Volume I, Part Two: Kutuzov, Bagration, Prince Andrei

Kutuzov is the wise man of War and Peace, one beyond considerations of cleverness and reasoning. Obviously he has the intelligence to articulate his skepticism of the Austrian staff’s plans, and to extricate his army when the campaign turns against the allies. But that is not really what he is there for. We see some of this in his inspection in Chapter II, in his encounter with Dolokhov:

“I ask only one thing Your Excellency,” he said in his firm, sonorous, unhurried voice. “I ask to be given a chance to wipe out my guilt and prove my devotion to the sovereign and to Russia.”

Kutzov turned away. The same smile of the eyes flashed over his face as when he had turned away from Captain Timokhin. He turned away and winced, as if wishing to express thereby that all that Dolokhov had said to him and all that he could say had long, long been known to him, that it all bored him, and that it was all by no means what was needed.

(But is that fair? Kutuzov’s previous remark calls for a reply such as Dolokhov made.)

Prince Bagration plays somewhat the same role at Schöngraben as Kutuzov will play later:

Prince Andrei listened carefully to Prince Bagration’s exchanges with the commanders and to the orders he gave, and noticed, to his surprise, that no orders were given, and that Prince Bagration only tried to pretend that all that was done by necessity, chance, or the will of a particular commander, that it was all done, if not on his orders, then in accord with his intentions. Owing to the tact shown by Prince Bagration, Prince Andrei noticed that, in spite of the chance character of events, and their independence of the commander’s will, his presence accomplished a very great deal. Commanders who rode up to Prince Bagration with troubled faces became calm, soldiers and officers greeted him merrily and became more animated in his presence, and obviously showed off their courage before him.

Yet in the next chapter, XVIII, Bagration will give positive orders that have an effect on the battle: to call down two battalions of chasseurs, and to have the troops now in the front line make room for them. We hear in the first sentence of Chapter XIX that this secures the retreat of the right flank.

Prince Andrei is still at the stage of intelligence, not wisdom. Kutuzov values his efficiency as a staff officer, and of his peers, some like, some fear, and all respect him. He “was one of the rare officers on the staff who placed his main interest in the general course of military operations”; the merits of this attitude will be called into question later in the book. Just before the fighting at Schöngraben begins, he is working out plans for the battle, “only in general terms.”

He suffers from vanity. At the moment he hears of Mack’s defeat, “he vividly pictured to himself what awaited the army, and the role he was to play in it.” In Chapter IX, on the way from Krems to Brünn, on waking “He would recall once more all the details of the victory, his calm manliness during the battle, and reassured, would doze off ….” Approaching the palace at Brünn,

He vividly pictured again all the details of the battle, not vaguely now, but in the well-defined concise account which, in his imagination, he was giving to the emperor Franz.

War and Peace repeatedly calls into question the possibility of a well-defined concise account of a battle, or of picturing all its details. The interview with the emperor goes off as such interviews apparently do at the court, with the ritual of a certain number of questions asked and answered.

We also learn in Chapter XIII that what Prince Andrei feared most in the world is “what is known as ridicule“, that is to say ridiculousness. In Chapter XI, “he (it had to be admitted) had almost been jealous over his wife” in regard to the foolish Ippolit Kuragin. Given his professed trust in his wife’s fidelity (Part One, Chapter VI), that sounds like vanity also. His feeling of humiliation in seeing the state of the retreating Russian forces is one that would not occur to a Kutuzov or Bagration.

We do see a different side of Prince Andrei, a gift for sympathy and friendship.  In Part One we saw it with Pierre. Here we see it with the quick liking he takes for Captain Tushin. Is it significant that both men are in some ways his inferiors, Pierre initially in social standing, always in will power, Tushin in social standing and perhaps rank? On the other hand, he is friends with Bilibin, his peer in social and official standing. Bilibin’s straining for epigram makes his company a little tedious to this reader; it does not seem to create in Prince Andrei the impatience that ordinary social chatter does.

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