They Talked of Peace
Prince Andrei’s wish is granted. After a persistent pestering Kutuzov approves his request to join Bagration at the front. Upon his arrival at the front Prince Andrei insists on inspecting the troops. This is one of the reasons why Prince Andrei has always been one of my favorite characters. He acts with intelligence and purpose and with a meticulous attention to detail. This makes it so it’s hard to catch him out. His goal in inspecting the position, for example, is to get a grasp of the situation so if he’s asked to execute an order he knows exactly what to do and where to go. Bagration charges an officer to give Prince Andrei a tour of the front.
At first the troops are a bit disorderly. Some have even abandoned their posts in favor of shelter from the elements inside a tent. But as Prince Andrei and the officer approach the front lines, passing by the shit-stink of the latrines, things become more serious. “The farther forward and nearer the enemy he went,” Tolstoy writes, “the more orderly and cheerful were the troops. The greatest disorder and depression had been in the baggage-train he had passed that morning on the Znaim road seven miles away from the French. At Grunth also some apprehension and alarm could be felt, but the nearer Prince Andrei came to the French lines the more confident was the appearance of our troops.” Gone is the disorganization of the rearguard, replaced by a seriousness in the front.
I love this passage. It’s kind of like the aging process in that the closer we approach death the more — pun intended — grave we become.
At any rate, Prince Andrei finally reaches the very front of the front line. At this point, he notes, the French are so close that he can make out their faces. They are so close, in fact, that the Russians and the French are able to speak to each other. Our old friend Dolokhov is there actually and, being that he’s able to speak the French language, he is tasked with launching insults at the enemy.
Today I’ll take a rare break from referencing the philosophers and leave you with one of my favorite passages from the novel itself. It appears early in the chapter as Prince Andrei surveys the troops at the front.
They talked of peace but did not believe in its possibility.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace