Reading for Tuesday, 3 March

Here Napoleon is at the gates of Moscow, but in a moment that feels historical (but could also have been invented by Tolstoy), it’s not all as much fun as he would have hoped.

He was hoping to waltz in to the city, be met by the Tsar’s men and welcomed as a great benevolent leader coming in to change the world.

But a deserted city?

It goes to show that (at least in this portrayal) the conquering wasn’t half so important as the ego boost. Anyone could take a city. But to have people fawn over you and think you’re magnificent is what Napoleon wanted.

I like the little bit where Napoleon’s offsiders are wondering whether they should scrape some people together to pretend to be deputation.  Either way, French honour was at stake here . . .

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 11.19 – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

  1. I got from this chapter exactly the same point that you did, Matt – that, for Napoleon, it was his ego, much more than Moscow per se, that was the real issue here. It’s a harsh, unflattering picture that Tolstoy paints here – with Napoleon coming across, at least to me, as immature, childish, himself trivialised by the way he tries to puff himself up by his fanatsies of conquests and adulation.

    These sorts of scenes, I think, hold important lessons for all of us – but especially for our political leaders who, when all is said and done, are often not all that far removed from what Tolstoy is portraying here in Napoleon – people who measure their own greatness by the extent to which other people hold them in awe. Napoleon’s shallowness seems almost laughable here – and yet it is, I suspect, still frighteningly real, and frighteningly widespread.

    It reminds of reading in Barry Jones’ autobiography recently – Barry Jones, the now-and-then President of the Australian Labor Party. He explains how he told John Howard, when he was elected Liberal Prime Minister, that he should read “War and Peace” because it would make him a better leader. Chapters like this – and all those other chapters about the ultimate insignificance of single leaders – remind me why Barry Jones would have said that. I still don’t know if John Howard ever did read “War and Peace” – but I somehow suspect not.

  2. I’m wondering what Napoleon would have done for the people of Moscow (and Russia as a whole eventually), had they welcomed him?

    Would he have made the lives of the common people any easier? Would the common people have become any richer?

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