A Review How-To
In this chapter we are introduced to one of the novel’s few historical characters. This character is Mikhail Kutuzov, commander-in-chief of the Russian army during the Napoleonic Wars. Though Kutuzov does not belong to one of the major families of the novel, nor is he even a primary character, he will end up playing an important role in the book, particularly in the later chapters as he becomes a kind of symbol for Tolstoy’s theory of history. But more on that later. Much later. Like, probably in December or so later.
For now Kutuzov is merely reviewing his troops. In addition to this simple reviewing of the troops we also learn a little bit more about some of our favorite characters. Prince Andrei, for instance, attends Kutuzov as an aide-de-camp. It’s Andrei who reminds Kutuzov that Kutuzov wanted to speak with Dolokhov, of the bottle of rum wager fame, about Dolokhov’s recent demotion from the officer corps to the regular army. After Kutuzov does so he retires from his inspection and trots of to return to his camp.
The rest of the chapter is dedicated to troop revelry. Amid the singing and marching Dolokhov is approached by an old friend from Petersburg named Zherkhov. Zherkhov invites Dolokhov to join him in some gambling that night. Dolokhov refuses, citing his dedication to good behavior so he may be reinstated to the officer corp.
Smart move, old boy.
It may seem at first glance that this chapter does not have much to teach us. What happens in it, after all? A military man reviews his troops. So what?
It’s important to note how Kutuzov reviews his troops. Remember from yesterday’s reading that he purposefully instructed the regimental commander not to spruce up the regiment. Kutuzov wants to review the troops as they are, not as he wishes them to be. This way he is able to see clearly what is working and what needs working on. This is important and has practical applications for our personal lives.
A personal daily review of ourselves, a kind of performance report, is an essential component of living well. But, like Kutuzov, it’s important during these performance reports not to present ourselves in a favorable light. On the contrary, we must look back on our actions during the day as they truly were, not as we’d like them to be. Be as strict as a military inspector about it.
“So as far as you can, then, be your own prosecutor, investigate yourself, function first as accuser, then as judge, and only in the end as advocate. And sometimes you must overrule the advocate.”
Seneca, Letter on Travel