In this rather long and surreal chapter, Prince Bolkonsky’s servant, Alpatitch, ventures to the village of Smolensky.  I won’t go into all the details – after all, you do have to do some reading yourself – but notice how the details multiply.

First it’s a few sounds of gunfire in the distance.  Then it’s a panic and people heading out of town.  And then it just keeps building up until it becomes the madness that it is by the end of the chapter.

The unusual thing in all of this is that Alpatitch, so devoted to his master, doesn’t really think outside the box and so seems rather surprised by everything that is going on.

All of this serves to highlight the danger that is now facing the inhabitants of Bald Hills . . .

6 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.4 – Journey into Madness

  1. This was a scene that stuck in my mind when I read War and Peace the first time and, reading it again now, I can see why. It really is a tremendously vivid of a town under siege, and the crazed mix of fear, horror and a kind of hysterical revelry in it all. For me it’s an almost unbearably horrific picture that is painted here and I think it was a masterstroke on Tolstoy’s part to have most of the characters who involved in this scene (other than right at the end) being relatively minor, or even completely inconsequential, characters as far as the rest of the story is concerned. It is precisely their near anonymity that makes the horror of this scene, for me, so universal.

    But I think, for me, the most horrific bit of all was the scene where we hear Ferapontov’s wife being beaten and dragged along by her husband as she tries to flee the onslaught and to protect her children. What a far, far cry that is from the Hollywood family who, when faced with terrors such as this, huddle together, with the hero father protecting them all to the end! Tolstoy shows us here just how ughy and harsh humans’ responses to fear can sometimes be.

  2. Hey, it’s January 8th! Elvis Presley’s birthday!

    Ha Ha!


    If anybody thought this story was starting to drag, what with all the repetitive posturing going on ‘tween the two monarchs – Alexander and Napoleon – this Book # 10 will set them back on their proverbial heels . . . now we really get into some action!


    There’s something I don’t understand about this chapter – why did Alpatych take all those people into Smolensk with him? What was the point of having them with him? If it was for protection, why didn’t he just take men? In what way would his old sister-in-law and a scullery maid have helped him, had there been there been trouble?

    OK – maybe so they could escape . . . the wisdom in that is obvious – but doesn’t this chapter make a point of saying that Alpatych is ‘ruled’ by the old prince – even his thoughts are controlled by him . . . the old prince didn’t tell him to take all those people with him.
    Or did he?


    This is the scariest chapter so far; even the war scenes weren’t this scary.

    Tolstoy really went to town on this one; he did a great job of depicting the fear, the panic, the mayhem of that town as it went under seige.

    The number of people he put into the chapter was amazing; of course, maybe I’m just noticing that more than anyone else because I’m doing the character count.

    In my opinion, this chapter alone, would make a great movie.


    This chapter gives a very good example of how ‘sometimes’ looting isn’t the wrong thing to do. It would be a terrible waste to have all that food supply in the shop be taken by the enemy, when everybody’s going to need it on the road.

    I know I’d feel that way – if an enemy were to invade Toronto, I sure wouldn’t want to leave stuff for them to use after my people were killed or run off.


    Then finally, Prince Andrei turns up in this horrible scene to hand Alpatych a note to his father telling him to have himself and everyone LEAVE!

    Thank heavens!

    And here’s where Berg shows up and makes an incredible ass of himself! He doesn’t realize he’s ranting at Prince Andrei! Ha ha!

    Sorry I went on so much about this chapter, but it really impressed me.

    My character count is now up to 822!

  3. Hi guys,

    I forgot about the scene where Ferapontov was beating his wife. That was pretty terrible – and the fact that Alpatitch just thought it was normal made it even worse.

    But the whole mass hysteria thing was crazy. They’re watching a building burn (which they’ve set on fire themselves so that the French don’t get it) and, at the same time as being distraught about it, they’re also kind of having fun waiting for the moment when the building collapses.

    I must admit, I wonder whether it makes the peasants look a bit stupid, but then there have been some pretty stupid aristocrats in this story so far as well.

    Oh, Carly, should also say, if you look closely, Alpatitch didn’t take anyone to town with him. What happened was that his wife and relatives all came out to see him off from Bald Hills estate and told him to come straight back if there was any problems. The amusing (if I can call it that) part of this chapter was that his wife and other relatives were more conscious of the danger than he was. Whereas, Alpatitch’s mind set was, “Well, hey, if my boss says it’s not an issue, it’s not an issue.” Dangerously naive.

  4. I agree totally Carly – a very graphic chapter, which would be great on film. Now I’ll have to watch the Bondarchuk movie again to whether or not this scene is included. My memory is that it’s not – but then my memory is one of the least reliable things on the planet.

  5. Ahhhhhhh! Thanks for putting me wise, Matt!
    I was wrong about that – so he didn’t take all those people – I’m relieved!

    I’m going to be looking at the Bondarchuk again soon – I stopped myself at a certain point ‘cause I was getting confused.

    Now . . . let’s get movin’ on Chapter 5! I’ve been ‘reading ahead’, I admit it . . . it’s another good chapter!

  6. Carly, what you said about Berg making an ass of himself ranting at Prince Andrei – Andrei keeps his cool in this scene, but NB he has laid himself open to this kind of humiliation by becoming a fighting officer rather than a staff officer – all his aristocratic connections despise him for this decision. Like so much, this reveals the way he is always being hard on himself.

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