War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Summary and Analysis Book X: Chapters 15–25

Summary

Summoned by Kutuzov, Prince Andrey observes the general as he waits to talk with him. Denisov, whom Bolkonsky recalls from his conversations with Natasha, comes to set forth a battle scheme for Kutuzov while the old man looks bored. Another general comes with another plan and Kutuzov barely listens. He despises intellect and knowledge, Bolkonsky thinks to himself, without lacking respect for patriotic sentiment or intellect. Out of his old age, out of his life's experience, Andrey observes to himself, Kutuzov realizes that the forces which control events are called into being by unforeseeable factors at the moment of action.

In a private talk with Kutuzov, Prince Andrey tells him he wishes to serve with his regiment. Counselors are easy to get, the old man answers, we need men in our regiments and they are scarce."Time and patience are the strongest warriors," Kutuzov tells Andrey, and he owes his victories against the Turks to these factors. Before this war is over, he says loudly, the French will"eat horseflesh," as the Turks did, and counselors will not help us bring that about.

Prince Andrey is reassured by Kutuzov's impersonal approach. He will put nothing of himself into the effort, will contrive nothing, will undertake everything, Bolkonsky thinks. He will hear everything, think of everything, put everything in its place, and will not allow anything that can do harm. He knows there is something stronger and more important than his will —"that is the inevitable march of events and he can see them, can grasp their significance . . . can abstain from meddling, from following his own will . . . ."

As if sparked by the nearness of danger, the social round in Moscow is more lively than ever that season. The Drubetskoys, soon to leave Moscow, give a farewell soirée and Pierre attends. Two items of gossip are outstanding: one is Rostov's rescue of Princess Marya, and the other, which makes Bezuhov blush, is Pierre's being a knight in shining armor to Natasha.

Finding most of his acquaintances have left Moscow, although the Rostovs are still in town, Pierre decides to drive to the army. More and more troops throng the road as he drives along. The more he plunges into the sea of soldiers, the more joyful Pierre feels. He believes the qualities of a happy life — wealth, comfort, life itself — can be easily flung away in exchange for the value of"something else," though he does not know what. The object of the sacrifice is unimportant; outstanding is his joy in the sacrifice.

Two days after the Shevardino engagement, the armies fight the battle of Borodino. There is no sense in this engagement, Tolstoy assures us, for the French are now closer to ruination and the Russians closer to the destruction of Moscow, which they fear above all else. The plains of Borodino provide a poor battlefield for both sides, and the Russian forces get reduced by one-half.

Pierre speaks to a doctor he meets who tells him he expects 20,000 casualties from tomorrow's battle. Pierre goes on, musing about the healthy, sound-limbed young men doomed to die the next day. Arriving on a hilltop overlooking Borodino, Pierre sees a religious procession approach. He watches Kutuzov and his officers kneel and kiss the holy image. Boris Drubetskoy accosts Bezuhov and offers to show him around the camp. Boris belongs to Count Bennigsen's party, the group opposed to Kutuzov. Pierre compares the excitement in Boris caused by thoughts of personal success with the excitement he sees in the faces of common soldiers, faces expressing the problems of life and death. While Kutuzov cordially greets Pierre, Dolohov appears. He begs Bezuhov to forgive their differences and forget their quarrel, since this might be their last day of living. The two men embrace tearfully.

Bennigsen and his suite, Pierre among them, inspect and criticize the disposition of men. Glad to correct an obvious blunder of Kutuzov's, Bennigsen orders the left flank to another position without bothering to inform the commander-in-chief. Bennigsen did not realize these troops were originally placed as an ambush for the enemy.

Prince Andrey feels excited and nervous about the coming battle. With his death perhaps imminent, he recalls the vanity of his past life.

Glory, good society, woman's love, fatherland seem meaningless phrases now. Pierre's arrival interrupts his meditations. Regarding his friend coldly, even hostilely, Andrey seems unwilling to talk privately with Pierre. As they take tea with other officers, Bolkonsky speaks animatedly about the grimness of war. Its sole object is murder, he says, and ideas like magnanimity to prisoners and battling for one's allies makes a polite recreation out of these horrors. Vile as slaughter and mutilation may be, glorifying victory, offering thanksgiving to the dead belies the intensity of the sacrifice. War is not a game of chess; in the heat of battle a pawn is often more powerful than a knight. The outcome of the battle, he says, depends on what each fighting man feels inside himself. Pierre feels this is his last meeting with Prince Andrey and he departs sadly. Unable to sleep that night, Bolkonsky recalls his best moments with Natasha. Where others saw only a fresh young girl, he understood her very soul. The idea of Anatole, alive and happy, angers him anew and he paces up and down.

Analysis

As the battle of Borodino is the turning point in the war between France and Russia, the eve of the event provides a lull-before-the-storm where men take stock of their lives and make peace with their past as if preparing to die. Ambition-ruled men like Bennigsen, who plots to show the incompetence of his rival Kutuzov, and Boris, who is occupied by self-seeking, are set in comparison to Kutuzov as he kneels in prayer; Dolohov, who embraces his former rival Pierre; Andrey, who regards his past life; and Bezuhov, who is on the threshold of discovering life on this eve of death. Even the social round of Petersburg runs a more fevered course at the nearness of danger.

Having seen the faces of soldiers who are close to death, Pierre recognizes the expectation of death in his friend Bolkonsky. He understands Prince Andrey's coldness as part of his turning away from the past in order to accept death with a full sense of immediacy and without misgivings.

In these chapters we begin to learn more about General Kutuzov, the savior of Russia, because he is as deeply Russian as Suvorov and Potemkin, old Prince Bolkonsky's heroes. Prince Andrey carefully observes the lack of personal will in this aged veteran who merely acts as a catalyst, allowing the forces of destiny to work through him while he remains unchanged and makes no changes. With intuition and emotion, not sentiment or intellect, Kutuzov understands the state of mind of the Russian troops and can assess its moral force.

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