Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Volume III, Book II, Chapters XIX - XXI

This whole section is about the battle at Borodino outside of Moscow – I think until the end of the volume, and I’m about there. There’s so much great stuff, but I was kind of tempted to just sum up all the chapters in one entry. Instead, I’ll go ahead and write for a few – I’ve read ahead several chapters – I’m almost at the end of this part of the Volume. Really having my doubts about finishing in time. I haven’t done the chapter math, but I have 424 pages left to go in 58 days. That’s an average of over 7 pages a day to read, not including the writing. I need to get a move on. Oy. Durn job and social life!


This chapter is all military strategy and the battle of Borodino. It’s Tolstoy the narrator giving his view of events, and theory about battles – namely that the historians are wrong and the reasons that things went the way they did was completely reactionary in the moment. It’s about Napoleon choosing his position, and if he would have done something on the 25th instead of the 24th, and what the Russians would have done. According to Tolstoy, history has been rewritten to not compromise the glory of the Russian people, but the army was twice as weak as the French and in a surprised, accidental position.

There’s even a map. And I looked up the word “redoubt”, which is a fortification.


Pierre is driving out of Mozhaisk with a green coat and white hat. He really does seem a bit of a buffoon. It’s all troops marching, and Pierre caught in the middle, all unsure where they’re headed. There was a cart of wounded men, and singing of the cavalry men. It’s hot in the sun, but “where Pierre was standing, it was damp, bleak, and sad.” Ugh. Pierre keeps driving along looking for familiar faces, but is only met with shock at his size and outfit. He runs into a doctor he knows who tells him to go see Kutuzov so he would be safe during the battle.

He ruminates a little that these men were possibly going to die tomorrow, but they were surprised by his hat. Pierre goes on and sees muzhik militia men, enjoying what they were doing – building fortifications. “The sight of these bearded muzhiks working on the battlefield, with their strange, clumsy boots, and their sweaty necks, and some with their side-buttoned shirts open, revealing their sunburned collarbones, impressed Pierre more strongly than anything he had seen or heard so far about the solemnity and significance of the present moment.”

There’s a lot in this book about the peasants, and people’s reaction to them, though it’s telling we don’t really meet them. This is a story about the nobility for the most part. The peasants, as a group, are a symbol, reason for rumination, the future, etc., but not characters as far as I see.

Pierre is so lost in some ways – he keeps looking for an answer and for a way to be of use, but can’t help being a bit of a lummox.


Pierre arrives in Borodino, and keeps asking what the Russian position is (and we learned about it in XIX). He’s interrupted by peasants carrying the Mother of Smolensk icon. There’s a beautiful scene in which Pierre marvels at the solemnity and devotion of the muzhiks, and even of some of the Officers who were. The servers are weary, but even with their lazy singing “all the faces lit up again with the solemnity of the present moment that he had seen on the faces at the foot of the hill in Mozhaisk and had glimpsed on many, many faces he had met that morning: heads were bowed more frequently, hair was tossed, and sighs and thumps of crossings on breasts were heard."

Kutuzov arrives, and the men of lower rank continue praying, not really acknowledging him. “When the service was over, Kutuzov went up to the icon, knelt down heavily, bowed to the ground, and for a long time tried and was unable to standup because of his heaviness and weakness. His gray head twitched with the effort. Finally he stood up and, with a childlishly naïve puckering of the lips, kissed the icon and bowed again, touching the ground with his hand. The generals followed his example; then the officers, and after them, crushing each other, stamping, puffing and jostling, with excited faces, came the soldiers and militiamen.”

Just beautiful. The writing is cinematic before cinema. It’s another marvel of his writing - he deftly moves between the specific in scope (Kutuzov) to the general (the men rushing the icon). It’s such a beautiful scene, too, showing the politics of the military, the faith of the men, the physicality and age of the general. The arrival of the icon with the thumping of the breasts and tossing hair - it’s all you need to know.

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