Saturday, January 21, 2006

War and Peace (Part 2)

Part 1 finished with Prince Andrey’s preparation for departure to the imminent war with Napoleon. Part 2 is entirely taken up with the first stages of that war, in Austria, which is the last line of defence. Vienna has already fallen and the Russian and Austrian armies are working together to keep Napoleon away. There is lots and lots of detail of the enemies getting closer and closer together, then their fighting. The remarkable thing is that the French outnumber the Russians by about 3 to 1, and yet in this part, success goes to the Russians. This is attributed partly to the bravery of the men, like the artilleryman Tushin who holds his position without any cover at all, and to their ability to outwit the French.

A change has come over Andrey:
scarcely a trace was left of his former affected languor and indolence. He now looked like a man who has time to think of the impression he makes on others, but is occupied with agreeable and interesting work. His face expressed more satisfaction with himself and those around him, his smile and glance were brighter and more attractive.
In short, he has the makings of a fine officer. When the fighting begins, he is willing to go right into the thick of things. For him, the chance of engagement with the enemy, while a bit scary, gives him joy and is his chance for personal glory: he reflects on the fact that Napoleon himself was a mere soldier who found his opportunities in war. When Andrey is wounded, he is sent to Brno (which is where the HQ has been set up after the taking of Vienna) to report that his bit of the army has repelled Napoleon. Andrey is thinking he has things made, that this can only be good for him to get known by the top brass. Unfortunately, his news is not taken well, and he’s feeling snubbed and down in the dumps. Although the explanation his diplomatic friend gives him helps (since the Austrians are losing left right and centre, news of a Russian victory is more like salt in the wounds than good news), it is really only when he returns to the fighting that he regains his mood.

Apart from Andrey, we also have young Prince Nikolay Rostov and someone not mentioned in my earlier post, a fellow called Dolokhov. He was with Pierre when the policeman was tied to the bear: for his part in that, Dolokhov has been reduced to the ranks, so here he is. There is a cute scene towards the end of the chapter where the French and Russian lines are so close, they can shout to each other. Dolokhov, ever the wit, does so – which sees the men on both sides having a good old shared laugh.
But the guns remained loaded, the loopholes in blockhouses and entrenchments looked out just as menacingly, and the unlimbered cannon confronted one another as before.
Dolokhov is actually a good soldier: it is reported to the General (who takes a special interest in him) that he took a French officer prisoner and did other good, warlike things. It is likely he will be given a reprieve.

Nikolay doesn’t have such a good time, although he proves his toughness when he finds his Quartermaster has stolen from his Commanding Officer and reports him, leading to a nice wee dilemma: the Colonel thinks it is better for the honour of the regiment to make a liar out of Rostov than have a thief in their midst. He is saved from retracting his report by the news that they have to start fighting. Unfortunately, he finds himself hit, his horse blown out from under him and some uncertainty in his mind as to which side of the line he was on:
Ah, here are people coming," he thought joyfully, seeing some men running toward him. "They will help me!" In front came a man wearing a strange shako and a blue [i.e. French] cloak, swarthy, sunburned, and with a hooked nose. Then came two more, and many more running behind. One of them said something strange, not in Russian. In among the hindmost of these men wearing similar shakos was a Russian hussar. He was being held by the arms and his horse was being led behind him.
Luckily, he can hide. The part ends with him remembering the nice things of home, wondering what the hell induced him to come to war:
There is no one to help me or pity me. Yet I was once at home, strong, happy, and loved.


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