This chapter is very short, and doesn’t contain any of the main characters (in the sense that any of Tolstoy’s many characters can be called “main”). However, it does provide some fascinatingly disturbing insights into the Russian army at the time.
We see Zherkov the Giggler again, this time up with the Russian cannons, protecting the Russian army as it literally burns Austrian bridges to stop the French coming over. Disturbingly, the Russian soldiers (far less cultivated than most of the aristocratic characters we’ve met so far) are happily discussing rape and pillaging. More disturbing – this is not the plunder of the French that they’re talking about – but Austria. Hey, look, the country’s in an uproar? Why not?
Even the first appearance of the French army in the book (just a tiny speck on a hill on the other side of the valley with their own cannons) seems to spark more a sense of fun than any real worry about their comrades down below, crossing a bridge far too slowly to escape . . . If you haven’t worked it out, also, the hussars are doing the bridge burning, meaning that Nikolai Rostov is potentially in danger.
It’s a strange picture of warfare. And nothing makes it so strange, as Tolstoy’s amazing last phrase here (as translated by Maude): “the clear sound of the solitary shot and the brilliance of the bright sunshine merged in a single joyous and spirited impression”. Do troops nowadays find a strange joy in war, I wonder?