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.)