Actually, I think this chapter clears up the last one. There had been histories written and judgments passed on the uselessness of Kutuzov and here Tolstoy clears it up, by explaining what Kutuzov was doing.

It’s a well-written chapter, but I think the hardest thing I found to swallow was that if everything had gone pear-shaped for the Russians, we would have thought that Kutuzov’s uselessness was to blame. I don’t know – am I being too harsh?

3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 15.5 – Kutuzov’s Reputation

  1. No, I don’t think you are being too harsh, Matt – but I do think that if you had put that same question to Tolstoy, he would have been unable to answer it because, to him, it would not have made sense – to him, it would have been incomprehensible, a contradiction in terms, that everything could have gone pear-shaped for the Russians. In this chapter we see, I think, why Tolstoy chose the 1812 war as the kernel of his book – it demonstrates, for Tolstoy, the whole point of his view of history: a view which Kutuzov alone understood and embodied and so, in that sense, it followed almost as a matter of internal logic that Russia would be victorious … Kutuzov alone understood how history works and that what happens on the battlefields of Borodino in 1812 is inextricably linked with what happened forty centuries earlier from the pyramids of Egypt.

    The thing I found especially interesting in this chapter was the way in which it seemed to me that Tolstoy was saying that this ability to see and understand the importance of the grand tide of history is a particularly Russian thing, and that the concept that history is created by individual leaders is a more European concept. I hadn’t really thought of that before, but I can see some truth in it and something which seems, somehow, to be reflected in the whole culture of Russia which, in a way, seems to have always been much more a history that is told in paragraphs rather than in sentences. I think.

  2. I have to admit, I tend to doze off during the parts when Tolstoy holds forth on his opinions and philosophies.

  3. I have to admit, Carly, that I did, too, when I first read War and Peace – but not at all this time around. I think that’s partly because I know what to expect now and that, as Tolstoy himself was at pains to point out, War and Peace is not a novel. But it’s also, and I think even more so, because of the way we’re reading it this time – not only at a chapter a day pace, but also commenting on and thinking about each chapter. It’s enabled me to really appreciate how the story, the history and the philosophy all entwine and, really, how brilliantly Tolstoy brings them slowly but irrevocably together. He has been quite ingenious, I think, in that respect – building up our knowledge of and sympathies for this or that character, or our emotional connection to this or that event, and then using that to explain and illustrate his bigger point about history and philosophy. I’m only now beginning to see how incredibly effectively he does that.

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