If we hadn’t already had Part 1 of the book, to a degree, this chapter feels more like the beginning of a book called War and Peace.  Marching soldiers – political backdrop.  The Austrian battlefield.  Even a date.  11 October 1805.

But the interesting thing about this chapter is that after all the grim buildup to the war, the chapter owns with a bit of gentle comedy.  A Russian regiment has been marching all night to meet General Kutuzov, the commander-in-chief.  He’s currently meeting with the Austrian generals, who want him to put his forces out on the field straight away.  So Kutuzov wants the men to show up looking as bedraggled as possible, so he can demonstrate that the men can’t possibly go straight into battle.  This highlights already the weaknesses between the Austrian-Russian alliance.

However, Kutuzov’s wishes were not conveyed properly to the general of the regiment, and he instead got his men tidied up for the parade ground – so they’re all looking quite neat and tidy.  Once the mixup is sorted out, all the officers have to suddenly get out their coats, so they look like they’ve just come off the March.

It may seem like a throwaway detail, but this disorganisation and lack of communication among the ranks (including the other humourous section where the message that “the general wants to speak to the captain of the third company” becomes “the captain wants to speak to the general of the third company”) is a vital part of Tolstoy’s philosophy of what goes on during a war.

But you’ll be hearing heaps and heaps about that further down the track, so there’s no need to say more here.

And, of course, to make things more exciting, the roguish Dolohov makes his return appearance in War and Peace.  This time, he’s wearing a blue coat in an army full of black-coated men.  Exactly how he got permission to do this, and quite why he got the arrogance to stand up to the general, I’m not so sure.  But, really, the guy is capable of anything . . .

6 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 2.1 – A Humorous Start to the War

  1. I didn’t comment on this one before – mostly ’cause nobody else responded, I guess, but I’m thinking about this ‘humour’ . . . yes, it is funny. These guys have marched all night, how can they advance and pick a fight with the enemy, when what most of them need is sleep, food – get rested up.

    It would be like telling your boss that y’all need more supplies in the office. When your boss comes in to check this out, it wouldn’t do to have everybody with a fresh pack of ‘post it notes’, a full stand pens and pencils on the desks, and the stock room in trim order with brand new packs of copy paper sitting up front on the shelves.

    What you need is some dis-order created . . . have all the machines that haven’t been working in months in full site, with their hoods open, so the boss can see that new equipment needs to be ordered in.

    Of course, everybody should be looking busy, whether they are or not . . . people who have nothing much to do should be given a stack of papers to ruffle through, even if they’re pretending to be wholly engrossed in them. This isn’t the time to have the receptionist at the front desk doing her nails or reading a copy of War & Peace . . . heh! heh! That would give it away, for sure – if she had time to read that, well . . .

    If people don’t look busy, the boss thinks, well . . . maybe we could save a bit of money here . . . a little downsizing . . .

    But this scene in W & P, where the messenger got it all wrong and the men were all lined up in their coats looking like they were all set for action, is funny . . . hey! Get messed up here! Look like you’re ready for the grave. Make the general see that we need a rest before we start!

  2. Another way of relating to this is to think of the lady who cleans up her house, because the ‘housekeeper’ is due to arrive for work.

  3. Oops!

    QUOTING myself . . . the men were all lined up in their coats UNQUOTE

    That was the other way ’round, wasn’t it.

    Quote . . .

    “There now! Didn’t I tell you, Michael Mitrich, that if it was said ‘on the march’ it meant in greatcoats?” said he reproachfully to the battalion commander.

    . . . Unquote

    Heh! Heh! Coats on! Coats off!

  4. I’m not really clear on why it was that Dolokov was in a blue coat.

    Was he given that coat to wear? Or did he ‘select’ it, just to be rebellious?

    QUOTE . . .

    “Your excellency, you gave him leave yourself, on the march.”


    Why was he ‘given leave’ to wear this coat?

    And why did he stand on one foot? More rebelliousness?


  5. So 106, eh? To that count, I will add the following characters . . . as mentioned earlier on, some of them are major players in the story, some are not – some of them are merely ‘mentions’ . . .

    There are a few people introduced in this first chapter . . .


    At that moment, on the road from the town on which signalers had been posted, two men appeared on horse back. They were an aide-decamp followed by a Cossack.

    Archduke Ferdinand – see other quoted paragraph below


    Commander – The commander of the regiment was an elderly, choleric, stout, and thick-set general with grizzled eyebrows and whiskers, and wider from chest to back than across the shoulders.

    – and –

    The regimental commander, going up to the line himself, ordered the soldiers to change into their greatcoats.

    I don’t know if this is the same ‘commander’.


    Cossack . . . see above

    Hofkriegsrath Member – A member of the Hofkriegsrath from Vienna had come to Kutuzov the day before with proposals and demands for him to join up with the army of the Archduke Ferdinand and Mack, and Kutuzov, not considering this junction advisable, meant, among other arguments in support of his view, to show the Austrian general the wretched state in which the troops arrived from Russia.

    Mack – see paragraph quoted above

    Mitrich – Michael Mitrich – “Well, Michael Mitrich, sir?” he said, addressing one of the battalion commanders who smilingly pressed forward (it was plain that they both felt happy).

    This chapter shows how the men are having a lot of fun here . . . nervous laughter everywhere.

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