Reading for Monday 9 March

I’m surprised I don’t remember reading this chapter the first time I read the book, because it really is the most disturbing chapter I’ve encountered in War and Peace to date. It certainly hasn’t been pleasant watching men go off to war and be killed and maimed.

But nothing really prepares you for the violence that Rastoptchin unleashes. Especially because Tolstoy’s prose stays at the same calm, slightly satirical level that it’s always been. But Tolstoy doesn’t need to preach in this chapter. The events speak for themselves.

When things get out of control, the unspeakable happens. The force of commanders and law breaks down when the weight of the people press against it. What’s ironic is that, in this chapter, the leader that is meant to control the mob and enforce order is the very one who unleashes disorder and chaos.

In a fit of petty rage, no one is human any more.


One thought on “One-Year War and Peace 11.25 – Inhumane

  1. I, too, was surprised by how little I could remember of this chapter – a thought which, in some ways, is almost as disturbing as the chapter itself. I don’t know if it’s a sign that we have become desensitised to senseless violence, or maybe we really do still find it so horrendous that it is easier for us to gloss over it as quickly as possible. In any event, this chapter certainly portrays senseless violence – senseless in every way: directionless, misguided, misdirected. But, for me, perhaps the most horrific part of all was the way, towards the end of this chapter, not only does Tolstoy tell us of the way Rastopchin justifies his violence, but also tells us how that same justification has been used in th same way “as long as the world has existed and people have been killing each other” – a justification that accepts all these horrors as necessary for the greater good. Naked horror is awful – but horror dressed up as goodness is much, much more frightening.

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