On Kutuzov

Day 278 of A Year of War and Peace

Prince Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, Field Marshal of the Russian Empire, is, alongside Platon Karataev, one of two individuals in Tolstoy’s epic whose presentation is more caricature than character. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s intentional. The novel is rich with well-rounded, dynamic characters. These are the characters who are as mirrors to our own muddled, confused and multifaceted lives. Kutuzov and Platon, however, serve a different purpose. They are didactic creations ministering wisdom to fellow fictional characters and readers alike. Platon Karataev represents the earthy, simple life. Kutuzov, on the other hand, is more high-minded, big-picture and cosmic. One could say Kutuzov is the Marcus Aurelius to Platon’s Seneca.

Today the fruit of Kutuzov’s wisdom of restraint, self-sufficient impassive relation to adversity, and acceptance of providential direction ripens as the Russian army finally moves against the French.

Ever since the battle of Borodino Kutuzov has been pushed towards opening up an attack on the French. He has resisted that call. He has resisted popular opinion. He has resisted calls from his fellow generals and also demands from his Emperor. All along the way he has rested easy in those words of wisdom once imparted to Prince Andrei so many chapters ago: “The strongest of all warriors are these two — time and patience.”

As the war comes to an end take notice of the outcomes for the dueling leaders of Napoleon and Kutuzov. Napoleon, ever eager to impose control upon the world, suffers a humiliating defeat in retreat. Kutuzov, on the other hand, emerges victorious, largely as a result of patient endurance of those things he has no control over and wise, virtuous exercise of those things he does have control over.


All those things at which thou wishest to arrive by a circuitous road, thou canst have now, if thou dost not refuse them to thyself. And this means, if thou wilt take no notice of all the past, and trust the future to providence, and direct the present only conformably to piety and justice. Conformably to piety, that thou mayst be content with the lot which is assigned to thee, for nature designed it for thee and thee for it. Conformably to justice, that thou mayst always speak the truth freely and without disguise, and do things which are agreeable to law and according to the worth of each. And let neither another man’s wickedness hinder thee, nor opinion nor voice, nor yet the sensations of the poor flesh which has grown about thee; for the passive part will look to this.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This is the two hundred and seventy eighth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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