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War and Peace

War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

Ambition Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

"Consider my position, Pyotr Nikolaich: if I [Berg] were in the cavalry, I'd get no more than two hundred rubles every four months, even with the rank of sublieutenant; while now I get two hundred and thirty," he said with a joyful, pleasant smile, looking at Shinshin and the count as though it was obvious to him that his success would always constitute the chief goal of everyone else's desires.

"Besides that, Pyotr Nikolaevich, in transferring to the guards, I am in view," Berg went on, "and vacancies in the foot guards are much more frequent. Then, consider for yourself how I'm able to get along on two hundred and thirty rubles. Yet I save some and also send some to my father." [...] Berg, oblivious of both the mockery and the indifference, went on to tell how he, by being transferred to the guards, was already one rank ahead of his comrades in the corps, how in wartime the company commander might be killed, and he, remaining the senior in the company, could very easily become the commander, and how everyone in the regiment liked him, and how his papa was pleased with him. (1.1.15.37-40)

Well, this guy has no guile whatsoever. Doesn't it kind of make his grade-grubbing attitude endearing? No? OK.

Quote #2

This news was grievous and at the same time pleasant for Prince Andrei. As soon as he learned that the Russian army was in such a hopeless situation, it occurred to him that it was precisely he who was destined to lead the Russian army out of that situation, that here was that Toulon which would take him out of the ranks of unknown officers and open for him the first path to glory! Listening to Bilibin, he was already considering how, on coming to the army, he would submit an opinion at the military council which alone would save the army, and how he alone would be charged with carrying out this plan. (1.2.12.38)

Andrei is not above building castles in the clouds. Of course, this kind of ambition is bound to fail in this book, since Tolstoy flat-out doesn't believe the army is anything but an uncontrollable flood of men who occasionally happen to go in the same direction. Not really the best candidate for the kind of reform Andrei is envisioning, in other words.

Quote #3

Prince Vassily did not think out his plans. Still less did he think of doing people harm in order to profit from it. He was simply a man of the world, who succeeded in the world and made a habit of that success. According to his circumstances and his intimacy with people, he constantly formed various plans and schemes which he himself was not quite aware of, but which constituted all the interest of his life. He would have not one or two of these plans and schemes going, but dozens, of which some were only beginning to take shape for him, while others were coming to completion, and still others were abolished. [...] [L]et him meet a man in power, and in the same moment his instinct would tell him that the man might be useful, and Prince Vassily would become intimate with him and at the first opportunity, without any preparation, instinctively, would flatter him, behave familiarly, talk about what was needed. [...] If Prince Vassily had thought out his plans beforehand, he would not have had such naturalness in his dealings and such simplicity and familiarity in his relations with all people, whether of higher or lower station than himself. Something constantly drew him to people more powerful or richer than he, and he was endowed with the rare art of seizing the precise moment when he should and could make use of people. (1.3.1.1-2)

Right, so Vassily has nothing but guile. Compare this description with that of Berg in the first quotation above. Both want to be nearest the most important people around. Both strategize about opportunities and try to maximize their own gain. So why do they come off so differently? Can you work out what makes Vassily seem way sketchy and Berg seem kind of harmless?

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