Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Volume I, Book III, Chapter XIX

Andrei is still very interested in the lofty sky, feeling a pain in his head and arm, and knowing he’s bleeding. He’s also ”letting out soft, pitiful, and childlike moans” without knowing that he is. He’s lost.
At that moment, a commander and two soldiers ride up, to survey the dead. It’s Napoleon. He was Andrei’s hero, but now Andrei can think of nothing except how ridiculous this all is in comparison to the sky. Napoleon calls them all fine men, and looks at Andrei and says it’s a fine death. He thinks Andrei is dead, but Andrei manages to moan and Napoleon orders him to be taken to the first aid center.
Once there he’s cleaned up a bit, and then paraded in front of Napoleon. Napoleon asks him how he feels, and his response is silence.

The, too, everything seemed so useless and insignificant compated with that stern and majestic way of thinking called up in him by weakness from loss of blood, suffering, and the expectation of imminent death. Looking into Napoleon’s eyes, Prince Andrei thought about the insignificance or grandeur, and about the still greater insignificance of death, the meaning of which no one among the living could understand or explain.”

He is sent to Napoleon’s doctor with the other men. Andrei is given back the icon Marya gave him, and he wishes that faith and god for him could be so simple. Then when the stretchers moved he is jolted back to pain, begins mixing all his memories up, and becomes delirious and confused, finally ending up in unconsciousness. Larrey, Napoleon’s physician, thinks he’ll die, and hands him over to the local villagers.

End of Volume I

What’s going to happen? It’s awful to say, and certainly with the hindsight of history, but you do want to say to Andrei “just get over this Napoleon thing and this romance of war”, but he had to do that himself. Tolstoy in the last couple chapters hasn’t shied away from the graphic, with the 40 or so people drowning in a mob rush to water after a general is killed in a pile of wet blood with a cannon shot, to Napoleon’s calling the dead “fine men” while looking over a man face down in the mud with a blackened nape and his stiff arm flung out to one side. His allegiance is with his characters, but he’s beginning to show us the horror and the hollow once they experience it. Still struck by how the armies treat each other with such cordiality when not fighting. It feels very much like a game - from Bagration’s unwillingness to fight so just sending someone in to buy time, to the way the officers and generals speed away - it’s bluster, romance, and disappointment.

I feel like Andrei will pull through, but I hope we get a break from the war for a sec in the next Volume.

And I have to point out that I did this on a train, trying to get to Boston but failing due to flooding in Rhode Island. Nature has a different feeling when you’re at the mercy of it and you’ve been up all night. It felt kind of perfect with this chapter.

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