And here, as we move from the philosophy back to the battlefield, we are left again with Kutuzov and Napoleon, both so swept up in the chain of events that nothing they can do can change anything.

While I’m still not quite convinced that the generals were as powerless as all that, nonetheless, Tolstoy’s reasoning is starting to convince me, if nothing else because of how often he beats me over the head with it in every chapter. (I might have said this elsewhere, but it’s starting to remind me of Oliver’s Stone’s JFK.  Yes, it’s fiction and conjecture – but the conviction of the filmmaker is so strong, that you can’t help but believe that this is what really must have happened to JFK.  So also with Tolstoy.  Surely, we think, this must be what it was really like in the Napoleonic wars – this must have been what the generals were thinking.)

Most fascinating of all is Kutuzov, surrounded by little messages on all sides, all of which require him to make a decision.  Can he really be said to make the best decision under the circumstances?  Or does he really just make one decision out of many that he has to make because he has to do something?  If later, it turned out to be a disaster, the history books will say that he chose badly.  But if things turned out well, we’ll say that he did a good job and was a wise general.

But, really, at the time, did he really know whether one choice was better than another?  I sometimes imagine that if time travel was ever invented, it would be fascinating to take people from different points of history and put them together.  (E.g. letting Bach meet Beethoven, Beethoven meet Mahler.)  It would be kind of fun to put Kutuzov and Tolstoy in a room together and see whether Kutuzov agreed that really nothing he personally did made much difference – or whether he’d get highly offended at the idea and take Tolstoy to task.

(Either way, I reckon Leo wouldn’t change his mind – because even if Kutuzov did think that he was personally responsible for winning the war, Tolstoy would still think he was deluding himself . . .)

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 11.2 – Can’t Change Anything

  1. I do kind of like your idea, Matt, of getting Kutuzov and Tolstoy together in the one room. I think Tolstoy would like us to think that Kutuzov more or less shares Tolstoy’s viw of history – at least intuitively – but I suspect that might be a bit of creative licence on Leo’s part. After all, probably no one would have bought the book if he put himself at odds with such a great hero (at the time) of Russian history.

    But this chapter is a good way of illustrating the points that were made in the previous chapter about the infinite continuity of history – showing us here, in very concrete terms, that it is completely misleading to try to unnderstand Kutuzov’s orders, or their impact, by looking at it in bits and he does seem to put that case pretty convincingly, I think.

    Just one other point, which I only noticed this time, is that the opening line of this chapter is also the opening line of the great choral epigraph from Prokofiev’s opera of War and Peace. The Epigraph is properly performed between Parts I and II of the opera, separating the “peace” scenes (which make up Part One) from the “war” scenes (which mak up part two). The Epigraph is an absolutely stunning, heaven-storming, earth-shattering piece of music – sometimes, unfortunately, not performed in its entirety in some performances (I can’t imagine why – because the bit that gets cut is the most dramatic bit of all, where the chorus sings about Russia being pillaged and its people brutalised), or shifted to the beginning of the opera (where it makes no sense at all). Well worth a listen!!

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