Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Prince Andrei says goodby to his father. (from War and Peace by Tolstoy)


I may have read War and Peace twice in the last century but my pleasant experience reading it this time was the discovery of how much of I had forgotten. Now that I am an old literary general I can summon troops of tropes but I find them insufficient against the effortless transition between domestic scheming and European History. I am outflanked by emotion. The farewell between the old Prince Bolkonsky and his son Prince Andrei in its simplicity said more and moved me more than any conscious attempt to draw tears.

I am reading the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation but as the Maudes translation does not differ significantly (in this section) and is available on Gutenberg I reproduce it:

The coach with six horses was waiting at the porch. It was an autumn night, so dark that the coachman could not see the carriage pole. Servants with lanterns were bustling about in the porch. The immense house was brilliant with lights shining through its lofty windows. The domestic serfs were crowding in the hall, waiting to bid good-by to the young prince. The members of the household were all gathered in the reception hall: Michael Ivanovich, Mademoiselle Bourienne, Princess Mary, and the little princess. Prince Andrew had been called to his father's study as the latter wished to say good-by to him alone. All were waiting for them to come out.
When Prince Andrew entered the study the old man in his old-age spectacles and white dressing gown, in which he received no one but his son, sat at the table writing. He glanced round.
"Going?" And he went on writing.
"I've come to say good-by."
"Kiss me here," and he touched his cheek: "Thanks, thanks!"
"What do you thank me for?"
"For not dilly-dallying and not hanging to a woman's apron strings. The Service before everything. Thanks, thanks!" And he went on writing, so that his quill spluttered and squeaked. "If you have anything to say, say it. These two things can be done together," he added.
"About my wife... I am ashamed as it is to leave her on your hands..."
"Why talk nonsense? Say what you want."
"When her confinement is due, send to Moscow for an accoucheur.... Let him be here...."
The old prince stopped writing and, as if not understanding, fixed his stern eyes on his son.
"I know that no one can help if nature does not do her work," said Prince Andrew, evidently confused. "I know that out of a million cases only one goes wrong, but it is her fancy and mine. They have been telling her things. She has had a dream and is frightened."
"Hm... Hm..." muttered the old prince to himself, finishing what he was writing. "I'll do it."
He signed with a flourish and suddenly turning to his son began to laugh.
"It's a bad business, eh?"
"What is bad, Father?"
"The wife!" said the old prince, briefly and significantly.
"I don't understand!" said Prince Andrew.
"No, it can't be helped, lad," said the prince. "They're all like that; one can't unmarry. Don't be afraid; I won't tell anyone, but you know it yourself."
He seized his son by the hand with small bony fingers, shook it, looked straight into his son's face with keen eyes which seemed to see through him, and again laughed his frigid laugh.
The son sighed, thus admitting that his father had understood him. The old man continued to fold and seal his letter, snatching up and throwing down the wax, the seal, and the paper, with his accustomed rapidity.
"What's to be done? She's pretty! I will do everything. Make your mind easy," said he in abrupt sentences while sealing his letter.
Andrew did not speak; he was both pleased and displeased that his father understood him. The old man got up and gave the letter to his son.
"Listen!" said he; "don't worry about your wife: what can be done shall be. Now listen! Give this letter to Michael Ilarionovich. * I have written that he should make use of you in proper places and not keep you long as an adjutant: a bad position! Tell him I remember and like him. Write and tell me how he receives you. If he is all right—serve him. Nicholas Bolkonski's son need not serve under anyone if he is in disfavor. Now come here."

He spoke so rapidly that he did not finish half his words, but his son was accustomed to understand him. He led him to the desk, raised the lid, drew out a drawer, and took out an exercise book filled with his bold, tall, close handwriting.
"I shall probably die before you. So remember, these are my memoirs; hand them to the Emperor after my death. Now here is a Lombard bond and a letter; it is a premium for the man who writes a history of Suvorov's wars. Send it to the Academy. Here are some jottings for you to read when I am gone. You will find them useful."
Andrew did not tell his father that he would no doubt live a long time yet. He felt that he must not say it.
"I will do it all, Father," he said.
"Well, now, good-by!" He gave his son his hand to kiss, and embraced him. "Remember this, Prince Andrew, if they kill you it will hurt me, your old father..." he paused unexpectedly, and then in a querulous voice suddenly shrieked: "but if I hear that you have not behaved like a son of Nicholas Bolkonski, I shall be ashamed!"
"You need not have said that to me, Father," said the son with a smile.
The old man was silent.
"I also wanted to ask you," continued Prince Andrew, "if I'm killed and if I have a son, do not let him be taken away from you—as I said yesterday... let him grow up with you.... Please."
"Not let the wife have him?" said the old man, and laughed.
They stood silent, facing one another. The old man's sharp eyes were fixed straight on his son's. Something twitched in the lower part of the old prince's face.
"We've said good-by. Go!" he suddenly shouted in a loud, angry voice, opening his door.
"What is it? What?" asked both princesses when they saw for a moment at the door Prince Andrew and the figure of the old man in a white dressing gown, spectacled and wigless, shouting in an angry voice.
Prince Andrew sighed and made no reply.
"Well!" he said, turning to his wife.
And this "Well!" sounded coldly ironic, as if he were saying,: "Now go through your performance."
"Andrew, already!" said the little princess, turning pale and looking with dismay at her husband.
He embraced her. She screamed and fell unconscious on his shoulder.
He cautiously released the shoulder she leaned on, looked into her face, and carefully placed her in an easy chair.
"Adieu, Mary," said he gently to his sister, taking her by the hand and kissing her, and then he left the room with rapid steps.
The little princess lay in the armchair, Mademoiselle Bourienne chafing her temples. Princess Mary, supporting her sister-in-law, still looked with her beautiful eyes full of tears at the door through which Prince Andrew had gone and made the sign of the cross in his direction. From the study, like pistol shots, came the frequent sound of the old man angrily blowing his nose. Hardly had Prince Andrew gone when the study door opened quickly and the stern figure of the old man in the white dressing gown looked out.
"Gone? That's all right!" said he; and looking angrily at the unconscious little princess, he shook his head reprovingly and slammed the door.


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