This is a chapter, just one of many found in the novel, of absurd butchery. It’s filled with a whole battery of cannon and musketry fire. And each senseless bombardment of artillery that finds its mark lends support to Michael Williams’s argument against Henry V that “there are few die well that die in battle.”
Bagration, with Prince Andrei by his side, surveys all he can through the increasing fog of war. It’s a total bloodbath. Bullets in throats, bullets in mouths. Blood on greatcoats, blood on the ground.
And, yet, it continues. These men from opposite sides of Eurasia, men who have never nor will ever meet each other, continue their murderous charge. We witness a company commander — “a round-faced man with a stupid and happy expression” — march forward toward the French with seemingly nothing more on his mind other than to look good for Bagration as he passes him by.
We’re offered no explanation. We do read that Prince Andrei feels “an invisible power” propelling him forward and that he’s happy for it. This invisible power, I suspect, is related to yesterday’s observation that within these chapters Tolstoy is seeding the ideas that grow into his theory of history found in the later chapters of the novel.
All we’re left with is senseless and absurd violence.
Given the tenor and vehicle of the following simile it’s difficult to raise a better meditation to accompany today’s reading.
Human life is a sort of target — misfortune is always firing at it, and always hitting the mark.
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone