Reading for Sunday 28/09 – 5.9

I secretly think that one of the reasons Tolstoy had so many varying characters was that he could shift the way he reported on historical events, just by shifting character.  For instance, by using Andrei at the battle of Austerlitz, we got a focus on the mad heroism of it all.

In this chapter, we get a report on some of the intervening battles and events that have transpired out on the field, via the barbed pen of Bilibin.  By using this character, Tolstoy gets to retell these events in a rather ludicrous way.

And if Bilibin’s tale is close to what actually happened – ancient generals being put in charge, opening other people’s mail, and the army trying to avoid the old general until the new one could be appointed – well, then, it does all sound rather ludicrous.

For those of you getting confused by all the political back and forth with France, Prussia, etc., I think the main point to realise is that by Prussia surrendering to France, it meant that France was now occupying a country on the border of Russia.  Which would be rather ominous for any nation, I think.

Finally, the chapter ends with a ray of hope – little Nikolay’s fever breaks, and we know he will live.

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 5.9 – Bilibin’s Report

  1. That’s an interesting take, Matt, on the value of all those characters. It certainly makes sense, and fits in well with Tolstoy’s “whole of life” mosaic that he is creating in War and Peace.

    This chapter was, for a while, pretty messy to read in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, mainly because Bilibin’s letter kept lapsing in and out of French, which meant I had to keep moving up and down between the main text and the footnotes, sometimes even in mid-sentence. I checked in my Russian edition, and it’s exactly the same there.

    And yet, despite that or perhaps even because of it, it really drove home just how different these two worlds of Andrei’s are from each other – the foreign chaos of the war and the personal, intimate world of his family, and of his little son’s illness. I thought it was a very clever way, first, of updating us on the war (which is clearly as disordered as ever) and, more importantly, of showing us how much Andrei has developed and changed. The final scene, with Andrei and Marya and little Nikolai, in their little happy haven under the canopy was, I felt, all the more beautiful and touching after the harsh other-worldliness of Bilibin’s letter about the war.

    There is so much that I had forgotten from my first reading – even though it was only a few years ago. I didn’t read War and Peace particularly quickly back then (in fact, I remember I put it aside completely for a few weeks when a new Harry Potter book came out in the middle of one or other of the battles) – but this approach you are taking here, Matt, of stopping to reflect on each Chapter really does bring out so much more. I’m not sure it would work with just any book – but it certainly works with War and Peace and today’s chapter was a great example of that.

    I don’t think I would have possibly noticed how cleverly crafted this chapter was if I had not been reading it in this way.

  2. Bilibin is so sarcastic – and terribly funny . . .

    Here are the names that are going on the count:

    Commander in Chief –

    Twice the marauders even attack our headquarters, and the commander in chief has to ask for a battalion to disperse them.

    Field Marshal –

    The field marshal grows impatient and sets to work himself and finds letters from the Emperor to Count T., Prince V., and others.

    Ostermann –

    Buxhowden, having sent him my whole staff and all that belongs to it, advising him if there is a lack of bread, to move farther into the interior of Prussia, for only one day’s ration of bread remains, and in some regiments none at all, as reported by the division commanders, Ostermann and Sedmoretzki, and all that the peasants had has been eaten up.

    Prozorovski –

    As it was considered that the Austerlitz success might have been more decisive had the commander in chief not been so young, all our octogenarians were reviewed, and of Prozorovski and Kamenski the latter was preferred.

    Sedmoretzki –

    Buxhowden, having sent him my whole staff and all that belongs to it, advising him if there is a lack of bread, to move farther into the interior of Prussia, for only one day’s ration of bread remains, and in some regiments none at all, as reported by the division commanders, Ostermann and Sedmoretzki, and all that the peasants had has been eaten up.

    485

  3. Not to over simplify, but i think little has changed in the addministration of war. This backdrop of underlying agendas could be superimposed on todays conflicts;especially the mismanagement.

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