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 . . .