Sunday, September 12, 2010

A few thoughts on War and Peace

So having got a Sony Reader Touch for Father's Day (thanks, honey!), I finally got to read all of War and Peace (thanks, Project Gutenberg!).

I thought I would record a couple of observations. First, Tolstoy doesn't have an overly high opinion of Napoleon (to say the least). Following are two of my favorite passages:
With regard to legal matters, immediately after the fires he gave orders to find and execute the incendiaries. And the scoundrel Rostopchin was punished by an order to burn down his houses. (p.993)
With regard to legal matters, after the execution of the supposed incendiaries the rest of Moscow burned down. (p.996)

Tolstoy also accords the lion's share of the credit for defeating Napoleon (to the extent that any individual can be accorded credit for "historical movements of peoples from west to east and east back to west") to Czar Alexander. He is, of course, free to do so, but in order to do so Tolstoy has to engage in a bit of historical legerdemain. He somewhat dismissively addresses the performance of the Royal Navy, sniffing that Napoleon managed to elude the Navy twice during the Egyptian expedition. This begs the issue that Napoleon had to skedaddle back to the Continent without his army after Nelson destroyed the army's lifeline and ride home at Aboukir Bay.

Tolstoy also sort of forgets to note that the reason Napoleon didn't knock England out of the war was because he couldn't...because he couldn't move his army across the English Channel, a "mere" 20 or so miles as the crow flies. The Spanish ulcer may not have cost the French as much blood and treasure as the invasion of Russia (I'll have to look that up, and perhaps update this post), but it was sufficient unto the day. So it says here that Horatio Nelson and Arthur Wellesley had as much to do as Aleksandr Romanov with marooning Napoleon on St. Helena.

None of that detracts from Tolstoy's achievement, though. Now I've read War and Peace and Dostoevky's The Brothers Karamazov, and I see why people rhapsodize about Russian novels.