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 . . .