For 7/20/2021 (OUP p. 705)
Book 3: Part 1 Continued
Scene Change: Vilna, Poland (mid-June, 1812)
Czar Alexander is told the news of Napoleon’s invasion at a dinner party in Poland, where Helene and Boris are both present. Boris overhears his reaction to the news. The Czar writes to Napoleon attempting to make one more offer of peace if he retreats.
Scene Change: near the Niemen, then Vilna, where Napoleon’s army positions itself
A general named Balashov (former Chief of Police in Petersburg, later Head of ministry of police) is supposed to take the letter to Napoleon. Some Russian troops treat him with contempt; Murat, now King of Naples and ridiculous in his outfit, is very polite but does not seem to have much power.
Balashov is received by Davout, Napoleon’s right-hand man, who is cold and hostile and tells him he cannot see the Emperor in person, but should give the letter to in person, but should give the letter to Davout. Balashov is taken to his quarters and travels with the French for four days before Napoleon receives him in Vilna–from where Alexander had dispatched him initially.
Balashov finally meets with Napoleon. He does not use Alexander’s phrase (that he will not seek peace as long as there is an enemy on Russian soil, but just asks that N retreats beyond the Niemen. Napoleon argues that he has been provoked and that Russia’s alliance with Prussia and England prevents him from working with Alexander, who could have had a “splendid reign” if allied with France. He dismisses Balashov.
Balashov continues as a guest (more than a prisoner) in the camp, and is invited to a dinner with Napoleon and several of his main advisors where Napoleon implies without much diplomacy and much self-satisfaction that the Russians with their many churches and monasteries are “backward.” The dinner ends with more strange pleasantries by Napoleon, who seems to think Balashov admires him. Not only does he try to sound him out about the roads to Moscow; he also questions Alexander’s behavior and competence as a leader in front of his general, not quite understanding that Balashov is loyal to the Czar. Eventually, he tells him that his horses are ready and that he has a letter for Balashov to take back to Alexander. After this last exchange of letters, the war begins.
Scene Change: Petersburg and Bald Hill
Meanwhile, Andrei has traveled from Moscow to Petersburg in search of Anatole Kuragin, who has disappeared, and re-joined the army. He has gotten his assignment from his commander, but on the way to join the Russian army, he stops at Bald Hills, where time seems to have stopped, except that his father is even meaner to Marya and then resents Andrei for telling him that he should stay away from M’elle B and be nicer to Marya, who actually urges him to forgive his father and all other enemies (because humans are just the instruments of God and not culpable for anything), but he can’t. He thinks that forgiveness is women’s business. He also cannot seem to feel affection for his son, little Nikolai, and is overall in a very depressed and despondent mood again.
Scene Change: The Russian camp at Drissa
Andrei arrives at the three Russian army’s camp in Drissa in late June of 1812. As he finds his way around before his assignment under a commander named Barclay de Tolly (a Latvian descendant of a Scottish family who was minister of war as well as a commander) begins, we get to hear about the many camps/factions of people that surround the Czar, all of different opinions about how the war should be conducted and Napoleon dealt with (Tolstoy lists 9 in total). But some are German military theorists and Russian “practitioners,” who just want to fight; others are civilian courtiers, and many just opportunists looking for money, positions, and awards. It is the (9th) party, consisting of the older, experienced politicians, who manage to convince Alexander to leave the army and return to Moscow, to be a sovereign and not a commander in chief (with no real qualifications and constantly influenced by his civilian courtiers).
Andrei is asked by his commander to speak to Alexander and his advisor Bennigsen (a German from Hanoverian service who entered Russian service in the 1770s) regarding his experience of the war in Turkey, but only a sub-commander is actually present at the Benningsen’s quarters. As Andrei waits, he gets a good sense of one of the German “war theory” faction, a Prussian general named Pfuel, whose plan for the army’s camp is currently under scrutiny by Alexander’s personal advisors, but who is convinced he has the only correct approach and shows nothing but contempt for anyone but himself.
Eventually, the Czar and his circle return and have a war council of sorts with Pfuel and the other German theorists. Andrei (whose experience in Turkey really doesn’t interest anyone, after all, especially not Pfuel, who ridicules the Turkish campaign) listens carefully to the lengthy discussion, but says nothing–he thinks that there is no right approach to Napoleon’s campaign and no “military genius,” because no one can calculate the outcome of the confluence of factors that feed into a war. Before departing, Andrei asks to be allowed to serve in the army, not as a courtier.
Scene Change: The Pavlovgrad Hussar regiment near the Russian frontier beyond Drissa, July 13, 1812
Meanwhile, Nikolai Rostov has rejoined his regiment, the Pavlograd Hussars, now with a young protegee named Ilyin in tow. He has easily fallen back into the military life (even though he can now seriously imagine a life of hunts and balls in the countryside with Sonya), but just before his squadron sees action on July 13, he walks out of a conversation with other soldiers because dislikes the obvious lies and exaggeration of a comrade, Zdrzhinsky, about a battle (Saltanov) earlier in the day. In the pouring rain, he and Ilyin go to a tavern with some others in the regiment to join in some amusements there.
Nikolai and the other officers arrive at the tavern, take their wet uniforms off, and flirt as all get-out with the wife of the regiment’s doctor, Marya Gendrikhovna, until her husband, who is sleeping nearby, wakes up grumpy and jealous, and takes her back to their covered cart to sleep there and protect their belongings. The officers decide to settle at the tavern and sleep there, but instead they keep talking about the pretty Marya and her silly jealous husband.
The officers at the tavern have still not gone to sleep at 3 am when they receive an order to march on to a town named Ostrovna. Nikolai, having learned “how to manage his thoughts” in battle, is excited as they mount their horses, especially when he hears guns in the distance; young Ilyin is terrified. It is getting light and the gunfire is closer; eventually, they watch as a group of uhlans is being chased by French dragoons nearby.
Without being given the command to do so, Nikolai takes the initiative and suggests an attack on the dragoons, seizing an opportune moment as he would have on a hunt. This is successful and earns him praise, a medal, and later a promotion, but once he has (slightly) wounded a young French officer who seems even more scared than he is, he feels ashamed and really cannot understand why his action is thought of as heroism.
Scene Change: The Rostovs’ home in Moscow
Meanwhile, everything at the Rostovs back in Moscow revolves around Natasha, who is so seriously ill that everyone forgets to scold her. The doctors cannot really figure out what is wrong, but their treatments (and their exorbitant cost) make everyone feel that the doctors and they themselves are important and that, basically, the boo-boo is being kissed (p.703-704). Natasha recovers slowly as her grief lessens, but the family does not go to the countryside that summer because of her illness.