Welcome one, welcome all, to week 8 of my weekly progress reports for War and Peace. If you’re curious about how last week went, then you can pop on over and see my week 7 progress. It’s becoming something’s an amusing fact to me that I seem to constantly be falling behind with this read along for one reason or another, which is why this post is coming to you a few day’s late. And I’m off on holiday to the US this coming Saturday so that’s yet another chance to fall behind but do not worry, loyal readers, I will cart Tolstoy’s masterpiece on a trans-Atlantic flight because I refuse to be beaten entirely now we’ve come so far and are so close. Will this work out well for me? Tune in next week to find out! (Ooo the suspense!)
For those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed. Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly?
In my last post I summarised the many trials and tribulations of Volume III Part II and officially broke the 1000 page mark. I truly have reached the point of no return now. So here’s how week eight aka Volume III Part III looked…
- This section opens with a tangent… obviously, but at least it’s vaguely relevant unlike someone’s I know (looking at you, Hugo). Tolstoy treats us all to some philosophising about history and how you can never have a beginning to an event because it flows from the previous happenings within a grand inexplicable narrative of existence. I quite like these interludes – they serve to remind me I’m, in fact, not reading a Russian soap opera in book form, but instead one of those ~important books~
- “The first thing history does is to take an arbitrarily series of continuous events and examine it separately, whereas in fact no event can ever have a beginning, because an individual event flows without any break in continuity from another. The second thing history does is treat the actions of a single person, king or commander, as the sum total of everybody else’s individual will, whereas in fact the sum of individual wills never expresses itself in the actions of a single historical personage.” (p. 912)
- The upshot of the little philosophy break is to illustrate how silly it is to try to assume military history is a simple cause and effect or that battles are won (or lost) by their commanders who assume hero like status in the annals of history. To illustrate the sheer idiocy of military history, we have the various factions of the Russian forces deciding on tactics, and it’s a predictable shit show. Tolstoy reminds readers that what may seem like a genius bit of tactics or a stupid plan actually was probably a result of circumstance more than anything else:
- “The circumstances encountered by a commander-in-chief in the field bear no resemblance to any circumstances we may dream up as we sit at home in a cosy study, going over the campaign on a map with a given number of soldiers on either side, in a known locality, and starting out at a specific moment in time.” (p. 916)
- Tl;dr: it’s easy to criticise but you try running a battle, ok?!