This chapter reminds me a little bit of Forrest Gump, with history and fiction intertwining beautifully.  Here we have Boris and Helene, both at the same party with the Tsar, when the announcement comes through about the French invasion.  So as well as carrying the story forward for our two fictional characters, we get a glimpse into how completely unprepared the Russians were for this invasion.

I’m still sticking by my theory that Tolstoy believes the Tsar to have been completely incompetent.  He’s known the French threat has been building, and has been trying to distract himself with parties and balls, rather than put something together.

Of course, if you’ve been following the philosophy, the Tsar didn’t really have many options anyway, so the war would have happened regardless of what he chose – I think.  Or have I messed up the philosophy part?

Either way, the French are on their way, the Tsar has written an indignant letter – and war is on its way.


3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 9.3 – Completely Unprepared

  1. I like the Forrest Gump reference here, Matt – and, of course, he was presumably at the party, too.

    But I’m not sure I quite see Alexander in the same light as you do, here – to me the point that is being driven home here is not so much that he is incompetent but, rather, irrelevant. Maybe it’s a subtle distinction in this case, but I think it’s a little more clear in reation to Napoleon – this supposedly great war strategist who, in Tolstoy’s telling, is no more relevant to the French invasion than Alexander is to the Russian lack of readiness for it.

    And if my understanding of Tolstoy’s philosophical argument is correct, I think he’s even going further than just saying that the war would have happened regardless of what he chose. I think he’s actually saying that he could not even have chosen otherwise – that everything is the result of everything else, and it’s only our personal subjective experience that makes us think we are making choices.

    If my memory of University philosophy is right, then I think ths view of things is almost the diameteric opposite to the view that was put more famously by Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher who argued that the whole notion of causality is really nothing more than a feature of our own reason – that things don’t actually cause other things but rather that that’s how we make sense of the world, just as he argued that space and time are really only constructs of human reason rather than things that actually exist “out there”. So he used that argument to suggest that we do have free will, despite our perception at times that we don’t, whereas Tolstoy argues precisely the opposite.

    At least I think that’s what they’re each saying!!

  2. Hmm . . . you could be right, Ian. In fact, irrelevant would make more sense, so I’ll stand corrected on that one. (Though I think the Tsar is soft as well.)

    But we shall return to this idea of how much power you have to change things later.

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