This is one of those little moments that would hit the cutting room floor if you were trying to turn War and Peace into a story driven by plot – but what a great moment.

By a strange twist of circumstances, Nikolai has the opportunity he has long dreamed of – to walk up and deliver a message to the Tsar – but gets cold feet.  I’m guessing it’s that case of nerves that we get before we express our feelings to that special someone we like – so it’s something that most of us could probaby identify with.

But in this case, Nikolai’s hesitancy means that he misses out on the chance to talk to the Tsar, and someone else gets in instead.  It’s an amusing little tale of teenage heartbreak (without actually being a story of teenage romance).

Have you ever wondered what you would do or say if you met a celebrity?

If you ever did, wouldn’t the truth be more likely that you would freak out like Nikolai as well?

Finally, this chapter finishes with another cameo appearance by Dolokhov, this time leading a dare-devil crossing of an icy dam . . . Dolokhov made it okay, but sadly those who followed him did not fare so well.

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 3.18 – The Price of Shyness

  1. I actually found this chapter to be one of the most tragic, desperately sad, so far. Everything, everything, is falling apart.

    Even Nikolai’s frustrated encounter with the Tsar seems to me to be much more sad than amusing – the sadness of the Tsar himself, and Nikolai’s inability to urge himself forward to fulfil his dream. And then when he does summons the nerve, it’s too late.

    But even that scene, for me, pales next to the descriptions Tolstoy gives us of this little village, once peaceful and simple, now strewn with death and suffering – as if humanity itself has become a victim of the war.

    And then the tragic scene on the ice was, for me, just so incredibly and powerfully graphic – the chaos and desperation of it all.

    So, it seems, that almost everything that people believed in, relied on and shouted “huirrah” for, only a few chapters ago, has been lost – the Tsar is in tears, the army is defeated, the village has lost its peaceful innocence, and the earth itself is falling apart, shattered.

    No one does dismal like the Russians!!

  2. I think that’s the beauty of Tolstoy, actually. He can be amusing (in a wry sort of way) in the middle of a tragedy. So it’s not an either/or sort of thing – it’s both at once.

  3. Y’know, I wonder if we couldn’t compare – make a parallel – with his beloved Emperor and the Wizard of Oz!
    Because that just what Alexander’s looking like at the end of all this – the powerless wizard in whom Dorothy is so disappointed.
    I will add these people to the count:
    Batman or groom:
    Having left that soldier who was evidently drunk, Rostov stopped the horse of a batman or groom of some important personage and began to question him. The man announced that the Tsar had been driven in a carriage at full speed about an hour before along that very road and that he was dangerously wounded.
    ……………………………
    Driver –
    From one of the drivers he learned that Kutuzov’s staff were not far off, in the village the vehicles were going to.
    …………………………….
    General –
    The general on horseback at the entrance to the dam raised his hand and opened his mouth to address Dolokhov.
    ……………………………..
    Groom – Kutosov’s groom
    “Tit! I say, Tit!” said the groom.
    …………………………….
    Gun Driver –
    The ice gave way under one of the foremost soldiers, and one leg slipped into the water. He tried to right himself but fell in up to his waist. The nearest soldiers shrank back, the gun driver stopped his horse, but from behind still came the shouts: “Onto the ice, why do you stop? Go on! Go on!”
    ……………………………..
    Ilya Ivanych –
    It’s time I knew the Imperial horses and Ilya Ivanych. I don’t think Ilya drives anyone except the Tsar!”
    ……………………………
    Officers (2) –
    Rostov let go of the horse and was about to ride on, when a wounded officer passing by addressed him:
    “Who is it you want?” he asked. “The commander in chief? He was killed by a cannon ball- struck in the breast before our regiment.”
    “Not killed- wounded!” another officer corrected him.
    …………………………….
    Soldier –
    At last seizing a soldier by his collar he forced him to answer.
    “Eh, brother! They’ve all bolted long ago!” said the soldier, laughing for some reason and shaking himself free.
    …………………………….
    Soldiers (2) –
    “Take this road, your honor, that way you will be killed at once!” a soldier shouted to him. “They’d kill you there!”
    “Oh, what are you talking about?” said another. “Where is he to go? That way is nearer.”
    …………………………….
    Soldiers (2) –
    Dolokhov who was in the midst of the crowd forced his way to the edge of the dam, throwing two soldiers off their feet, and ran onto the slippery ice that covered the millpool.
    ………………………
    von Toll –
    While Rostov was thus arguing with himself and riding sadly away, Captain von Toll chanced to ride to the same spot, and seeing the Emperor at once rode up to him, offered his services, and assisted him to cross the ditch on foot.
    396

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