Reading for Tuesday, 10 March

The novel continues along in its stunning breakdown of society. In brilliant prose, Tolstoy describes how the French arrive as an army – but then disappear.  Like a big sponge, the soldiers are all soaked up and disappear, each of them becoming looters and scroungers.

As well as describing what clearly was one of the most momentous events in Russian history, this story backs up Tolstoy’s theory by showing that when the group put their mind to something, no commander can hold them back.

In this case, the group want to loot and pillage – so no commanders can hold back the Frenchmen. Thus, despite any orders Napoleon might give to the contrary – it’s his men that are driving the events here.

In the same way, the great fire of Moscow (can you really claim to be a great city if you haven’t had a great fire whip through your city at some stage?) begins – was it started by anyone? No, says Tolstoy, it was an inevitable event that was bound to happen. Wooden buildings + no one to look after them = fire.

We’ll see what the human consequences of this equation turn out to be tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 11.26 – Breakdown of an Army

  1. I must say I found something rather depressing about this chapter – even though it was brilliantly written and powerfully told. I think it had something to do with the degradation of Moscow that was somehow captured here – the description of water being absorbed into dry ground, so that neither the water nor the dry ground are there any more, seemed such an irrevocably despairing view of Moscow … a city once so great, with so much history, so quickly ceasing to be itself, through an army of emaciated soldiers being sucked up into it. And, in some ways, the description of the inevitability of its burning down only added to this – there was nothing willfully bad about it, nothing willfully patriotic either: it burnt for the most prosaic and banal of reasons: it was made of wood.

    I’d be interested to know how this was all received when Tolstoy wrote it. It was only fifty or so years after the event, and I imagine that Moscow was still being rebuilt at the time, and that there was probably quite a lot of patriotic hyperbole about the events surrounding its destruction. The myths that Tolstoy is debunking here must surely have been hard for people to let go of.

  2. Well, I think when we write, we tend to use our personal memories of things – Tolstoy was in the armed forces and he used his experience in this book.
    That’s only natural.
    I was a child of the 50’s, a teen in the early 60’s, then a young adult. I tend to use things I observed about myself and others when I write.
    So Tolstoy used his experience to write his stories – I wouldn’t expect otherwise. Were I to learn he had no such experience, in war or in society itself, I’d be disappointed.

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