For 9/2/2021 (p. 857)
Book Three, Part 2 continued
Scene: Moscow continued
Pierre comes home to read the newest broadsheets and tries to answer the question of whether to leave Moscow or stay by playing solitaire/patience. He arranges for the departure of his one female “cousin” (half-sister) who still lives with him. As he walks through the “deserted” (by aristocrats) Moscow on August 24 (the day of the battle of the Shervardino Redoubt), he himself decides he will leave when he sees a French cook being flogged. Life seems meaningless.
Another chapter reflecting on the problem with post-facto interpretation of the Battle of Borodino (August 26). Historians who argue that there were specific strategies at work impose these on the events based on the outcome of the battle, but this is wrong–Kutuzov and other players “acted involuntarily and irrationally” (809), not strategically. Several concrete examples are given for this, but the narrator is quite insistent that the Russians had no idea that they were going to fight where the battle took place, and that what happened was unpredictable and unexpected.
Scene: The Russian camp near Borodino
On the morning of August 25, Pierre leaves and lets his carriage take him toward Borodino. He observes the soldiers, sees the wounded (from the previous day’s battle), talks to a military doctor who is not prepared for the “at least twenty thousand wounded” (814), and doesn’t really understand what is going on. He is surprised that the common soldiers still take the time to wonder at Pierre’s presence (and his strange white hat) in the midst of these events.
Pierre ascends a knoll with allegedly good view of what is going on but he doesn’t know what he is looking at, until an officer takes the time to explain what he is seeing, pointing out Borodino and the missing left flank (which was supposed to have been at Shevardino, which was taken by the French. He witnesses a church procession and ceremony, where the Smolensk Mother of God icon (actually, a copy of it) is carried into the camp and soldiers pay their respects and pray. Kutuzov arrives and partakes in the event.
Pierre is still wandering about a bit aimlessly, but runs into Boris, who says he will provide him with quarter. Boris, in the service of Bennigsen, has managed to stay around even though Kutuzov has gotten rid of all “unncessary men from the staff” and he would normally that (821). He is as much of a toady as ever and tries to make it seem at every opportunity that Bennigsen is the real commander. Kutuzov summons Pierre, who is surprised to also see Dolokhov, offering his services. Kutuzov only speaks a few words to Pierre, tolerating his presence (on Hélène’s account); Dolokhov asks Pierre for forgiveness on the eve of battle. Pierre follows the commanders to Tatarinova.
Pierre tries to listen to Bennigsen’s explanation of the troops’ positions and shows off his powers by ordering troops from a concealed position to a higher one without consulting Kutuzov, ruining a plan to use them for a secret ambush.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the battle (late on August 25), Andrei in a nearby camp, contemplating his probable death in this battle. Pierre arrives, brought in by Captain Timokhin, and is rather annoyed by the presence of his friend the civilian.
Pierre picks up on Andrei’s annoyance and talks mostly to Timokhin until Andrei weighs in on the shift from Barclay de Tolly to Kutuzov, who is their hope. He compares Barclay to a competent “German valet” that takes care of one’s father (Russia), but when the father is deathly ill, you have to take over yourself and will provide better care (828). Pierre is surprised that Andrei thinks that it is impossible to foresee the “contingencies” and “the adversary’s intentions” and that war is not a game of chess; it doesn’t depend on strategy but on “the feeling” of every soldier and their determination to win (829). This is why Austerlitz was lost. Tomorrow they will win. As several German strategists including Clausewitz and Wolzogen walk by, he takes issue with what he hears about the recommendation to extend the war “widely” even if that means harming Russian civilians (as at Bald Hills) (830). And he says he wouldn’t take French prisoners; it’s all about killing and being killed; “the aim of war is murder” and the battle will be about murdering one another (832). He tells Pierre to go get some rest, but he himself is too agitated and paces up and down, even remembering Natasha and how much he loved her–until he remembers how Anatole destroyed that.
Scene: The French camp near Borodino (Valuevo)
Same day, Aug 25. Napoleon receives his prefect from France, M. de Beausset, who is bringing a present, a painting by Gérard of Napoleon’s son, always called “The King of Rome” (Tolstoy seems to be as confused as I have always been about why he was called that). The portrait is taken out of his tent to be admired by the troops, and Napoleon is writing a proclamation on the eve of the battle. He invites the reluctant de Beausset to ride with him to inspect the troops.
Napoleon spends the day inspecting the troops and the terrain, and then writes down dispositions for the battle that the narrator tells are written about with admiration and respect, but are actually “obscure and confused,” and none of the orders were actually carried out, while during the battle, he was at such great distance that he could not know what was happening.
Another chapter of reflection on the historians who believe in the power of the Great Men (and who think that the battle of Borodino was lost because Napoleon had a cold). The “will” of great men does not shape history, even the “slaughter of eighty thousand men” at Borodino was not “due to Napoloen’s will” but was done by the mass of soldiers in the ranks and/or was “inevitable” (841). “It only seemed to Napoleon that it all took place by his will” (842) but things were beyond his control. And his dispositions, while not great, were no worse than in other battles that he won. So we’re back to the problem of the post-facto analysis dependent on the outcome of the battle.
Napoleon on the eve of the battle, conversing with his adjutant Rapp and telling him that the human body is a “machine for living” and nothing more, and that military art is “being stronger than the enemy.” He asks about the provisions for the troops and cannot sleep. At 5:30, he rides to the village of Shevardino and dismounts on the Redoubt as he hears the first shots.
Scene: In the Russian line near Gorky / Raevsky Redoubt
Pierre spends the night at Boris’ in Gorky, and then sees the battlefield from the same knoll where he surveyed the area the day before. He admires the puffs of smoke from the cannons and decides to ride on horseback to observe the battle.
Pierre cannot control his galloping horse but his high status prevents people from just shoving him out of the way as useless. An adjutant takes him to a knoll where the artillery has a battery and is firing off cannon after cannon, later known as Raevsky’s Redoubt, a key battle position. He observes the gunners around him, the wounded soldiers, etc., and when everyone has gotten the point that he “was doing no harm” they treat him with “a kindly and bantering sympathy” like an adopted regiment animal/mascot (851). He keeps watching the camaraderie and cooperation of the “family circle” of artillery men, their banter, and then the increasing stress when there is basically no ammunition left and grape-shot is used. Eventually he volunteers to get more ammunition, but the carts get blown up right in front of him.
He sees the French and the Russians fight in a melee around the battery where it’s not clear who is taking whom prisoner. Eventually, the Russians have the upper hand and French prisoners are taken; there are wounded soldiers everywhere, and Pierre does not see a single soldier from before on the battery knoll. But the battle is not nearly over, even though Pierre thinks that it will now stop. “The sun is still high” (857).