Reading for Saturday, 24 January

Previously, when Tolstoy has described a battle, it has been from the point of one of the enlisted officers fighting in that battle – people such as Nikolai or Andrei.

Here he pulls off the rather audacious literary trick of telling us what is going on from the point of view of Pierre, a civilian.  On the one hand, this provides a sort of comedy to the whole thing – Pierre, dressed in his green coat and his white hat, as out of place as a fish on dry land, wandering further and further towards Borodino.

But, on the other hand, Pierre, despite his naivety, has these flashes of deep humanity where he sees things that others do not.  I think this passage sums it up best:

“The strange idea that of those thounsands of men, alive and well, young and old, who had been staring with such light-hearted amusement at his hat, twenty thousand were inevitably doomed to wounds and death (perhaps the very men whom he had seen) made a great impression on Pierre. . . .

“‘They were going into battle and meeting wounded soldiers, and never for a minute paused to think what was in store for them, but went by and winked at their wounded comrades.  And of all those, twenty thousand are doomed to death, and they can wonder at my hat! Strange!’ thought Pierre, as he went on towards Tatarinovo.”

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.20 – “Where is the position exactly?”

  1. Yes, this is the sort of ironic observation that Tolstoy sets up so well – the little trivial things being juxtaposed with the big and profound things. It’s something Tolstoy has done a few times throughout War and Peace so far, whee he has drawn our attention to the absurd ways in which life goes on, with al its petty, trivial, everyday concerns, while the world is in upheaval around them, and people are dying by the thousands. It’s true, of course, that that’s simply how life is – even when the biggest tragedies are happening around us, there continues to be a sort of banality to life that keeps going, undeterred. And yet, in another way, I think Tolstoy is issuing us a bit of a wake-up call here, too – a reminder that, from the comfort of our daily, often unremarkable, lives, we often forget about the unimaginable horrors and tragedies that are happening – if not at our doorstep, then at least on our planet. It makes me see a kind of simple profundity even in the title of this book – it’s not just about times of war alternating with time of peace, but also about the way the two exist side by side, hand in hand … sometimes, it seems, even mimicking one another. Or am I reading too much into it?

  2. Y’know, Matt, when I was reading this I thought of you – I thought to myself ‘Do I really have to understand all this?’

    Then I thought – no . . . Matt will most likely go on about this and I’ll know what it’s about.

    Well . . . now, I see that you didn’t explain the ‘position’ at all – it was just what Pierre thought of it – guess I shouldn’t be such a lazy reader – I really oughta’ be looking at the history links.

    (Guess I can’t blame myself too much – from what was said in these chapters, the Russian Army and the French Army didn’t really know what they were doing either, but somehow they still fought.)

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