Part Three starts off back in Moscow focusing on Pierre and his new role as Count Bezukhov, with all the money that goes with it. Silly Pierre doesn’t realize that everyone now fawning all over him is no coincidence, which makes it all the funnier when he classifies Hélène as stupid and finds himself engaged to her almost unwittingly. I’m sure that won’t come back to haunt him.
Not satisfied with puppeteering one marriage, Prince Vassily doubles down with a visit to the Bolkonskys. “Ugly” Marya wisely chooses not to play that game, only to end up being manipulated by her father who doesn’t want her to get married and leave him. A lot of pieces of work in this section—shockingly, none of them are the rich heiress.
Meanwhile, back in the war, the boys play at soldier, hoping to impress the tsar and each other. Nikolai in particular seems to have a serious man crush on Alexander I. There is much posturing and strategizing on the eve of battle. I get through this whole section by imagining a homoerotic montage shot by the late Tony Scott (RIP).
Unfortunately for the Russians, the upcoming battle is actually the Battle of Austerlitz, where fog reigns and Napoléon kicks some serious ass. However, both emperors (Napoléon and Alexander) get taken down a peg by Tolstoy and are shown to be quite ordinary men in the end.
There is some great imagery in play here. I particularly liked the whole section in Chapter 11 comparing the movement of military action to the movement of a clock, which seems as good a place as any to compare translations:
Just as in the mechanism of a clock, so in the mechanism of the military machine, an impulse once given leads to the final result; and just as indifferently quiescent till the moment when motion is transmitted to them are the parts of the mechanism which the impulse has not yet reached. Wheels creak on their axles as the cogs engage one another and the revolving pulleys whirr with the rapidity of their movement, but a neighboring wheel is as quiet and motionless as though it were prepared to remain so for a hundred years; but the moment comes when the lever catches it and obeying the impulse that wheel begins to creak and joins in the common motion the result and aim of which are beyond its ken.
—War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, as translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
As in the mechanism of a clock, so also in the mechanism of military action, the movement once given is just as irrepressible until the final results, and just as indifferently motionless are the parts of the mechanism not yet involved in the action even a moment before movement is transmitted to them. Wheels whizz on their axles, cogs catch, fast-spinning pulleys whirr, yet the neighboring wheel is as calm and immobile as though it was ready to stand for a hundred years in immobility; but a moment comes—the lever catches, and, obedient to its movement, the wheel creaks, turning, and merges into one movement with the whole, the result and purpose of which are incomprehensible to it.
—War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, as translated by Pevear and Volokhonksky
For my money, it’s hard to resist “Wheels whizz on their axles, cogs catch, fast-spinning pulleys whirr, yet the neighboring wheel is as calm and immobile as though it was ready to stand for a hundred years…” although bonus points to the Maudes for “beyond its ken,” an expression last seen by these eyes when rehearsing “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” for the eighth-grade musical (let us never speak of it again).
Which translation do you prefer?