Have you noticed how Tolstoy starts at a fair distance from the actual events and then takes us gradually closer and closer into where things get more horrible?  It’s a technique that works wonders in horror films, and it works effectively in his battle scenes as well.

We move from being detached observers on the hill listening to gunshots in the distance to moving with Andrei and Bagration down the hill towards the advancing French (and the retreating Russians).  It only takes a couple of vignettes (such as the man shot in the throat or the soldier with blood pouring from his wound as if it were from a bottle) to drive home the grim reality.

Despite the intensity of it all, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the march.  Whether Bagration is a bad leader or not, there’s no doubting his courage . . .

And sorry to leave you mid-clash, but we’ll be back tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 2.18 – Things Get Bloody

  1. Yeah … the march is tremendous in this chapter. The “left … left .. left”, punctuated, but not stopped, by cannonfire and death.

    I also love the way Tolstoy introduces us to someone – like the round-faced company commander – introduces us to him just for a minute or two, but with enough of a description to give him that wonderful Tostoyian humanity, and then a few paragraphs later, he’s dead. It’s very powerful writing.

  2. This was one big bowl of personalities! I never thought I’d enjoy a war story . . . but Tolstoy makes me enjoy it. I feel for each of the characters as they’re moving about, especially the ones who are suffering.

    I’m adding these people:

    Adjutant –

    Turning to his adjutant he ordered him to bring down the two battalions of the Sixth Chasseurs whom they had just passed.

    Commander –

    The commander of the regiment, a thin, feeble-looking old man with a pleasant smile- his eyelids drooping more than half over his old eyes, giving him a mild expression, rode up to Bagration and welcomed him as a host welcomes an honored guest.

    Company Commander –

    On their left flank, nearest to Bagration, marched a company commander, a fine round-faced man, with a stupid and happy expression- the same man who had rushed out of the wattle shed.

    Cossack –

    He gave the reins to a Cossack, took off and handed over his felt coat, stretched his legs, and set his cap straight.

    Major – A Fat One –

    A fat major skirted a bush, puffing and falling out of step; a soldier who had fallen behind, his face showing alarm at his defection, ran at a trot, panting to catch up with his company.

    Officer –

    In front of them rows of gray cloaks were already visible through the smoke, and an officer catching sight of Bagration rushed shouting after the crowd of retreating soldiers, ordering them back.

    Officer –

    “Please, your excellency, for God’s sake!” he kept saying, glancing for support at an officer of the suite who turned away from him.

    Old French Officer –

    (He distinctly saw an old French officer who, with gaitered legs and turned-out toes, climbed the hill with difficulty.)

    Old Trooper –

    The soldiers passed in a semicircle round something where the ball had fallen, and an old trooper on the flank, a noncommissioned officer who had stopped beside the dead men, ran to catch up his line and, falling into step with a hop, looked back angrily, and through the ominous silence and the regular tramp of feet beating the ground in unison, one seemed to hear left… left… left.

    Soldier –

    A fat major skirted a bush, puffing and falling out of step; a soldier who had fallen behind, his face showing alarm at his defection, ran at a trot, panting to catch up with his company.

    Staff Officer –

    The staff officer joined in the colonel’s appeals, but Bagration did not reply; he only gave an order to cease firing and re-form, so as to give room for the two approaching battalions.

    Soldier –

    A morose soldier marching on the left turned his eyes on Bagration as he shouted, with an expression that seemed to say: “We know that ourselves!” Another, without looking round, as though fearing to relax, shouted with his mouth wide open and passed on.

    Wounded Men (2)

    One with a bleeding head and no cap was being dragged along by two soldiers who supported him under the arms.

    Another was walking sturdily by himself but without his musket, groaning aloud and swinging his arm which had just been hurt, while blood from it was streaming over his greatcoat as from a bottle.

    257

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