History, Travel, UK, Uncategorized

Running Away from Newtownards

We’ve been having an unsettled week here in Northern Ireland. The house we booked for December turned out to have an intractable internet problem so we’ve been living hotel rooms for a week. It’s not an ideal situation given the new “70% more infectious” strain of Covid and mind-boggling Christmas crowds. But, after months of practice, we’ve developed a reasonable system: huddle in the room as much as possible, exercise on little-used roads, shop hurriedly at off-peak hours, wash hands regularly, and hope for the best.

The first hotel we tried was in Newtownards (rhymes with ‘cute canards’), a small city about 20 km east of Belfast. The town is a dank collection of brown-brick and pebble-dash houses, spiky churches, thrift stores and bookmakers. It smells of coal smoke and God’s disapproval. Looming over it all is Scrabo Tower, a Victorian folly that looks like a good place to keep flying monkeys. Built to commemorate Carles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, who owned land in the area, it is so distinctive that it is commonly used as a symbolic image of Newtownards.

Our hotel was strategically placed between a large shopping center and the hospital, so you could contract the disease and have it diagnosed in a few hours. I’m only half joking. There were things I saw that made my hair stand on end. Next door, for example, was a popular restaurant where locals were hastening to have their festive gatherings before the next lockdown on December 26. In the nearby supermarket, a large number of customers weren’t wearing masks. One of these was an elderly lady who pointedly hugged a man who was also in bare face. They chuckled and patted each other on the back in a congratulatory manner. In a gas station a couple of blocks away neither of the attendants were wearing masks and none of the customers bothered.

All of this baffling laissez faire was setting our nerves on edge. To top it all off, the hotel’s internet connection was terrible, so it seems we’d taken a big risk for no reason. I decided to burn off the guilt and stress with a run in the countryside.

Newtownards’ main street is called Regent Street. I put my mask on and headed past a handsome church that was crowded with keening gulls, a hospital’s ‘covid hub’, a row of closed-up shops, the town hall and a few banks and shops. On this particular day there was a Christmas market in the town square. OK, it was outdoors but it still increased the pressure in my skull. To be honest, though, with the scarcity of light and warmth at this time of year I can see why people cling so rabidly to the thought of it.

At the end of Regent Street, when traffic had thinned, I took off my mask and trotted right past a bunch of brown-brick apartment blocks. These were decorated with posters. One was thanking the NHS, with the blue sky and rainbow motif. Another was declaring that the area was the jurisdiction of the Ulster Defence Association, the loyalist paramilitary group proscribed as a terrorist organization in 1992.

Nearby was a pub sporting the slogan #saveourpubs, an initiative urging the UK government to provide more support to the hospitality industry that has been brought to its knees in the last year.

Turning right and then left, I found myself on the road skirting the north-eastern shore of Strangford Lough, the largest sea inlet in the United Kingdom. At the time, the tide was out. There was still plenty of birdlife, though. I couldn’t see any curlews but there were plenty of turnstones, brent geese and oystercatchers.

On the landward side there were a few little clusters of houses. I saw some sheep of a variety I’d not seen before. John, who sees sheep simply as sheep, says I’m excessively sheep conscious being from New Zealand but they looked really different to me. After some research, I have concluded they are Scottish Blackface Sheep, a hardy and pretty breed. One tiny filling station offered an interesting assortment of temptations: Crisps, Sweets, Ices, all brands of TYRES and Dunbar standard POTATOES. There was also a disused malting factory. This area, the Ards, was known for its malting barley and used to supply Guinness and Bushmills Distillery (Old Bushmills Distillery Old Bushmills Distillery – Wikipedia is still a popular tourist destination).

Rounding a bend, I noticed parachutes in the sky and realized that several people were parasurfing in the lough. The cold weather doesn’t seem to stop the watersports around here.

At this point I was getting near Mt. Stewart, a nineteenth-century house and garden with an interesting history. It was formed by the Stewart family whose ancestor had won land for his participation in the Williamite War in Ireland (1689-91). Late in the eighteenth century Alexander Stewart (1699-1781) acquired a huge fortune from his cousin and brother-in-law Robert Cowan, who’d amassed it during his term as Governor of Bombay. Thanks to these riches, Alexander bought up a lot of land and used some of the loot to build a big house near Newtownards that he called first Mount Pleasant, then Mount Stewart.

Alexander’s son Robert became a Member of Parliament and was admitted into the peerage, eventually becoming the first Marchess of Londonderry.

Robert’s eldest son (also named Robert) was later to become infamous as Viscount Castlereagh. In the 1790s, when he was busy putting down the Irish rebellion, Robert Jr. got mad at one Reverend James Porter of Greyabbey, author of a satire titled Billy Bluff and ‘Squire Firebrand, or, A Sample of the Times that poked fun at the Irish aristocracy. Robert Stewart senior occasionally appeared as a character called Lord Mount-Mumble. In 1797, after the French fleet was prevented from landing in Ireland to help drive the British out of Ireland, Reverend Porter delivered a sermon that argued only the British government, not the Irish people had been threatened by the French invasion: “it is in consequence of our connexion with England–some people call this connexion subjection.” Porter was finally arrested for robbing a postboy carrying an official military dispatch. His wife walked with her seven children in the pouring rain to Mount Stewart to plead for clemency. This was denied. Porter was hanged in Greyabbey, suspended from a temporary scaffold set up outside his own church, in full ecclesiastical dress. Porter’s son, who was 12 years old at the time, said that Lord Londonderry had ordered all his tenants to attend the hanging, as a lesson to them all.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry

Castlereagh had a hand in some of the major events of the early nineteenth century. He lobbied for the Act of Union (1801), which brought Ireland under direct control of Westminster and squashed the promise of Catholic emancipation; he was one of the architects of the Congress of Vienna (1814-15); he and an apologist for the infamous Peterloo Massacre (1819), in which cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000 peaceful people who had gathered to demand reform of parliamentary representation. And he was charged with supporting the Pains and Penalties Bill of 1820 , whose sole aim was to help the king to divorce his detested wife Queen Caroline. The public vastly preferred Caroline, considering the king a libertine and horribly mean. After a trial in which Caroline was publicly humiliated, she was finally stripped of her title but the public wasn’t happy about it.

The king presented parliament with two green bags full of ‘evidence’ showing the Queen was adulterous. This cartoon suggests a bag of his indiscretions would be a bit bigger.

At the age of 57, Castlereagh had some kind of breakdown and committed suicide by cutting his own throat. Lord Byron wrote a memorable eulogy:

Oh, Castlereagh! Thou art a patriot now;
Cato died for his country, so didst thou:
He perished rather than see Rome enslaved,
Thou cuttest thy throat that England might be saved!
So Castlereagh has cut his throat! - the worst
of this is, that his own was not the first.
So he has cut his throat at last! He? Who?
The man who cut his country's long ago.

Following the death of the childless Castlereagh, Mount Stewart passed to Charles William Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart, for whom the abovementioned Scrabo Tower was built. His second wife was the fantastically wealthy heiress Frances Vane, whose father stipulated in his last will and testament that anyone who married his daughter should take her surname. He obliged and became Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. The owner of several coalmines, he led opposition to the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842, which wanted to raise the age of child laborers to ten:

“With respect to the age at which males should be admitted into mines, the members of this association have unanimously agreed to fix it at eight years… In the thin coal mines it is more especially requisite that boys, varying in age from eight to fourteen, should be employed; as the underground roads could not be made of sufficient height for taller persons without incurring an outlay so great as to render the working of such mines unprofitable”

Himself (c) National Trust, Mount Stewart; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In 1845, at the height of the Irish Famine, he was one of the richest men in the United Kingdom. Many Irish landowners were moved to mitigate the suffering of their tenants; he and his wife donated exactly £30 to the local relief fund. At about the same time, they spent £150,000 renovating Mount Stewart.

Nineteenth-century McMansion

I’d hoped to be able to jog up to the top to get a picture of the view of Mount Stewart, which is now managed by the National Trust. Unfortunately, the footpath stopped and so did I, reluctant to run on the busy road. Instead, I turned around and got another view of the tower dedicated to Charles, a real blot on the landscape.

Travel, UK, Uncategorized

Picturing the Coastal Path

For the past few weeks we’ve been doing a lot of walking around the town of Bangor (N.I.) and its attendant bays. One of our favorite routes is the ‘Coastal Path’, a trail that extends along County Down’s scenic shore. Today John and I took a final walk along it before we move to another town tomorrow.

We started from Bangor and headed to the marina. The square outside the marina and a promenade are something like the equivalent of an Italian piazza. There is a big Christmas tree set up there (firmly anchored with ropes to fend off the sea wind), a clock tower and plenty of benches. It’s a popular place for people to walk, friends sipping takeaway coffee and chatting or mothers pushing strollers or couples walking their dog. There isn’t a lot of boating activity at the moment, most of the boats are sitting quietly in their docks.

Beyond the marina is a a children’s amusement ground called Pickie Funpark. It’s been closed until today, its giant swan-shaped paddleboats lined up neatly, waiting, looking on as giant local gulls used the pond as a bird bath.

Around the corner from that is Skipping Stone Beach. This is a sheltered area popular with swimmers, even now (bear in mind that it’s mid-December and that we are on the 54th parallel north, the same latitude as Quebec and Sakhalin).

Skipping Stone Beach

At the first bend in the path, the landscape becomes a bit wilder. We stopped to look at a plaque sponsored by the local Rotary Club that showed the direction and distance of landmarks such as the Mull of Kintyre, Carrickfergus Castle and Belfast.

Down below us on the rocks and on the sea itself, we saw a number of birds–eiders, gulls, oyster catchers and crows. In the last few weeks we’ve also seen guillemots, kittiwakes, gulls, turnstones and cormorants. In the fields nearby there are pheasants, Irish magpies and wagtails. Locals tell us that the local otter population is doing exceptionally well this year, though the bad thing about that is that they eat tern eggs, so the local tern colony isn’t doing so well. Today we were lucky to see three new kinds of birds: a yellow wagtail, a dunlin and a vagrant ring-necked duck (vagrant because these are native to the Americas but occasionally wander over here).

Picture taken from Bird Watch Ireland

There was also a lot of shipping interest. Every day we see the Stena line ferry, a handsome white boat that crosses over from Scotland to Belfast. There were also two or three container ships waiting to get to Belfast Lough. And closer to home there was a little sailing ship and the lobster boat that does the daily rounds dropping off and picking up traps.

Down the hill, a noticeboard told us we were in Smelt Mill Bay, named for an old lead smeltmill whose powerful bellows were powered by a big waterwheel. Understandably perhaps, there was very little mention of the mill and much more about Saint Columbanus, an impressive monk who lived in the sixth century. He is the first person in literature to have described himself as being Irish. In those days, Bangor Abbey was considered the Light of the World and produced many missionaries including Columbanus. In 590, when the monk was about 40, he set out to sea in a currach with 12 monks intent on travelling to the continent and spreading his monastic light over there. He and his friends established several monasteries in France. Columbanus eventually expired in a monastery in Bobbio, Italy, where the abbey still stands.

A little way along is one of the two new wastewater pumping stations under construction. Along the walls around the construction site, a group called Seaside Revival has put up boards that illuminate aspects of local history with captioned photographs.

In the real world, despite of the lead-smelting history and the not-yet-completed wastewater pumping station, there were a few of hardy swimmers splashing about in the water with their day-glo buoyancy devices, the sound of their chatter and laughter filling the bay.

Further along, everything got wild again. The rocks were covered with grass that John named ‘Viking grass’ because it reminded him of photographs of old Viking settlements in Labrador, Canada.

Further along is Bangor Castle, which is now used as the offices for the local council. It looks like more of a mansion than a castle. Like a lot of places in Northern Ireland, it would make a great setting for a murder mystery.

Last week I was lucky to catch a spectacular sunset in this spot, when the clouds went bright pink. I’m convinced that the intensity of the color was directly related to the coldness of the day. Just as the sun was setting, about 300 crows started croaking and flying around. They then went to roost on some nearby trees, almost one per twig. As they settled down they made a different sound, squeakier and softer as if they were saying goodnight to one another.

Something about the cold air and sea wind was tiring and a warm house seemed even more beckoning than usual. So we turned around and retraced our steps, spurred on by dreams of lunch.

Travel, Uncategorized

Old-Timey Travel for the Holiday Deprived

Exotic vacations are not easy to come by right now. Even if a vaccine has been announced, it will be a few months yet before travel is a thing any sane person really wants to do. Most nations have closed borders or have imposed tight restrictions, usually a stick up the nose and 14 days in solitary.

Luckily, if you’ve read this far it’s a sign that you have the gift of literacy, which means that the world is essentially your beach bungalow. That’s right, I’m talking about books. I am here to help you holiday interiorly with some travel-writing classics (or at least interesting old travel-writing oddities), which I have lovingly handpicked from the Dolan e-Reader Library.

1 Travels in Persia

Born in 1634 to a wealthy merchant and jeweller to the Place Dauphin, Sir Jean Chardin is best known for writing ten volumes documenting life in Persia and the Near East. Collectively published as The Travels of Sir John Chardin, the whole set has never been translated into English but you can get Travels in Persia 1672-1677 from Dover Publications (2012). Chardin set off on his first journey to Persia in 1664, travelling via Constantinople and the Black Sea. In his account of this first trip he describes meeting and enjoying the patronage of Shah Abbas II of Persia and witnessing the coronation of Soleymān. In 1676 he returned to Persia and India and then went back to France via the Cape of Good Hope in 1677. Soon afterwards he fled French prosecution of Protestants and settled in England.

Sir John Chardin

2. The Naturalist on the River Amazons

Not only did Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892) write the first scientific account of mimicry in animals, he also wrote this classic of natural history, a description of his expedition to the Amazon jungle with Alfred Russel Wallace. Seeing as he was a nineteenth-century scientist, there is an awful lot about killing animals to get ‘specimens’, which is off-putting for the squeamish, ie me. But skipping over those bits, there are some lovely descriptions of plants and animals and his enthusiasm for his vocation is infectious.

Henry Walter Bates. Photograph. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Henry Walter Bates. Photograph. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

3. The Peregrinations of a Pariah (Pérégrinations d’une paria)

I confess that I haven’t read this one yet but I really want to because Flora Tristan is a pretty fascinating figure. She was born in 1803 to a Peruvian-Spanish dad (a colonel in the Spanish Navy) and a French mother. Her father died when she was very young and the family fell on hard times. When she was in her twenties she travelled to Peru to claim her inheritance from her uncle, Viceroy of Peru, who failed to cough up. She was there from 1833 to 1834, after Independence ,when the country was erupting in territorial disputes. While she didn’t get her inheritance, she did keep a travel diary, which was published in France in 1838. Oh yeah, and then she became the mother of feminism and of popular communitarian socialism, insisting that feminism was an essential step in liberating the working class. Plus she was Gaugin’s granny.

4. Travels in the Interior of Africa

Mungo Park (1771-1806) was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who hied off to Africa in his twenties to explore the upper Niger River. In 1779 he published a detailed narrative of his exploration, titled Travels in the Interior of Africa in which he hypothesizes that the Niger and Congo join to become the same river, a subject of ancient debate. After a short time practising medicine in Peebles, the British government invited him to lead another expedition to Niger and he jumped at the chance. Unfortunately he died during the second expedition, drowning after jumping into the Bussa Rapids to evade an attack.

5. Hashish: A Smuggler’s Tale (Le Crosière)

1946 Penguin Edition

Henri De Monfreid (1879-1974) was a bit of a rogue, but was he really as much of a rogue as he would have us believe? That is what I kept wondering reading this entertaining account of smuggling hashish from Greece to Egypt. Apart from that he builds dhows, runs guns, dives for pearls, sails hither and yon and converts to Islam…and who knows what all. After all these adventures on the Red Sea he settled down to write about 70 books. One of them is this one: Hashish: A Smuggler’s Tale, translated here by Helen Buchanan Bell.

Portrait in the New York Times

6. 1786-1857: Travels through Russia, Siberia, Poland, Austria, Saxony, Prussia, Hanover, &c, &c, Undertaken During the Years 1822, 1823, and 1824, While Suffering From Total Blindness, and Comprising an Account of the Author Being Conducted a State Prisoner From the Eastern Parts of Siberia (2 volumes; London: G. B. Whittaker, 1825)

Better title.

They went in for long titles back then, OK? James Holman (1786-1857) began life in Exeter, joined the British Royal Navy, contracted a mystery illness off the coast of the Americas and ended up completely blind at the age of 25. After that he decided to go off travelling everywhere. He was the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe and visited every inhabited continent. If you have trouble trawling through the original account of James Holman, there is a modern biography of him that is highly recommended by my brother: A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts.

7. Travels in West Africa

This one is available for free thanks to some kind volunteers. It was written by Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900), who led a fairly secluded life before upping sticks and charging about western and equatorial Africa. Her motivation, it seems, was to gather research on African religion to finish a book started by her late father George Kingsley, who himself had traveled quite a lot. This trip produced two books: Travels in West Africa (1897) and West African Studies (1899). In the Second Boer War she volunteered as a nurse, caught typhoid and died. According to her wishes she was buried at the bottom of the sea underneath the continent she loved.

This is a miniscule sample of travel stories but hopefully it has whet your appetite. If you’d like to travel further afield, why not check out this list of great women’s travel books or join me on a trip to Saudi Arabia as I describe life in the cloistered Kingdom in my book Teacher, We Girls! Grab a book, sit back and relax. You even have plenty of leg room. Bon voyage!

Uncategorized

In the Falls, Reading the Walls

Last week we moved to a place near Falls Road, the heart of Belfast’s Gaeltacht Quarter, where most residents are Catholic and Irish Republican who, as a group, support the use and transmission of the Gaelic language (hence Gaeltacht, which means ‘Gaelic speaking’).

One of the first things I noticed walking in the neighborhood is the number and nature of the murals and signs. They seem to be doing lots of things, rhetorically speaking: establishing the shared identity and politics of the neighborhood; building morale by stressing milestones and successes of the community; inspiring people to emulate specific heroes; rousing empathy for martyrs; connecting the Irish independence movement with those of other peoples around the world; teaching tourists a bit about Republican history; and keeping the struggle alive–every time you walk to the shop, for example, you will be reminded that many families of those who were massacred have not yet received apologies, and that the UK Government continues to run down the clock on the inquiry into the brutal assassination of Human Rights Lawyer Pat Finucane, in spite of the UK Supreme Court deciding there has never been a human-rights-compliant inquiry into his death.

Finucane, who had successfully challenged the British Government in several human rights cases, was murdered at the breakfast table in front of his three children in 1989

As a tourist with a pretty shaky understanding of Irish history, I’ve been studying the murals with great interest. Personally, as they often prompt me to find out more, they seem like a pretty effective device for communicating news and history that has often been ignored or suppressed by other media outlets.

One of the biggest figures in the murals in our part of town feature James Connolly (1868-1916); in fact, there’s a statue of him just a couple of blocks from our place. He was the founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and the Irish Citizens Army, which defended workers and strikers from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. But what he is most remembered for is being effectively the Commander-in-Chief of the Easter Rising , an armed insurrection against British Rule in Ireland that began on 24 April, 1916. That insurrection failed and he was shot by firing squad–he had to be tied to a chair because injuries he’d sustained in the Rising made him too weak to stand. W.B. Yeats mentions him in the poem “Easter 1916” and the Republican folk band The Wolfe Tones have a whole song about him.

Released in 1968, this song reached number 15 in the Irish pop charts

Although the Rising failed in the short term, it became one of the most galvanizing events in Republican history. Outrage about the execution of the rebels, particularly Connolly’s, resulted in greater awareness of their goals throughout Ireland and the world. This resulted in more popular support. It was only five years later, in May 1921, that the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed, providing for the establishment of an Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion and allowing Northern Ireland (formed in 1920) to opt out of the Irish Free State, which it promptly did.

Other heroes of the Easter Rising appear frequently in the Falls. For example, just a couple of blocks from us, is this portrait of Countess Constance Markievicz. The daughter of the Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, she and her sister Eva were both political activists. Constance was hugely inspired by Connolly and even designed the uniforms and composed the anthem for the Irish Citizens Army. She was in the thick of the fighting during the uprising, killing a policeman and wounding a British sniper. At her court martial, she said, “I went out to fight for Ireland’s freedom and it does not matter what happens to me. I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.” She was sentenced to death but because she was a woman (and possibly because she came from the upper classes), the court commuted the sentence to life in prison. On learning this, she said to her captors, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” She later became the first woman elected to the United Kingdom House of Commons as a member for Sinn Féin, then the first Irish female cabinet minister.

Getting her eye in in 1915

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 split Republicans into two camps: the pro-treaty Provisional Government and the anti-treaty IRA. The latter group saw the treaty as a betrayal of their goal of a free and united Ireland. That split divided the nation in the Irish Civil War and its effects can be seen even today in Irish politics.

In our neighborhood, it’s pretty clear that the muralists are anti-treaty. There is nary a sketch of Michael Collins, for example, who was Chairman of the Provisional Government until his assassination in 1922. Most of the figures in this mural, for example, were anti-treaty figures.

James Connolly, Éamon de Valera, Liam Lynch, Pádraig Pearse and others I don’t know.

One dominant theme in the murals, and one I didn’t expect, is Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Actually Irishmen fought for both sides in this struggle, and the majority of Irish supported Franco because they perceived the war as a clash between Catholicism and Socialism. The Irish Brigade fought on the Nationalist side for Franco. On the other side, left-leaning Republican Frank Ryan and the Irish Communist Party organized for about 200 Republicans to join the fight against Franco among the International Brigades, army units from all over the world recruited by Communist recruiters.

Mural honoring the XV International Brigade near the Peace Wall

Spain pops up elsewhere, too. At the top of our street is this expression of solidarity with the Catalan Independence Movement:

The Republicans claim common cause with many other groups fighting for human rights against hostile state actors.

Since 1963, the Free Papua movement has waged a low-intensity guerilla war against Indonesian occupiers.
Tamil Eelam is a proposed independent state that Tamils hope to create in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
The murder of George Floyd by the white police officer Derek Chauvin highlighted systemic racism in the United States
Abdullah Öcalan is a political prisoner, a Kurdish leftist political theoretician and one of the founding members of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party
Leila Khaled is a Palestinian refugee and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

And then there are the pictorial tributes and reminders of the Troubles, especially massacres committed by British troops on civilians and also the sacrifice made by the Hunger Strikers who were fighting for the right to be treated as political prisoners.

Kieran Nugent, imprisoned in Crumlin Road Jail aka the ‘Maze’, was the first ‘blanket man’, refusing to wear a prison uniform because he considered himself a political prisoner

The’Usual Suspects’ here are (from left to right) Brian Nelson, Media cover-ups, British Intelligence, Loyalist Death Squads, Government Ministers, British Army, RUC, PSNI, Special Branch.

And, almost an afterthought, is the most pressing issue that we are all facing now (apart from Covid-19, that is):

Uncategorized

20 Scenes of War and Peace

  1. Leo Tolstoy
“Portrait of Leo Tolstoy” (1887) by Ilya Repin

Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece was published in its entirety in 1869, 57 years after the French Invasion of Russia, but it was a period that still had a hold on many writers and artists throughout Russia and Europe. Tchaikovsky, for example, composed his commemorative “1812 Overture” in 1880.

2. The Emperors

“Emperor Alexander I and Emperor Napoleon in the Hunt” (1908).

Ilya Repin was a close friend of the Tolstoys and painted portraits of Leo, his wife and children. Here he also addresses the theme of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, nearly 100 years after the Invasion. Neither of the Emperors come off particularly well.

3. Hélène

Portrait of Hanna Vańkovič (Sołtan)” c.1805, by Jan Rostem

“The princess Hélène smiled. She rose with the same unchanging smile with which she had first entered the room—the smile of a perfectly beautiful woman. With a slight rustle of her white dress trimmed with moss and ivy, with a gleam of white shoulders, glossy hair and sparkling diamonds, she passed between the men who made way for her, not looking at any of them but smiling on all, as if graciously allowing each the privilege of admiring her beautiful figure and shapely shoulders, back, and bosom—which, in the fashion of those days were very much exposed—and she seemed to bring the glamour of a ballroom with her as she moved towards Anna Pavlovna.” (Page 12)

Hélène not only has a French name, but she also embodies what Tolstoy seems to regard as the vices of Napoleonic France. She is visually charming but empty-headed and artificial. She has no respect for her husband at all, to the point that she considers marrying two other men while still married to him. She fancies herself an intellectual and conducts a popular salon but is described as a vicious nincompoop.

4. Marya Bolkonskaya

Portrait of a Girl” by Alexey Venetsianov

“Princess Marya, sighed and glanced into the mirror which stood on her right. It reflected a weak, ungraceful figure and thin face. Her eyes, always sad, now looked with particular hopelessness at her reflection in the glass. ‘She flatters me,’ thought the princess, turning away and continuing to read. But Julie did not flatter her friend: the princess’s eyes—large, deep, and luminous (it seemed as if at times there radiated from them shafts of warm light) were so beautiful that very often in spite of the plain-ness of her face they gave her an attraction more powerful than that of beauty.” (Page 96)

If Hélène represents the sordid vanity of Napoleonic France, Princess Marya represents the simple, soulful piety of Russia. She puts up with some pretty shocking abuse from her crusty old dad, tends to the souls of the poor peasantry and doesn’t even mind when she catches a one of her suitors pashing with her lady-in-waiting.

5. Duel Between Pierre and Dolokhov

The Duel” by I.E. Repin

“The spot chosen for the duel was some eighty paces from the road where the sledges had been left, in a small clearing in the pine forest covered with melting snow, the frost having begun to break up during the last few days. The antagonists stood forty paces apart at the farther edge of the clearing. The seconds, measuring the paces, left tracks in the deep wet snow between the place where they had been standing and Nevitsky’s and Dolokhov’s sabres, which were stuck in the ground ten paces apart to mark the barrier.” (p.337)

6. Nikolai Rostov Meets Prince Alexander

Portrait of Alexander I of Russia by unknown artist

“The Emperor drew level with Rostov and halted. Alexander’s face was even more beautiful than it had been three days before at the review. It shone with such gaiety and youth, such innocent youth, that it suggested the liveliness of a fourteen-year-old boy, and yet it was the face of the majestic Emperor.” (p. 271)

7. Andrei Bolkonsky Meets Kutuzov Before the Battle of Austerlitz

Portrait of M.I. Kutuzov-Smolensky” by Roman Maksimovich Volkovsky

“Prince Andrei glanced at Kutuzov’s face only a foot distant from him and involuntarily noticed the carefully washed seams of the scar near his temple, where an Ismail bullet had pierced his skull, and the empty eye-socket. ‘Yes, he has a right to speak so calmly of those men’s death,’ thought Bolkonsky.” (P.180)

8. Battle of Austerlitz

Battle of Austerlitz” Charles Thévenin

“Just as in a clock the result of the complicated motion of innumerable wheels and pulleys is merely a slow and regular movement of the hands which show the time, so the result of all the complicated human activities of 160,000 Russians and French—all their passions, desires, remorse, humiliations, sufferings, fear and enthusiasm—was only the loss of the battle of Austerlitz, the so-called battle of the three Emperors—that is to say, a slow movement of the hand on the dial of human history.” (p.274)

9. Andrei is Wounded at Austerlitz

El Herido” (The Wounded Man) by Goya

‘What’s this? Am I falling? My legs are giving way,’ thought he, and fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the struggle of the Frenchmen with the gunners ended, whether the red-haired gunner had been killed or not, and whether the cannon had been captured or saved. But he saw nothing. Above him there was now nothing but the sky—the lofty sky, not clear yet still immeasurably lofty, with grey clouds gliding slowly across it.” (p.299)

10. Natasha Rostov

Portrait of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna, youngest daughter of Emperor Nicholas I, by Karl Pavlovich Brullov (previously thought to be a portrait of U.M. Smirnova)

“Natasha laughed at every word he said or that she said to herself, not because what they were saying was amusing, but because she felt happy and was unable to control her joy which expressed itself by laughter.” (p.321)

11. Catoptromancy (Divination by Mirror and Candle)

Svetlana Guessing Her Future” (1836) by Karl Bryllov

“She sat a long time looking at the receding line of candles reflected in the glasses and expecting (from tales she had heard) to see a coffin or him, Prince Andrei, in that last dim, indistinctly outlined, square. But ready as she was to take the smallest speck for the image of a man or coffin, she saw nothing. She began blinking rapidly and moved away from the looking glass.” (p. 570)

12. The Wolf Hunt

“Wolf hunting with Borzois” by Evgenii Tikhmenev

“The angry borzois whined, and getting free of the leash rushed past the horses’ feet at the wolf. The wolf paused, turned its heavy forehead towards the dogs awkwardly, like a man suffering from the quinsy, and still slightly swaying from side to side, gave a couple of leaps and with a swish of its tail disappeared into the skirt of the wood.”  (page 533-534)

13. Alpatych Goes to Smolensk

“Road in the Rye” by Grigory Myasoedova

“‘Women, women! Women’s fuss!’ muttered Alpatych to himself and started on his journey, looking round at the fields of yellow rye and the still green, thickly growing oats, and at other quite black fields just being ploughed a second time.

“As he went along he looked with pleasure at the year’s splendid crop of corn, scrutinized the strips of rye-field which here and there were already being reaped, made his calculations as to the sowing and the harvest, and asked himself whether he had not forgotten any of the prince’s orders.” (p.744)

14. The Battle of Borodino

Detail from Franz Roubad’s panoramic painting of the Battle of Borodino (unveiled 1911)

“Over the whole field, previously so gaily beautiful with the glitter of bayonets and cloudlets of smoke in the morning sun, there now spread a mist of damp and smoke and a strange acid smell of saltpetre and blood. Clouds gathered, and drops of rain began to fall on the dead and wounded, on the frightened, exhausted, and hesitating men, as if to say: ‘Enough, men! Enough! Cease…Come to your senses! What are you doing?'” (p.878)

15. The French Army Loots Moscow

Scene from the Borodin Panorama Museum

“There were masses of wealth and there seemed no end to it. All around the quarters occupied by the French were other regions still unexplored and unoccupied where, they thought, yet greater riches might be found. And Moscow engulfed the army every deeper and deeper. When water is spilt on dry ground both the dry ground and the water disappear and mud results; and in the same way the entry of the famished army into the rich and deserted city resulted in fires and looting and the destruction of both the army and the wealthy city.” (p.963)

16. Moscow Burns

Fire of Moscow from 15-18 September” by A. Smirnov

“Deserted Moscow had to burn as inevitably as a heap of shavings has to burn on which sparks continually fall for several days. A town built of wood where scarcely a day passes without conflagrations when the house-owners are in residence and a police force is present, cannot help burning when its inhabitants have left it and it is occupied by soldiers who smoke pipes, make camp-fires of the Senate chairs in the Senate Square and cook themselves meals twice a day.” (p.963)

17. Execution of a Workman

“The Shooting of Moscow Arsonists by the French” (1898) by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin

“Probably a word of command was given and was followed by the reports of eight muskets; but try as he would Pierre could not afterwards remember having heard the slightest sound of the shots. He only saw how the workman suddenly sank down on the cords that held him, how blood showed itself in two places, how the ropes slackened under the weight of the hanging body, and how the workman sat down, his head hanging unnaturally and one leg bent under him.” (p. 1041)

18. Andrei is mortally wounded

In the Garden of Gethsemane” (1869) by Nikoai Ge

“He remembered that he had now a new source of happiness and that this happiness had something to do with the Gospels. That was why he asked for a copy of them. The uncomfortable position in which they had put him and turned him over, again confused his thoughts, and when he came to himself a third time it was in the complete stillness of the night. Everybody near him was sleeping. A cricket chirped from across the passage; someone was shouting and singing in the street; cockroaches rustled on the table, on the icons, and on the walls, and a big fly flopped at the head of his bed and around the candle beside him, the wick of which was charred and had shaped itself like a mushroom.” (p.987)

19. The Retreat

Retreat from Moscow” (1854) by Franciszek Kostrzewski

“And the cavalry, with spurs and sabres urging on horses that could scarcely move, trotted with much effort to the column presented to them–that is to say, to a crowd of Frenchmen stark with cold, frost-bitten and starving–and the column that had been presented to them threw down its arms and surrendered, as it had long been anxious to do.” (p.1166)

20. Napoleon

“Napoleon Bonaparte Abdicated at Fontainebleau” (1845), by Paul Delaroche

“‘C’est grand!’ say the historians, and there no longer exists either good or evil, but only ‘grand‘ and ‘not grand‘. Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand is the characteristic, in their conception, of some special animals called ‘heroes’. And Napoleon escaping home in a warm fur coat and leaving to perish those who were not merely his comrades but were (in his opinion) men he had brought there, feels que c’est grand, and his soul is tranquil.” (p.1152)