Reading for Saturday, 28 March

The atmosphere is again piled on with the subtle little details. I like the way that Tolstoy doesn’t need to spell out a lot of things to make the point. He doesn’t drown you in description. He justs tells you about the smoke hanging over the city, and then the detail of Pierre arriving at a home he often used to visit that’s now been taken over by the French – and that’s really all you need. You get the picture of how utterly trashed Moscow has become.

And as Pierre gets taken to the French marshal, his situation gets more and more ominous. Tolstoy deliberately keeps everything vague, so you can’t tell exactly what’s happening, but it’s clear that execution is waiting.

But then, in this chapter, which could really just be a functional plot chapter – there’s the marvellous moment where Pierre and Davoust make eye contact and Davoust realises that he is looking at a human being.

Another nice little human moment in there. But it doesn’t seem to be enough to save Pierre from his fate . . . and so Pierre is left wondering exactly what caused his execution to be ordered and comes to the rather astonishing conclusion that nobody in particular wanted to do it. It was just circumstances coming together.

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 12.10 – Human Connection

  1. Like you, Matt, I thought this chapter was marvellous in the way Tolstoy employed his now landmark ability to describe the big picture by pointing us to its little details. Just a few details make the whole thing so vivid, so you feel you are there, walking through those columns of smoke, walking through all that devastation – so ironically contrasted with the fine, sunny day after the rain – with Pierre.

    But the moment where those two pairs eyes connected, and they stopped being French and Russian and instead became two human beings, was, I thought, tremendously powerful – like so many of the moments where Tolstoy exposes to us the human faces behind the horrors of war.

    And then at the end we once again see Tolstoy showing us how events unfold almost, it seems, of their own volition … so that Pierre now stands condemned to death, and, all at once, everyone and no one is responsible.

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