Sunday, August 22, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter VI

This is a great chapter. Tired of me saying that yet?

Anyhow, Balashov is introduced to Napoleon, who T tells us is fat, in about 5 different ways – fat and short – “round stomach…fat haunches of his short legs….plump white neck…full, youthful face with its protruding chin…stout, short figure, with its broad, fat shoulders and involuntarily thrust out stomach and chest.” And Balashov notes, that the court is lavish and elegant beyond any he’s seen. And this is in the house Alexander just abandoned.

He’s all self-importance and impatience from the get-go. He’s also incredibly self-interested – “It was clear that only what went on in his soul was of interest to him. Everything that was outside him had no meaning for him, because everything in the world, as it seemed to him, depended only upon his will.”

During the interview, in which he “the more he spoke, the less able he was to control his speech” he convinces himself more and more of his rightness. It’s quite a performance. His leg begins to tremble, his right calf specifically, and he stops only to take snuff. So it kind of feels like an addled coke addict talking a mile a minute. Balashov tries to cut in, but has no luck. Napoleon is convinced of his own opinion, and convinced Balashov is as well. There’s a lot of political background, but trust me, it’s great – and a little all over the place in an very entertaining way – “’I know everything,’ Napoleon says at one point, discounting all of Russia’s allies (he’s decided the Russians are allied with the English, though Balashov has said that they are not) ‘..The Swedes, their destiny is to be ruled by mad kings. Their king was insane, they changed him and took another, Bernadotte, who promptly went out of his mind – because no Swede who wasn’t a madman would conclude alliances with Russia.’ Napoleon grinned spitefully and again put his snuffbox to his nose.”

Balashov tries to interject, but to no avail, and believes that he’ll be ashamed of his words once he gets past this angry rant. So, he “stood, his eyes lowered, looking at the movements of Napoleon’s fat legs, and tried to avoid his gaze.”

Kind of a 19th century Mel Brooks here – get ‘em with comedy. Napoleon keeps saying what a fine reign Balashov’s master might have had if he had only been intelligent with his alliances. He keeps saying that over and over, and taking more and more snuff. He finally exits saying that he is devoted to Alexander and that he would have had such a fine reign. He leaves, and everyone rushes to the door to follow him down the stairs.


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