Reading for Wednesday, June 3

A friend of mine told me that he has recently been listening to a series of podcasts about Napoleon by an expert on the man and he said that this particular guy hated Tolstoy’s interpretation of Napoleon in War and Peace.

I can kind of understand why. The guy who has been studied in all the military textbooks, and still considered to be one of the greatest military leaders of all time – is here reduced by Leo Tolstoy to merely a little tyrant who got to where he got by a series off good circumstances.

Whether it’s right or not is not for me to say, because I haven’t really studied enough about Napoleon to know. It does feel a bit simplified.

But what’s to enjoy is the sheer amount of Russian venom (subtle but direct) that Tolstoy inserts into his prose as he tells the story. Event by event, Napoleon’s life is re-written and reduced to a trifle. It’s the kind of thing that, if it was read out loud at a Napoleonic convention of scholars, would have them crying for blood by the end of it. Quite amusing.

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One thought on “One-Year War and Peace E1.3 – A Short History of Napoleon

  1. I guess this whole portrayal of Napoleon as little more than a product of a million other circumstances is, ultimately, the result of, on the one hand, Tolstoy’s philosophies of history and, on the other hand, his still ardent Russian patriotism. He could have, I suppose, have made the same anlaysis of Alexander or even of Kuuzov, but I guess it was important here for Tolstoy to make this analysis of someone who he, and is readers, didn’t like – he needed to bring down someone who, while still put on a pedestal, was at the same time hated a reviled by the Russian people. Maybe, in a sense, then, this is a little bit of literary opportunism from Tolstoy – taking advantage, as he does, of the mood of his audience to make a much bigger, more important poiont, about the way individuals and history interact with each other.

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