In this chapter, Tolstoy reminds us of the often surreal nature of history, with this rather tangential tale of Balashov and his encounter with Napoleon’s brother-in-law Murat.

It’s tangential in that it doesn’t involve any of our main characters, but it’s quite relevant in that the entire fate of Russia waits in the hands of this one man trying to get through to see Napoleon and he’s finding himself either waiting around on the timing of French soldiers who are treating him with the utmost contempt, and then finally having strange conversations with Murat.

There’s a sly sense of humour in this chapter, as Murat tries to distance himself from what is going on, as if it’s not in his hands – and I think the classic line that sums it up is when Murat is recorded as speaking “in the tone in which servants speak who are anxious to remain on friendly terms though their masters have quarrelled.”

War is a crazy time . . .


2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 9.4 – The Bizarre Encounter with Murat

  1. Yes, the exchange between Murat and Balashov really is quite telling here, as are all these exchanges that Tolstoy throws in from time to time between his cameo characters. I sometimes think that Tolstoy has probably somewhere observed these sorts of exchanges between people – like this one where, as you point out Matt, Murat tries to take the “this is nothing to do with me” angle – and just had to insert them in his story: I guess because they are, after all, part of that great mosaic that Tolstoy is showing us. War is, after all, littered with people who take no responsibility for it – and yet, if we accept Tolstoy’s view of how history develops, then the irony is that it is precisely those people, the millions upon millions of them, who are the ones who make it all happen.

  2. I think this is a really interesting exchange between these two people.

    I doubt it really happened, but this could have been Tolstoy’s of way of saying ‘hey! It could have been a simple incident like this that made Napoleon keep moving in – it might be that he might have drawn back, but his brother in law having told him about this fellow saying all this might have driven him on.

    I’ve got to add some more characters:

    I’ve got 708!

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