Reading for Wednesday 08/10/08

The ironic thing about wars is that even though they’re fought by dedicated soldiers fighting for their country, the actual reasons for entering the war and the way things are divided up among the winners at the end can often be completely unrelated.

Thus we see that the Russian soldiers, served hard for their country to fight against Napoleon – the the Devil, the enemy of the people, the great dictator – only to find that several years later, the Russians are now making peace with Napoleon.

And this chapter, in Tolstoy’s usual economic style, paints this picture very neatly.  Built around the real-life peace treaty signing at Tilsit, we see Boris – ready to change allegiance at the drop of a hat to whoever can boost him up the social ladder.  And then, on the other hand, we have Nikolai Rostov – whose idealism struggles with the fact that he now has to accept the French as comrades.

It’s also interesting, in a broader sweep over the book, what time does to friendships.  In the chapters we were just reading previously, time and events has brought Andrei and Pierre closer.  Their friendship has become stronger throughout the book. 

Contrast that with Boris and Nikolai.  They spent a lot of time in the same house as boys, but now their paths are headed in well and truly different directions. 

But isn’t that life?  There are those we grow closer to, and those we drift away from.  All these things, subtly changed by life and the passage of time . . .

It’s good to be back into this book . . .


2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 5.19 – Peace

  1. Yes, it’s exacty what the changes to the friendship of Boris and Nikolai that strck me with this chapter, too.

    As yousay, Matt, the yers have had an enormous impact on their relationship – and so, too, I think, has the war, and the politics of it all. It’s easy to forget that at the beginning of the book they were almost family, but now they seem worlds apart. In Boris’s case, we know that how much his priorities have changed – how much he is now driven by ambition and status – and it’s certainly sad when people change, or grow apart, for such shallow reasons. It’s not that his convictions have changed, or that he now believes passionately in the possibilities of peace with the French, but just that the new arrangements suit his career more than his friendship with Nikolai.

    I like the way Tolstoy shows us Nikolai’s impatience and dislike for it all, too. He sees through the shallowness of it all and clearly has no time for the person who Boris has become. And it is just so much like people such as Boris to be completely oblivious to the fact that others can see through them.

  2. It is annoying to see Boris entertaining the French.

    Ever follow a legal case, then see the two lawyers having dinner/drinks together after the case? Kinda’ ticks ya’ off, eh?

    Aide-de-camp – Napoleon’s Aide-de-camp

    The guest of honor was an aide-de-camp of Napoleon’s, there were also several French officers of the Guard, and a page of Napoleon’s, a young lad of an old aristocratic French family.

    Cossack Officer – Platov

    Only recently, talking with one of Platov’s Cossack officers, Rostov had argued that if Napoleon were taken prisoner he would be treated not as a sovereign, but as a criminal.

    French Colonel – Wounded

    Quite lately, happening to meet a wounded French colonel on the road, Rostov had maintained with heat that peace was impossible between a legitimate sovereign and the criminal Bonaparte.

    French Officer –

    As soon as he noticed a French officer, who thrust his head out of the door, that warlike feeling of hostility which he always experienced at the sight of the enemy suddenly seized him.

    Le Capitaine S. S.

    “Count Zhilinski- le Comte N. N.- le Capitaine S. S.,” said he, naming his guests. Rostov looked frowningly at the Frenchmen, bowed reluctantly, and remained silent.

    Le Comte N. N.

    “Count Zhilinski- le Comte N. N.- le Capitaine S. S.,” said he, naming his guests. Rostov looked frowningly at the Frenchmen, bowed reluctantly, and remained silent.

    Zhilinski – Polish Count

    Boris lodged with another adjutant, the Polish Count Zhilinski. Zhilinski, a Pole brought up in Paris, was rich, and passionately fond of the French, and almost every day of the stay at Tilsit, French officers of the Guard and from French headquarters were dining and lunching with him and Boris.


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