Tolstoy’s War and Peace: The Glory of War

9/16/13

I just read the first battle scenes. They end in a near-miraculous victory but all the glory is misplaced. Those who did the least celebrate with full bellies while the true heroes are left starving and dying outside in the mud.

Here are some battle descriptions.

The first time that Rostov finds himself at the front lines:

‘One step beyond that line, reminiscent of the line separating the living from the dead, and it’s the unknown, suffering, and death. And what is there? who is there? there, beyond this field, and the tree, and the roof lit by the sun? No one knows, and you would like to know; and you’re afraid to cross that line, and would like to cross it; and you know that sooner or later you will have to cross it and find out what is there on the other side of the line, as you will inevitably find out what is there on the other side of death. And you’re strong, healthy, cheerful, and excited, and surrounded by people just as strong and excitedly animated.’ So, if he does not think it, every man feels who finds himself within sight of the enemy, and this feeling gives a particular brilliance and joyful sharpness of impression to everything that happens in those moments.

After having his horse shot from under him, Rostov is dazed (I’m pretty sure this is one of the book’s most famous passages):

He looked at the approaching Frenchman and, though a moment before he had been galloping only in order to meet these Frenchmen and cut them to pieces, their closeness now seemed so terrible to him that he could not believe his eyes. “Who are they? Why are they running? Can it be they’re running to me? Can it be? And why? To kill me? Me, whom everybody loves so?” He remembered his mother’s love for him, his family’s, his friends’, and the enemy’s intention to kill him seemed impossible. (pg. 189)

Rostov is wounded and sits out in the cold, alone with nothing to eat:

“Nobody needs me!” thought Rostov. “There’s nobody to help me or pity me. And once I was at home, strong, cheerful, loved.”

He looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family. “And why did I come here?” he wondered. (pg. 200)

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