Monday, January 10, 2011

Collage 279

Several of us involved with this project attended Grinnell College and studied Russian language and/or literature. Professor John Mohan was head of the department, and a beloved teacher. Although this was about 30 years ago, I remember oh-so clearly. Of all things to remember, my take-away was the French phrase comme il faut. It was used on this page in the following way: "Boris's uniform, spurs, tie, haircut -- all this was of the most fashionable and comme il faut."

Mr. Mohan was obsessed with this phrase which is used repeatedly throughout the text. I took it up as a battle cry throughout my own life. It translates as "life how it should be". He thought that Tolstoy railed against this idea throughout the book -- that to live an authentic life was not to live according to social expectations, but to make your own way, to be your own person. Not like Boris, playing the part and trying to impress others with the outward symbols of success. Trying to impress others with being so correct.

When I ran across this phrase again, it brought it all back. What a profound teaching. Amazing how 3 tiny words can have a lifelong impact! Now I'm wondering which character(s) are most authentic -- certainly not Boris -- but maybe Dolokhov? Pierre?-- Lola

Lola Baltzell
from page 565-566 of original text
collage, acrylic paint
made 10/22/10
page 448-450 of Pevear/Volokhonsky translation

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