One of the things that makes this book so unique is actually Tolstoy’s sense of humour.  It begins with Andrei’s visit to Emperor Francis where he is required to answer certain set questions about the war – but in reality, he is realising that nobody is particularly interested in what really happened during the battle.  But, despite that fact, because the Emperor was interested in him, all of a sudden he’s on the invite list for all the Austrian equivalents of Anna Pavlovna Scherer.

This is then followed by Bilibin’s rather hilarious account of the fall of the bridge of Tabor.  Yes, it is a serious thing – after all, we were on one of those bridges with Nikolai only a few chapters ago – we know how life and death this stuff is.  But, nonetheless, here, a little bit removed from everything, the story of the French generals and their sneaky plan just seems quite funny . . .

But without doubt, the highlight of this chapter is the reaction of Andrei.  The news that the Russian army is in dire peril, instead of making him worried, inspires him to want to be the man who saves the entire army.  It’s the kind of thing an 8-year-old would think of, and a grown man would never admit to out loud.

But this is Tolstoy, and he has a window into his character’s souls . . .


3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 2.12 – The Humorous Fall of The Bridge of Tabor

  1. You are right – this really is a very funny chapter – and such a clever clash of absurdities: Bilibin not really taking any of it seriously, and Andrei taking it far to seriously, deciding (as Andrei most surely must) that it’s really all about him. And I love the way, too, that so much of Bilibin is shown in the folds in his forehead. I recko Bilibin would have been a hoot to meet, although I don’t imagine liking him terribly much.

    By the way, I am just lovng this way of reading War and Peace – chapter by chapter, discussing it with others. I am picking up and thinking about and talking about detail that I really didn’t notice the first time round – and actually think that this would have been the best way to have read it first. It’s just so fiting for a work like this, where all the little details, the millions of little details, are so important in making up the full picture. I just wish I had discovered it on Day One.

  2. I must admit, I didn’t read War and Peace like this the first time I read it, either. It took me about six months – I think because I hit this halfway point where I was overwhelmed by how much I’d read and how much there was still to go . . .

    But then I finally finished it, but by that stage I was trying to speed read it, so I didn’t take in all the details.

    It’s a good way to get the big picture, but I now realise that the reality is there’s not really a big picture. It’s about the journey. (And I think Tolstoy’s philosophy, that comes along later, about how history is made up of millions of small happenings of individual humans, is exactly why he wrote the book the way he did – he’s not trying to describe a huge epic arc. He’s just trying to show us the millions of details.)

    So by going slow and enjoying the little details, I actually think it gets you much closer to the experience that Tolstoy wants you to have.

    Not to mention it makes the book ridiculously easy to read.

    Agree with you completely about Bilibin. Yet another one of Tolstoy’s characters where it is some quirk of appearance that does most of the emoting (just like Lise’s lip).

  3. Archduchess – The Empress’ chamberlain invited him to see Her Majesty. The archduchess also wished to see him.

    Belliard – Next day, which was yesterday, those gentlemen, messieurs les marechaux,* Murat, Lannes,and Belliard, mount and ride to bridge.

    Chamberlain – see above

    Lannes – Next day, which was yesterday, those gentlemen, messieurs les marechaux,* Murat, Lannes,and Belliard, mount and ride to bridge.

    Russian Ambassador – Then the Russian ambassador took him by the shoulder, led him to the window, and began to talk to him.

    Sergeant in Charge of the Cannon – the sergeant in charge of the cannon which was to give the signal to fire the mines and blow up the bridge, this sergeant, seeing that the French troops were running onto the bridge, was about to fire, but Lannes stayed his hand.


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