Reading for Sunday, 12 April

Sorry, I should have known better when I said Tolstoy didn’t criticise too much in the last chapter. He was just holding back for this one.

The strength of the contrast is that he was able to contrast what I’m sure were real historical documents of Napoleon’s with the truth of the matter in these stories. Well, we assume it’s the truth . . . That’s the funny thing, in all of this – Tolstoy sets himself up as the master historian, correcting all errors of history and all errors of the philosophy of history.

But who corrects Tolstoy? Maybe that comes out in some of those academic companion pieces to War and Peace.

It does say one thing, however, about historical fiction – whether it be books or films. The secret is not necessarily how accurate you are – but how believable does it seem. I think all of us could easily imagine the situation in Moscow being as chaotic as this.

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 13.10 – The Truth, However . . .

  1. This chapter certainly belongs very much alongside the previous one, with each of Napoleon’s strategies as systematically and methodically dismantled here as they were laid out for us in the last chapter. It is effective, for sure – but, as you point out Matt, I guess we don’t get to hear the response from the other side. In a way, though, to me the issue of how far Tolstoy was or wasn’t correct in his descrptions of what happened and how is less important than the way Tolstoy uses this whole setting of Napoleonic war as his vehicle for putting pefore us his views on how history develops. So, as I see it, even if people were to disagree with Tolstoy’s analysis of the events of 1812, his broader point about how history works, and how we inevitably try to explain history by looking at the wrong things, is still a strong and valid argument, I think. In some ways, it’s probably better for us reading this stuff now than back in Tolstoy’s days when, I imagine, the debates and disputes about the actual details Tolstoy was describing would have been a lot stronger and so, in that sense, might have at times clouded people’s ability to assess and reflect upon his brader argument.

  2. Well, there are, I’m sure many documents written on the philosophies from ‘the other side’. But Tolstoy, in giving his philosophies and thoughts on why, how and why not, if, ands, buts and unfortunatelies . . . in giving his views, we are able to learn about this particular part of the world’s history. And it is important.

    This is a good time for me to share my experience from yesterday (April 21st). It was a special day for the Jewish people and for people of other faiths too – to commemorate the horrors of mid-century’s past.

    I got myself all in a knot first thing in the morning; I was on Reading Group Guides, discussing the book ‘Sarah’s Key’, which is a story of a young girl who managed to escape from one of the camps in France. It’s a terribly sad story, of course, but a really good book, if you’re looking around for one.

    What got me worked up was not so much how the girls on the site were tooting the horn of the many commemorations planned for the day – not so much on what the commemorations were about . . . but I found myself occupied for a good hour’s time, posting rants! I got myself in such a whirl of anger, thinking about all the time and energy that goes into these commemorations, when there’s so much we here in current times can be doing, right here on our own continent (North America), to help people find a decent way to live.

    I roared on about how people are put down, made to live in slums, with very little money – the whole yadda yadda discourse of it all. How we are worried about North Korea and their nuclear weapons, etc., the atrocities of the middle-east, Darpur, other African problems – the bad treatment of women, etc.

    The girls there (who are truly good friends to allow me to rant on like that), were able to bring me down to my normal ‘easy-going-peaceful’ nature by pointing out how commemorating the holocaust is important.

    Lest We Forget!

    And by the end of the day, I realized how wrong I was . . . of course, it’s important to commemorate these times when people suffered so – the more we remember, the less likely it is that such a thing can happen again.

    So what am I saying here . . . that Tolstoy’s discourses on why things happened the way they did, are useful to our modern times and to the future. War is not, of course, waged in quite the same way, in present times, but the ‘mind set’ and ‘situations’ that get wars going is the same. And we learn from it. We learn that we shouldn’t be applauding a political/military leader’s every move. We need to think it out – do we really need to ‘be there’ interfering with this, that and the other thing.

    OK – I’d better stop there, or I’ll be ranting again.

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