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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Napleon the fool

Man, does Tolstoy hate Napoleon - takes a while for his vitriol to build up, though. In the early part of War and Peace, when Napoleon is depicted at the battle of 3 emporers, he seems smart and kind and an object of reverence (of course he won that battle), but by the time he's about to enter Moscow Tolstoy is really ready to let him have it (it's more credible for having been built up slowly and carefully). Napoleon looks like a fool, surveying the (empty) city, expecting to be greeted as a conquering hero, planning to rename the public buildings, bringing enlightenment, the partner of Alexander, etc. When his soldiers find that the city has been deserted, their biggest concern is how to break the news - they fear his wrath, nothing worse to Napoleon than looking ridiculous (like Hitler in Downfall?, like Nixon?). Manwhile, we also watch the last exodus from the city - the fights in the taverns and at the bridges, drunken workmen, total chaos. Again it seems to me that Tolstoy cannot portray the life of ordinary people except "en masse." These passages are full of action, but no character comes to life and none has an inner life, in the sense that Pierre, Andrei, and others in the nobility do. This section of War and Peace has largely stepped away from the interior lives of characters and examines the forces and follies of history.

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