Summary and Analysis
Book X: Chapters 26–39
Napoleon's answer to an adjutant is"No prisoners," for he believes the Russians are working their own destruction. When his toilette is finished, he composes his face to simulate tenderness and unwraps a new portrait of his son, called the King of Rome. Then he dramatically asks to have the painting removed, for the tender-aged child should not have to gaze on a battlefield. Having inspected the disposition of his troops, Napoleon draws up an impressive list of orders. These orders seem very competent and military, writes Tolstoy, but not one will be carried out. Some are impossible to begin with, others do not correspond with the situation they were designed for, since unforeseen changes always occur during the heat of battle. Indeed, Tolstoy adds, Napoleon was so far from the scene of the battle that he knew nothing of what was happening. The author shows Napoleon playing the role of military leader when, in fact, such a role is impossible to play once the battle has begun. After a final inspection of his lines, Napoleon declares,"The pieces are on the board, the game will begin tomorrow."
Pierre awakens to the noise of cannons booming and longs to be in the midst of the smoke and the noise. On the faces of Kutuzov and his men, Pierre finds the"latent heat" of patriotism and the composure of men who face death. As the battle waxes, Bezuhov sees the"latent heat" gleam brighter in the eyes of those around him and feels it burning within himself. Soldiers are now falling all about him and cannon balls hit nearby targets. He himself is knocked down by the force of a near explosion. Panicked, he dashes back to the safety of the battery, but the men are gone and the guns silent. All about are corpses. The battle will stop now, Pierre thinks, for they will be horrified at what they have done. But the booming goes on while the sun climbs to its zenith.
By the middle of the day, Napoleon receives reports that all say the same thing: the weak Russians stand steady while the French dissolve and flee. All his officers are asking for reinforcements and he feels suddenly involved in a bad dream. His concern in all previous battles was to choose the various ways of success, but against these Russians — of whom not a single corps has been captured, not a flag or cannon taken in two months — he can only consider the possibilities of failure. From his view on a battlement, he sees his is a massacre not a battle, and, slowly, defeated, he turns back to Shevardino.
Kutuzov has remained in the same place since morning. He issues no orders, but simply assents to or disapproves of whatever is proposed to him. His old age has shown him battles are not won by commanders but by the intangible force called the spirit of the army, and he merely follows the force and leads it as far as it lays in his power to lead. When an adjutant-general reports that the battle is lost at all points, Kutuzov becomes furious and quickly pens an order to be sent all along the lines: Tomorrow we attack. The weary soldiers pass the message along; feeling confirmed by the highest command in what they wish to believe, they take heart and courage anew.
Prince Andrey's regiment, under heavy fire all day, is ordered to stand by inactive. The men carry off their wounded, close up ranks once more, and await death. A grenade drops among them, and, to set an example, Andrey remains standing. Gazing at the object of his death sputtering a few paces away, Bolkonsky is filled with love for the grass and earth and air. The explosion flings him into the air and he lands in a pool of his own blood.
At the sight of the battlefield heaped with dead and wounded, Napoleon's phantasm of life is momentarily replaced by personal, human sentiment as he imagines the agonies and death for himself. To take personal responsibility or personal interest in that carnage is too much for him; this would admit the vanity of all his strivings. He must return to his comfortable fantasy, consider it significant that five Russian corpses lie for each French one, that he is battling for the welfare of his people and the nations of Europe, and that he controls the destiny of millions.
Borodino has blood-soaked ground for two acres. Thousands lie dead. Borodino is not a physical victory, since half the Russian force is disabled, but it is a moral one. The Russians have stood and barred the way to Moscow, while the French, superior in arms and men, would merely have had to put in a little extra effort to overcome the weak resistance. They could not do this, Tolstoy declares, for their moral force was exhausted in face of the steadfast defenders. Borodino foreshadows the inevitability of the French defeat, now that they meet a foe of a stronger spirit.
The long description of the battle of Borodino immerses us completely in the"war" area of Tolstoy's novel. No longer concerned with the personal conflict within the souls of specific characters, Tolstoy extends his writing to include the national struggle and the moral force generated on a national scale. As Prince Andrey and Pierre dispose of their personal past and fuse themselves with the whole of the Russian defending force, so does Tolstoy dispose of the glory and gamesmanship of past battles. In these chapters we find none of the romance and daring of Rostov and Denisov at Eylau, but only the carnage and life-an-death seriousness of the steadfast Russians at Borodino. This is the battle that galvanizes the defenders into a powerful definition of the Russian spirit and presages Napoleon's downfall.
Tolstoy overstates a comparison between Kutuzov's recognition of reality and Napoleon's"artificial phantasm of life" to show how Russia's ultimate victory will come about. Not only does Bonaparte have no control over the events of the battle, but his megalomania prevents him from understanding the actual insignificance of his role. He is shown to be more helpless in the tide of destiny than any soldier in the ranks. Kutuzov's power, on the other hand, lies precisely in his awareness of being a passive instrument among the play of forces beyond his control.
From this sense of passivity in face of destiny, Kutuzov, as well as each soldier he commands, gains an awareness of death that heightens each sense of personal — hence national — being. In this awareness consists the"superior moral force" of the Russians whom the French cannot overcome.
Moral force of an individual or nation, Tolstoy says in many ways, derives from being part of a cosmic whole and submitting to a universal destiny. This is but another version of Pierre's analogy of"an endless ladder of progression" from inanimate life to the free spirits close to God. Where Napoleon is blinded by considering his will free, thus hastening the destruction of his army, the self-forgetful Kutuzov bows to necessity and guides an inspirited Russian force to victory.