Reading for Sunday, 25 January

In this short chapter, Pierre looks around and had trouble telling the French from the Russians.  It’s a very clever device, because Pierre’s naivety allows Tolstoy to point out that nothing looked very battle-like in real life at Borodino.  People were scattered all over the place, and nobody was entirely sure where the French were going to attack (notice the officer talking to Pierre says that they’re expecting the French to come and attack them on the right, when we know from Tolstoy’s earlier chapter that the French hit all their forces into the Russians’ left flank).

But this is then overshadowed by the arrival of the Holy Mother.  The funny thing is that in reading this chapter, you or I might have been tempted to think this story was a bit superfluous – the kind of thing that would hit the cutting-room floor if you were making a movie or writing an abridged version.

And yet, I distinctly remember the arrival of the icon as being a massive set-piece in the third Bondarchuk film.  It could be that Bondarchuk liked the spectacle of it all, but I think also it’s a reminder just how ingrained the Russian Orthodox faith was to most of the people at this time.  (And, of course, in the 60s, when the Bondarchuk film was made, I imagine there would have been a lot less people that held that faith, so it would almost have been a curious piece of past history to audiences then as well.)


4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.21 – Positions and the Icon

  1. I, too, thought of this scene from the Bondarchuk film when I read his chapter, Matt. It actually made me want to go back and look at the scene again because, as I remember it, it followed the detail of the writing really scrupulously. I can’t remember if it made the same impression on me when I read War and Peace the first time, before I had seen the film, but I know that now, both through seeing the film and re-reading the book, this scene came across as immensely powerful where, against all the craziness and chaos of war, a massive pause button is pushed while the soldiers and militia submit themselves to a Higher Power, and suddenly, even the war itself, appears to us in a different light, with a different significance. It’s a scene which, to me, is just overflowing with awe – the awe that is so central to their faith, and the awe in the face of the war. And I just loved the final touch where, against all this awe amongst the rank and file, right at the end of the chapter, the great Kutuzov is the one who is awkward, clumsy and almost ridiculous in front of the icon.

  2. Well, superfluous to us Westerners. To a Russian, their faith was very important and they clung to it. I don’t know a lot about Russian Orthodox faith, but the way it is portrayed here it comes across more as a superstition, but a very important one. (This is as opposed to the faith, say, of the Reformation countries, which was more reasoned out and based on the Bible.) This is not to say that’s how the faith actually was, but it’s the way Tolstoy portrays it.

  3. On reading this again today, I’m thinking of poor Kutuzov – how he bowed and couldn’t get up again – the poor man! I’m like that sometimes myself . . .

    I’m starting to have more faith in him now . . . still think he’s kinda’ dozey, but he is a nice man and really cares about people. He seems to be the only leader that isn’t there for his ego.

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