In this rather bizarre little chapter in the exploits of Balashov, Alexander’s messenger is brought before Marshal Davoust.

What I find intriguing is Tolstoy’s description of Davoust in relation to Arakcheev.  Now, this is probably might cause a bit of back-flipping here to remember who Arakcheev is – but he was a real-life character who had a cameo appearance with Andrei back in Book 6.  If you remember, Andrei wanted to reform the army, and so he went to see Arakcheev, who had a massive waiting room full of people who were terrified of speaking to him.

Anyway, the point is that Davoust is the French Arakcheev – a thoroughly unpleasant character.  But of these unpleasant characters, Tolstoy says “In the mechanism of the state organism these men are as necessary as wolves in the organism of nature.  And they are always to be found in every government; they always make their appearance and hold their own, incongruous as their presence and their close relations with the head of teh state may appear.”

In other words, in every government, you always find some vicious politician somewhere who no one seems to like, but they’re absolutely essential to the whole thing – I was just wondering whether this means that the Belinda Neals of the world are essential to the political process?  Can you think of other politicians or leaders who have been vastly unpopular but yet keep things going along?

Anyway, after his run-in with the spectacularly unpleasant Davoust, Balashov then finally gets escorted four days later to the very house in Vilna where he first brought news to the Tsar of Napoleon’s arrival.  Again, the irony of war.

It also means that we could have cut out these last few chapters and described it all in a few sentences – but by bringing this to life, the real historical events of the 1812 invasion become as real as the fictional ones.

Also, it means that after several books of comfort dealing with characters we know, Tolstoy is expanding out the literary universe again.  Prepare for more change . . .


2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 9.5 – “As Necessary As Wolves”

  1. I think I felt there was an almost tongue-in-cheekness here with Tolstoy’s likening of Davout and Arakcheev to wolves, and there s probably a good deal of truth in it. Politics is, after all, a ruthless domain and I tend to think that democracy, despite all its pretensions to being the voice of the people, is as much dominated by ruthlessness as any other system – in fact, sometimes, even more so, at least in the sense that in democracies the Davouts and Arakcheevs are very much hidden behind more respectable, palatable public faces. And then, we find ourselves getting all outraged when the ruthless faces reveal themselves – so the seemingly unacceptable behaviour of a Belinda Neal, or that bloke from the NSW Parliament who danced n his underwear at an office party, end up bring more of an embarrassment to a Government than the thousands of people living in poverty, or homeless, or without proper health care. So sometimes I tend to think a little more open ruthlessness wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing. Not that I am suggesting Belinda Neal be made Prime Minister, mind you!

    But it’s very clear that Tolstoy has a pretty low opinion of these people. His description of Davout’s studied gloom really was pretty unflattering!!

  2. Ever know anybody like this?

    Better quarters could have been found him, but Marshal Davout was one of those men who purposely put themselves in most depressing conditions to have a justification for being gloomy. For the same reason they are always hard at work and in a hurry. “How can I think of the bright side of life when, as you see, I am sitting on a barrel and working in a dirty shed?” the expression of his face seemed to say. The chief pleasure and necessity of such men, when they encounter anyone who shows animation, is to flaunt their own dreary, persistent activity.

    I’ve got 713!

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