret’s family has always been middle class. She grew up with certain social customs and manners, and she’s disgusted by this man who doesn’t know how to respect her in the way that the other men from her class respect her. She’s used to her old standard of living, and it’s difficult adapting after her father publicly renounces his faith. She’s a sympathetic character, but she’s proud. She believes that she’s better than her father’s new friend Mr. Thornton because she’s educated and respectable and actually likes the working class.

North and South is a romance novel about social classes and a union strike at cotton mill. Actually, I don’t know that “romance novel” is the best description, but since I’m comparing it to Pride and Prejudice, I’ll use it anyway.

Pride and Prejudice and North and South are both novels about people disliking each other before falling in love. Both feature flawed characters. Elizabeth Bennet and Margaret Hale are both women who are, well, prejudiced against their respective love interests. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Thornton are both men who are proud of their circumstances. Everyone has to learn to look past their own noses and learn from each other.

I think it’s easy to forget that Elizabeth Bennet is indeed proud. We forget that she decided to hate someone because he said that she wasn’t pretty enough at a party. She only thought nice things and fell in love with him after he 1) revealed that her favorite flirt friend Mr. Wickham was a scoundrel, 2) said he was shy, and 3) paid off the scoundrel to stop shaming the family.

I love how North and South is so clearly a story about two flawed people. It’s hard to read it and not think, “Oh, they’re both wrong here.” I love how both characters have to grow. Much like reality, no one person gets to stay stagnant. They argue, they accuse each other of murder, it’s great. And they both get over themselves.

This Galentine’s/Valentine’s Day, instead of marathoning the six hour BBC Pride and Prejudice, marathon the four hour BBC North and South.

Here’s a fan trailer for the miniseries starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. It’s fan-made because the BBC hasn’t put an official trailer on Youtube, but it’s worth posting anyway just so no one gets this miniseries confused with the American show with the same name about the Civil War.

*Casual. I can only imagine their dinner parties.

Charmed: Tolstoy edition

Last week I celebrated my birthday by finishing one of my 2016 books (The Warrior’s Life – take that, New Year’s Resolution!) and seeing a couple of shows in New York.

Hamilton was amazing, of course. I was online at the right time eight months ago when Ticketmaster released a block of tickets previously held by scalpers, and I somehow got a single ticket before other bots could buy it. The social commentary of the multiracial cast seemed to have special meaning the evening of the Inauguration.

The next night, a friend and I celebrated our shared birthday week with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, a folk/electropop musical adaptation of War and Peace‘s Volume 2, Part 5. This was the show that introduced Phillipa Soo to the creative team of Hamilton.

Before listening to the cast album, all I knew of War and Peace was that it was recommended reading for the French Revolution class I took in college, and that there was a miniseries adaptation in 2016 starring Lily James as Natasha.

I watched the first episode and bought the series on DVD because it was so beautiful, but all I remembered was that Pierre was the awkward illegitimate child of a wealthy man and that Natasha got “engaged” by kissing a guy in a garden.

In The Great Comet, Pierre is going through an existential crisis that requires two big epiphanies in one show, while (engaged) Natasha falls in love with the “hot” Anatole.*

Listening to the cast album was one thing, but nothing compares to sitting in the back row in the rear mezzanine and watching the clarinet player dance five feet away in the aisle. Nothing compares to eating pierogies in a theatre filled with chandeliers and anachronistic Soviet posters. Out of all the musicals I have seen in a theatre, The Great Comet was definitely the most immersive, magical experience.

“No One Else,” the song written after Phillipa Soo’s favorite passages about Natasha’s innocence, has been my favorite since I first heard it. The cast recording and Youtube video of her Barnes and Noble performance have been on a loop in my car and on my computer. Pippa’s voice made me love the show, but Denée Benton’s performance reminded me of the sweetness, innocence, and pain of adolescence.

Innocent Natasha, too good for this world and too pure, meets an unbelievably attractive man who kisses her then professes his love. Her confused logic, “We kissed, therefore I must love him,” and, “I have his love letters, therefore I must love him,” makes absolutely no sense, but I remember what it was to be a teenager. She’s young and easily caught up in the moment. He loves her, so she loves him. They’re going to run away to Poland and live happily ever after. It’s the perfect love story.

Then reality catches up with them and they have to face the consequences of their 19th century Russian letters.

Judging by the Wikipedia plot summary, darling Natasha has some of the biggest character development in War and Peace. She should, considering that she ages 15 years in the 1000+ page novel. She goes from being the girl who kisses a boy as a way to get “engaged” to becoming a responsible adult/wife/mother. She grows up. She is the reason why Tolstoy has moved back to the top of my To Read list.

According to my friend’s boyfriend, Pierre has a new epiphany every 25 pages, so unless he’s singing about falling in love like Josh Groban, I assume his existential crisis is going to get old very quickly. To be fair, however, his epiphanies are good song material.

And a performance of his last epiphany and the title song.

I don’t know if War and Peace will end with a great epiphany. Anna Karenina, the other Tolstoy novel that I have read, did end with an epiphany. Levin has his big religious conversion, then resolves to keep it secret from his wife because, “It is a secret, necessary and important for me alone, and inexpressible in words.”

I almost hope that Pierre’s final epiphany is so awesome that he can’t bear to tell anyone. I don’t think I understand now why he lives so aimlessly, but I hope his existential crisis is worth all his worries.

Four books remain on my reading list. That means I only need to finish two or three more books before I can start a new 1000 page one.

I can do this.

*You might remember my annoyance with hot characters. I didn’t like Vronsky in Tolstoy’s other famous work either. Seriously, Natalie, if you’re leaving your fiancé for this guy, he should write his own love letters. And ring the doorbell. You need higher standards.

Unfinished reads: A New Year’s Resolution

It’s funny thinking about everything that did and did not happen in 2016. To be completely honest, I don’t actually remember what my 2016 Resolution was, besides “Learn all the lyrics to ‘Alexander Hamilton’ from Hamilton.” I completed that one in about two weeks, and then named that as one of my best qualities in a job interview.

I’m a great goal-setter.

Looking at the last year and the Goodreads account that taunts me with “See how many books you read in 2016!” and “You finished five books and averaged 200 pages!” and “Your goal was 12 books!” – something does not add up.

I have a really bad habit of starting books, telling people about a fascinating story…. and then never finishing the very subject of a 700 word blog post. I like jumping from story to story in an instant.

It’s a little embarrassing, though, when you’re a fast reader who takes months to finish a novel.

So here’s my list of the books I started in 2016 that I WILL finish in 2017.

  • Richard III  by William Shakespeare
  • Henry IV, Part 3 by William Shakespeare
  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
  • Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • The Warrior’s Life by Alfred de Vigny

If that seems like a short list, that’s because I’m all about achievable goals.

I’ll finish those five books for sure. Let’s also add five more to my resolution list for good measure.

Part of the problem is that when I finish one book in a certain genre, I feel like I need to replace it in my list. I read Harry Potter et la chambre des secrets recently and now I feel like I need to start another French language book before I can finish anything vaguely Romantic.

The other problem comes when two or three of your books are too close to the same writing style or genre (remind me why I’m reading two Shakespearean histories at the same time?). Too many sad war stories in one book, and then you’re stuck in a sad war scene in another. Or your poet is getting a little too melodramatic.

I have a book in my car, one by my bed, one by my desk, another by my table, and another in the hall. The sixth read, the new French one, would probably also live in my car for the days when I don’t want to read English on my lunch break.

I’m going to actually finish these plays, novels, and memoirs before opening that really interesting French Sherlock Holmes book I picked up this week or the George Eliot novel that Poe Party inspired me to read.

My second resolution is to update my blog more. That takes scheduling and reading. Too little of either, and I find myself on Friday evening, too tired from work to put words into sentences.

2017 will be the year that I read more books and compose more words.