Reading for Sunday, 21 December

And now, with a turn of characterisation that he does so well, Tolstoy describes the “strategy” meeting between the different generals, and actually succeeds in making us feel a bit sorry for Pfuhl because “he was visibly in despair that the sole chance left him of testing his theory on a vast scale and proving its infallibility to the whole world was slipping away from him.”

Of course, by the end of the meeting in the room, no resolution is reached, and instead, via Prince Andrei’s stream of consciousness, Tolstoy provides us with the theory that there is no great “man of genius” in the world of war – it all comes down to what your men do on the ground.

Then, as another of those Tolstoy throwaway moments, we find out in the last paragraph, that Andrei wants to serve on the front, rather than be on the staff of the Tsar.  Things are different now in 1812, than when Andrei first served.  In 1805, he really wanted to do heroic things in battle so that he could move himself up the ladder and be regarded as a great man.

Now he has the chance for “greatness” and he’d rather go serve at the front.  He seems more content just to get the war over and done with. 

Well, that’s my reading of it anyway.  Any other thoughts?

2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 9.11 – Poor Old Pfuhl

  1. I think I read this in much the same way as you did, Matt. Maybe I didn’t quite see in Andrei the same eagerness to get the war over with as you did, but I certainly saw here his contempt for the artificality and pretence of all those people who think they are holding the reins, and his belief that it’s the rank and file who really make a difference. It’s a good follow-on from two Chapters ago, when we saw all those grand, conflicting theories of war dismissed with the thrust of popular self-interest; and here again, we see all the high-minded strategising thrown aside, at least in Andrei’s mind, by what soldiers do or don’t do on the battlefield – and not even necessarily masses of soldiers: just this one, or that one, who does or says something that turns things in a different direction.

    It all goes to show us, yet again, Tolstoy’s view of history as a vast wave, driven by a zillion little bits, all of which play their part, rather than by one, or even a few, masterminds. And, as I see it, Andrei wants to be part of the wave that causes change, rather than the elite, removed theoreticians who don’t.

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