War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace Ambition Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Volume.Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation.
All [Nikolai's] wishes were being fulfilled that morning: general battle was to be given, he was to take part in it; moreover, he was an orderly officer of the bravest of generals; moreover, he was going with a message to Kutuzov and maybe to the sovereign himself. The morning was bright, the horse under him was good. He felt joyful and happy. (184.108.40.206)
Nikolai is kind of a simple fellow, with his crush on the Emperor and his appreciation of the little things. Note how his ambitions are way lower than anyone else's. He just wants to meet Alexander, not get power over lots of other people. Is this out of principle, does it just have to do with his personality, or something else?
Prince Andrei understood that it had been said about him, and that it was Napoleon speaking. He heard the man who had said these words being addressed as sire. But he heard these words as if he was hearing the buzzing of a fly. He not only was not interested, he did not even notice, and at once forgot them. He had a burning in his head; he felt that he was losing blood, and he saw above him that distant, lofty, and eternal sky. He knew that it was Napoleon—his hero—but at that moment, Napoleon seemed to him such a small, insignificant man compared with what was now happening between his soul and this lofty, infinite sky with clouds racing across it. To him it was all completely the same at that moment who was standing over him or what he said about him; he was only glad that people had stopped over him and only wished that those people would help him and bring him back to life, which seemed so beautiful to him, because he now understood it so differently. (220.127.116.11)
Look, now Andrei is having a Nikolai moment, getting to meet his greatest hero. Too bad it's under these circumstances, and too bad he's actually having some kind of spiritual transformation and can't really appreciate it. But still – it's Napoleon! Right there next to you! Get an autograph, will ya?
Thanks to Anna Mikhaylovna's efforts, his own tastes, and the peculiarities of his reserved nature, Boris had managed during his service to place himself very advantageously. He was aide-de-camp to a very important personage, had been sent on a very important mission to Prussia, and had just returned from there as a special messenger. He had become thoroughly conversant with that unwritten code with which he had been so pleased at Olmutz and according to which an ensign might rank incomparably higher than a general, and according to which what was needed for success in the service was not effort or work, or courage, or perseverance, but only the knowledge of how to get on with those who can grant rewards, and he was himself often surprised at the rapidity of his success and at the inability of others to understand these things. In consequence of this discovery his whole manner of life, all his relations with old friends, all his plans for his future, were completely altered. He was not rich, but would spend his last groat to be better dressed than others, and would rather deprive himself of many pleasures than allow himself to be seen in a shabby equipage or appear in the streets of Petersburg in an old uniform. He made friends with and sought the acquaintance of only those above him in position and who could therefore be of use to him. He liked Petersburg and despised Moscow. [...] To be in Anna Pavlovna's drawing room he considered an important step up in the service, and he at once understood his role, letting his hostess make use of whatever interest he had to offer. He himself carefully scanned each face, appraising the possibilities of establishing intimacy with each of those present, and the advantages that might accrue. He took the seat indicated to him beside the fair Helene and listened to the general conversation. (18.104.22.168-3)
It's kind of fun that Boris is like a society savant. You know what we think of when we read this passage? That scene in The Matrix when Neo stops seeing the world and just starts seeing all the green code behind it. This is what Boris is seeing when he looks at the complicated power relations in the army and society.