They Carried Their Loot with Them

Day 251 of A Year of War and Peace

rancis Cugat’s magisterial cover art for The Great Gatsby serves as a greater introduction to the novel than perhaps any essay ever could. In it an ethereal, golden-eyed female visage floats in the evening sky above the proud electric lights of a bustling cityscape. A single, inexplicable tear rests suspended in the air as testament to the novel’s sad Sirachean theme that “love of money is of all things the most perverse.”

Just as avarice strings Daisy Buchanan along through the novel’s early association of her character with whiteness and golden brightness and into her final tragedy of the yellow car in the valley of ashes, so too does it reduce the once mighty French army in today’s chapter from a position of conquest and strength to one of depletion and retreat.

Murat leads his triumphant troops into the conquered city. He meets no resistance. The Muscovites, as we know, have pretty much all abandoned the place. A few remain. Some of these remain to defend the Kremlin. Murat dispenses with them quickly. The French troops are then offered free reign in the city.

Something happens. A transformation takes place. The French, once strong and disciplined, start going soft. The change is born of their greed for Moscow’s abandoned wealth. Their rapacious appetite earns them two beastly metaphors from Tolstoy’s pen as he likens them first to stupid monkeys and then to dumb cattle. It’s as if their greed strips them of their humanity.

Tolstoy is very clear about what dooms the French invaders. “The French when they left Moscow,” he writes, “had inevitably to perish because they carried their loot with them.” So let us remember Daisy of East Egg and the soldiers of France as a rebuke to those that beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into their cash.


A single example of luxury or avarice works great mischief.

Seneca, Letter on Crowds

This is the two hundred and fifty first 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.

If you’re enjoying A Year of War and Peace please share on your favorite social media and recommend here on Medium.

You can also become A Year of War and Peace patron. I’m currently at work producing a high-quality eBook version of the project, complete with matching Tolstoy chapters for your reading convenience! All patrons who sign up this year will receive a free copy when it comes out.

I’m also very interested in hearing what you have to say about the novel. So leave a comment and let me know.

Follow me on twitter and visit my webpage at Thank you.

For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store