Reading for Tuesday, 27 January

Again, this chapter is a twist on the usual war story.  In a regular war story, this would be the moment where the generals expound the theory and work out their plans, all of which will be played out in the next few chapters.

Instead, we hear it from Pierre’s point of view, where none of it makes any sense, and he has to pretend to understand it, so he doesn’t look stupid.  However, in Tolstoy’s view of the world, none of the strategy would have meant anything anyway, so in a way, Pierre’s hearing it as gibberish is exactly what Tolstoy thought of Bennigsen’s strategy.

However, in a neat shift, Tolstoy then lets us clearly hear a bit of strategy from Bennigsen – that of moving the troops up on top of the mountain.  This bit of strategy we hear quite clearly, only to have it undermined as Tolstoy tells us that by doing this, Bennigsen confounded the commander-in-chief’s plans.  So strategy that is incomprehensible and strategy that is foolish.  Either way, Tolstoy doesn’t care too much for the strategies of the generals.  (And he would have a reason for it – he heavily researched War and Peace and would have waded through the memoirs of many bragging generals talking about their perfect strategies which won this campaign or caused this action.)

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.23 – Strategy

  1. Carly, I wouldn’t be too worried about finding some of this stuf hard to follow if I were you. My sense is that it’s meant to be pretty confused and confusing because, as Matt says, that’s sort of Tolstoy’s point – this battle (like everything in history, according to Tolstoy) didn’t happen because of a simple link between a leader divising a rational, straightforward strategy and it then being followed through in a rational, straightforward way by the army, because, in reality, it was all just one big mess of this person saying that, another person saying something else, someone misunderstanding another person, someone else wanting to undermine someone else, and so on and so on.

    I think, too, that chapters like this really do benefit enormously from the one-chapter-a-day approach, because it can (at least for me) feel a bit overwhelming when you get quite a lot of this writing about battle strategy all in one go – but, reading it a bit at a time, I find I get more of a sense of the point Tolstoy is making, and that the picture is complex and confused not because I’m trying to absorb too much too quickly, but because it really is complex and confused.

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