Reading for Friday, 10 April

Here we have a small defense of Napoleon. Depending on what you call a defense.

Some historians have thought that Napoleon lost the plot at Moscow and made a few mistakes.

Tolstoy says, “Not at all! It wouldn’t have mattered what he did!”

In fact the line which sums it up says that “his [Napoleon’s] personal activity, having no more force than the personal activity of every soldier, was merely coincidental with the laws by which the event was determined.”


But the best part of this chapter is the moment where he talks about the difference between the Germans and the Russians. The Germans have to make out Napoleon to be an ultra-genius to explain why they lost.

However, referring to the Russians, Tolstoy says, “But we have, thank God, no need to plead his genius to cloak our shame. We have paid for the right to look facts simply and squarely in the face, and that right we will not give up.”

More on Napoleon in the next few chapters – sadly, however, I’m away for the next couple of days, so it will be the weekend before I get back to the blog. Sorry about this! Except I do have one more thing to share, but that will be in a separate post.


6 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 13.8 – Was Napoleon An Idiot?

  1. Yes, the comparison between the Germans and the Russians is very telling here, and a good example of what has sometimes been noted as Tolstoy’s enormous affinity with the Russian soul. It must have been quite a rebellious sort of patriotism that Tolstoy displayed – a love not for the people who led Russia from their thrones and military headquarters, but for the people themselves, their values and their spirit. I guess that’s why Tolstoy can write a chapter like this – because the glory and the shame of Russia, in his analysis, belong to everyone. Just as with the previous chapter, I find it intriguing to imagine how all this was received in Tolstoy’s day, where the story of the war, until this stuff was written, had been little more than the story of Napoleon and Kutuzov. Now it’s the story of the people.

  2. The Germans are activists, resisting, fighting, insisting on battles. The Russians absorb. Kutuzov doesn’t want a battle after he leaves Moscow. He can win without one. Reminded me of Viet Nam. We won all those battles and lost the war.

  3. I have come to the end of the book – read Epilogue 1, but didn’t do Epilogue 2 . . .

    I have a count of 1446!

    How ‘dead on’ that is, I dunno’. I’m waiting till we come to the end of it on this blog here.

    Eventually, if not before August – which is when we’ll end, I guess, I will go over that character list thoroughly – I’m sure I’ll find some duplications.

  4. 1446 is very impressive, Carly … my dream is to one day do a really thorough encyclopaedia of War and Peace… an explanation of all the characters, all the places, a summary of every chapter, that sort of thing … no one would read it, of course, but it’d still be fun to do. I think you can be pretty sure there’ll be no more characters to add to the list from the second epilogue!!

  5. Ian, I have enjoyed your commentary on this blog, and would certainly be glad to have such a perfect companion to this book. I hope, by this point, you have worked something up as it’s been a few years.

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