I did what he says to do in this passage with my last post, but I can’t with this one.
Now, as he told it all to Natasha, he experienced that rare pleasure which is granted by women when they listen to a man – not intelligent women, who, when they listen, try either to memorize what they are told in order to enrich their minds and on occasion retell the same thing, or else to adjust what is being told to themselves and quickly say something intelligent on their own, worked out in their small intellectual domain; but the pleasure granted by real women, endowed with the ability to select and absorb all the best of what a man has to show. Natasha, not knowing it herself, was all attention: she did not miss a word of Pierre’s not a waver in his voice, not a glance, not the twitch of a facial muscle, not a gesture. She caught the not-yet-spoken word in flight and brought it straight into her open heart, guessing the secret meaning of all Pierre’s inner work. (p.1117)
The following is about my fifth reaction to the above, which means he pushed a button.
The responsive listening Tolstoy describes above is that by which a woman listens to something she loves and respects. Rapt attention. But this is not always the response a woman has to what she hears. And in the latter instance, I very much resist the expectation by men, and I’ve heard it plenty of times before, to silently absorb all that they are dishing out. When a woman disagrees or is upset by what she hears, or even has an improvement, shocker of shockers, she should be allowed to say so. Now of course she can go too far with it – balance, always balance – and sometimes she should be silent. Tolstoy would hate most of my posts on this book, but the reason I’ve posted so much is because I do respect his work. My temperament is more along with Dostoyevsky’s than his, but I still respect this effort. It’s a bit kitchen sink for me as well, but all the elements contribute to greater understanding of Russia’s engagement with Napoleon’s forces during the nine years described. They also contribute to an understanding of human proclivities of baser and more elevated sorts.
His continual emphasis on self-emptying and our inability to determine causes and reasons for human events gives me mixed reactions. On one hand, losing self-consciousness while lovingly focusing on another is nice and to be sought for. But it’s a bit too detached audience for me. I pointed out before that I think things should be more reciprocal. I think it can spoil another person to make them the sole emphasis. Love your neighbor as yourself. Plus the more responsibilities a person has, the more they have to be careful with themselves. I remember having no fear of heights before I had kids, then when first pregnant, having a definite foreboding when at the top of a not too steep, nor tall boulder. Prince Andrei never considered his relationship to his son, nor his wife for that matter, and Pierre was childless with his first wife, who obviously did not desire anything for or from him. It’s easy to feel detached in those cases.
As far as causes of human events goes, I like the humility, broadmindedness, and willingness to consider his enemy’s point of view. I also pointed out before that at the same time he was deterministic, so while not assigning blame to individuals, he does seem to blame God, which I think he should back off from as well. In both of the above points, I think Tolstoy is right about when others are behaving wrongly. It is better to back off from judging them and to consider their point of view and its separateness from your own. He also seems to advocate a certain withdrawal from those who treat one ill, which is most of the time the best self-protective course of action, imo.
I think Tolstoy in the above two points advocates good listening, but even then, War and Peace is his interpretation, filtering, and diagnosing of Russia and the French during the early 1800’s, which I respect and appreciate.