Now, due to the magic of between chapter jump-cuts, we’re transported down to the madness on the bridge.  This is an unusual chapter, because in the hands of an epic-type writer, it would be far more spectacular to describe the entire movement of what all the troops are doing.

How far does the line extend?  What’s going on over the French side of the bridge?  What’s causing all the delays up on the Austrian side?

But instead, we’re stuck in the one position, seeing everything from the point of view of Nesvitsky the Mimic.  It’s rather a blinkered view, because we can only work out what is happening from what he is seeing.

However, isn’t that what it would feel like in real life?  Have you ever been stuck behind a crowd of people (probably more likely at the train station than a bridge being fired upon, nowadays) and not known what’s going on?  If you’re getting a little bit frustrated by these random snippets of experience during the battle, you may find this frustrating.  But, bear with it, because almost like a mosaic, these chapters become tiles in a much larger picture.


6 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 2.7 – Point of View From the Bridge

  1. Your metaphor of the mosaic is so apt. And what detail each little tile of the mosaic has, when Tolstoy is the one crafting it all!

    Not long ago, I remember reading somewhere someone comparing Tolstoy, particularly in War and Peace, to Mahler and his symphonies – and how they both contain “the whole world”. I think it was a fitting comparison – and this Chapter is an example of that.

    Tolstoy, like Mahler, shows us how the trivial, even the banal, is all part of the great and the grand. Who, but Tolstoy, would think to describe to us, in the midst of a great battle, meaningless snippets of the inconsequential conversations of nameless soldiers passing by?

    If War and Peace had have been a symphony, I suspect Mahler would have written it.

  2. Ah, so you’re a Mahler fan, as well? I could also blog on for quite a long while about Mahler, but that’s a bit more expensive for everyone to get into than “War and Peace” . . .

    Though, I think what Tolstoy does well is highlight the beauty of the long novel (or the long movie for that matter). I don’t know why, but when a story crosses a certain number of pages, or a movie crosses that third hour into the fourth hour, you develop a different bond with the characters than you do with a shorter work.

    I’ve always been attracted to length, especially in films, because I remember how enjoyable it was seeing the old long films of my childhood like “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” and even “Sound of Music” which was quite long back then.

    The brilliant thing about long stories is that at first they don’t seem to have anything special about them – and they may not be as immediately compelling as a shorter story or a shorter movie – but because of their length, something about the amount of time you spend with the characters makes you care so much more than you would otherwise.

    I think I got this insight from the film that really opened my eyes to the wonder of cinema back in 1994, “Gettysburg”. It’s a 4 1/2 hour film about the battle of Gettysburg and, much like the war scenes in “War and Peace”, it consists only of conversations between soldiers and war scenes.

    Each scene in the film, much like these chapters, was just a record of a conversation or an event – some trivial, some important. But moment by moment, like blocks building up a wall, by the end of the film, there was this overwhelmingly tragic portrait of the human cost of war.

    Ahh . . . I’m getting nostalgic. See you all tomorrow.

  3. Yes, I can identify totally with your love of things epic. Maybe that’s why War and Peace was able to draw me into all things Russian so deeply – there is an epic grandeur abot the Russian soul, about Russian history, Russian culture, and, of course, Russia itself.

    Indeed, I see that Wagner is on your list, too – another epic creator whose works I have literally travelled across the world to listen to – three times to the shrine of Bayreuth: and I suspect the bit of my make-up that takes me to Bayreuth to listen to Wagner is the same bit that led me to learn Russian to read War and Peace in the original language. Well, try to read it in the original language, to be more precise.

    I think you are right abou the different sort of relationshp we develop with characters, and ideas, in a long novel or film as opposed to a short one. I know generalising can often be a dangerous thing, but I do think shorter films and books tend to be about the quick (and often very powerful) experience, but there’s something about being there for the long haul that you able to savour and treasure and know the experience a whole lot more deeply and more fully, I think.

    Incidentally, that’s something that the Russians do wonderfully well in some of their films – Tarkovsky especially. You just need a lot of time on your hands to watch it!

  4. To descend from the sublime:
    Isn’t it precisely because Nesvistsy’s stuck on the bridge that you feel the real threat of the war and get down-and-dirty with the real costs of war. Not able to move, all humanity is a mess: officers and gentleman, men and women, mothers and daughters – all to meet their Maker in an instant if one shell lands amongst them and in place of order there’s increasing chaos and depravity. So it’s one thing to have the officers on the hill exploring their fantasies, but what is it when they leeringly lust after the maiden and traumatise her tragic father with offers to buy her – to take the love of his life and debase her – and that’s supposed to be funny. Oh, cry! And these are the good guys, the rescuers, the heroes, the mighty Russian army that looks on Napoleon with scorn.
    Precisely because they’re stuck on the bridge, unable to move, surrounded by the desperate flow of humanity, we’re drawn into this episode in a way that would otherwise elude us. I think this is the best chapter yet! With such an economy of words to paint such an indelible picture – and the cannon-ball splashes into the river. Number three.
    By the way, did you notice, yesterday, how Tolstoy drew his readers in by engaging them in the first person: “and our troops could be seen hurrying to get across the river”? Not only brilliant, but clever. Even in 2.6 he’s drawing the reader to that thronging press of the bridge so that when 2.7 opens, we’re there with Nesvitsky – right beside him – even closer than his cossack.
    Got to say, ti’s so refreshing to be away from the stultefying inanity of the ball-rooms and the artifice of the gentry.

  5. Well, I think the reason Tolstoy brings the reader into the (right there) part of it, by saying ‘our troops’ and making it a ‘we’, rather than ‘they’ is because he based his battle stories on his own experience.

    For him, it was ‘we’, and ‘they’ were the French.

    He ought to have done that right from the beginning of Book 2 when the war started – but who am I to tell Tolstoy what he ought to have done?

  6. Colonel – Beside the bridge Nesvitski found the colonel to whom he had to deliver the order, and having done this he rode back.

    Convoy Soldier – “What a fine fellow you are, friend!” said the Cossack to a convoy soldier with a wagon, who was pressing onto the infantrymen who were crowded together close to his wheels and his horses.

    Cossack – He looked back laughing to the Cossack who stood a few steps behind him holding two horses by their bridles.

    Fedotov – “There, Fedotov, you should be quartered on them!”

    German – It was a German cart with a pair of horses led by a German, and seemed loaded with a whole houseful of effects.

    German Girl – A woman with an unweaned baby, an old woman, and a healthy German girl with bright red cheeks were sitting on some feather beds.

    Hussar – “Don’t kick up the dust, you infantry!” jested an hussar whose prancing horse had splashed mud over some foot soldiers.

    Hussar – “Take a stick between your legs, that’ll suit you for a horse!” the hussar shouted back.

    Infantry Officer – “Where are you going?” asked an infantry officer who was eating an apple, also half smiling as he looked at the handsome girl.

    Officer – Sometimes through the monotonous waves of men, like a fleck of white foam on the waves of the Enns, an officer, in a cloak and with a type of face different from that of the men, squeezed his way along; sometimes like a chip of wood whirling in the river, an hussar on foot, an orderly, or a townsman was carried through the waves of infantry; and sometimes like a log floating down the river, an officers’ or company’s baggage wagon, piled high, leather covered, and hemmed in on all sides, moved across the bridge.

    Officer On Bridge – See, here’s an officer jammed in too”- different voices were saying in the crowd, as the men looked at one another, and all pressed toward the exit from the bridge.

    Old man – see quote below

    Old Woman – A woman with an unweaned baby, an old woman, and a healthy German girl with bright red cheeks were sitting on some feather beds.

    (2) Soldier (On bridge scene) – “Just see where it carries to!” a soldier near by said sternly, looking round at the sound.

    “Encouraging us to get along quicker,” said another uneasily.

    Waggish soldier – “A million all but one!” replied a waggish soldier in a torn coat, with a wink, and passed on followed by another, an old man.

    Woman With Baby – A woman with an unweaned baby, an old woman, and a healthy German girl with bright red cheeks were sitting on some feather beds.

    Young soldier – “As it flies past me, Daddy, the ball I mean,” said a young soldier with an enormous mouth, hardly refraining from laughing,

    Zikin – “There now, Zikin, they ought to put you on a horse. You’d look fine,” said a corporal, chaffing a thin little soldier who bent under the weight of his knapsack.

    Total – 167!

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