Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tolstoy, the hypocrite?

Well, we all know how much I love it when Tolstoy decides to talk about history. His monologues are interesting, but quite frankly, I agree with Adam, that many of his arguments are misplaced. However, opinions are opinions, and I suppose that Tolstoy is allowed to have his.

The issue of hypocrisy in Tolstoy's work arises in the midst of Book 10. We all know he mixes up ages every now and then, but who wouldn't, it's a long book! However, Tolstoy's opinions are often and clearly stated throughout the novel, especially in these later parts. So, you can imagine my confusion and frustration when Tolstoy's language in the narration on page 716 leads us to believe that Napoleon is in complete control of his destiny, contrary to Tolstoy's oft stated belief that great men don't exist, blah blah blah. Tolstoy's narrator says, "But Napoleon with his long experience of war well knew the meaning of battle not gained by attacking the side in eight hours, after all the efforts had been expanded. He knew that it was a lost battle and that the least accident might now -- with the fight balanced on such a strained center -- destroy HIM and his army." (Keep in mind that Tolstoy often expresses his own opinions through his narrator (eg pg 664), but never seems to go against himself until this subtle moment)

Now I realize this isn't a full blown contradiction of Tolstoy's formerly stated opinions, however the language used suggests that Napoleon was in control of the situation, that fate did not play a role. It may be an innocent slip of the fingers to give a good narration, but why is he giving up his strong opinions simply for a quick narrative that is seemingly unnecessary?


  1. I definitely agree that Tolstoy is a bit hypocritical when it comes to his depictions of Napoleon. I think that Tolstoy's depictions of Napoleon reflect the hypocritical beliefs of the greater Russian public. At the beginning of the war, Napoleon was depicted as the antichrist, but as he pushed farther into Russian territory, Russian aristocrats began to speak favorably of him.

    One of the themes that Tolstoy tries to depict is the Russian struggle for identity, and the search for the answer to the question, 'are we European?' Maybe Tolstoy's own hypocrisies and conflicting viewpoints show that the author doesn't know the answer any more than the characters.

    1. I think you might be on to something Sam. I think it's certainly possible that Tolstoy's vacillation on the subject is due to his own lack of certainty regarding his identity as a "Russian."