Thursday, April 21st, 2011
My summary of War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy continues…
Books Eleven & Twelve (Part 1)
Having thrashed the French at the Battle of the Borodino, the Russian army sportingly decides to retreat, and now finds itself at the beginning of book 11 with its back pressed hard against the shuddering walls of Moscow. Quite what is to be done to reverse this regrettable situation is the subject of a series of panicked and fractious Councils of War between the heavily-braided members of the military. Their arguments and ingenious strategies are though completely irrelevant, as it is obvious to that wise soothsayer General Kutusov that now there is only one thing to be done: Moscow must be abandoned.
Although this decision peeves off the tsar and his cronies in St Petersburg, the Muscovites don’t need telling twice. As Napoleon’s forces close in on Moscow, it’s residents grab whatever transport they can lay their hands on, stack them high with their precious belongings, and scarper as fast as a cart can be made to trundle. Tolstoy ascribes this wholesale abandonment of the ancient and holy capital of Russia by its wealthy inhabitants as a great act of patriotism and devotion to the motherland – a refusal to countenance the possibility of living under foreign rule, their innate Russian pride being too great. But, if I were a rich Russian with a comfy dacha in the countryside miles from an approaching enemy army who might well pillage me for all I’ve got, I think I would leave my town house too – and not necessarily because I gave a fig about my country.
Case in point: among those fleeing the French are the Rostov family, though being a rather hysterical, disorganised bunch, it takes them some time to get going. Things are packed and unpacked, wagons loaded and emptied, hissy fits thrown and tears wept. Eventually, nothing is taken at all, as it is decided to use the carts to transport wounded soldiers rather than carpets and pictures. Among those wounded is Natasha’s former fiancé Prince Andrei, at death’s door following his little shrapnel incident, but still clinging on better than his partner in agony, Anatole, who, we now discover, snuffed it under the doctor’s knife. Andrei’s presence is initially kept secret from Natasha lest the sight of her half-dead former lover unduly excite her, but when, some days into their slow escape, dopey Sonya gives the game away, Natasha will not rest until she has seen him, and is thereafter until his sad, slow death (and Andrei does take a goodly long time to die) a constant Florence Nightingale at his bedside.
Georgina Phipps, Editorial Administrator
Read the next installment: Books Eleven & Twelve, Part II