We’re in Austria with the Russian army, which is now being headed by commander in chief Kutuzov.
Open wide – it’s brain snack time. Kutuzov was a real-life general who headed the Russian army during the Napoleonic wars. Tolstoy took a real historical figure and treated him like one of his own characters. Nowadays we call that HBO’s The Tudors, but way back in the day, this was a totally unexpected way to mix history and fiction.
The infantry regiment we’re with has just arrived in a little town after a twenty-mile march and no sleep. Obviously they look like crap. The regimental commander gets word that these troops are going to be reviewed by Kutuzov himself. He can’t figure out how they are supposed to be presented – in dress uniform for fancy review, or in dirty marching clothes for an as-is review?
He decides to go with fancy, “on the grounds that it is always better to bow too much than not to bow enough.”
And so these poor soldiers spend the whole night cleaning and fixing up their dress uniforms so every button shines and every strap is polished.
The only issue? Their boots are all falling apart. No boots can withstand 700 miles of marching. But Austria hasn’t issued any replacements, so you get what you get and you don’t get upset.
Finally, they are ready and in excellent order. And just then, a messenger arrives from headquarters – they want the soldiers in their marching state.
Turns out Kutuzov wants to show the Austrians that his army is too tired to join them right away, so the worse the troops look the better.
Everyone changes back into their dirty marching clothes. The regimental commander looks them over and sees one guy sticking out because his overcoat is blue and not gray.
The commander gets into a hissy fit about it, and we find out that this blue soldier is...Dolokhov! (Remember him from the rum-on-the-windowsill bet?) He’s too poor to buy the right kind of coat.
The regimental commander gives him what-for, but Dolokhov busts out with a super-obnoxious, “I’m happy to follow orders, but I’m definitely not taking any of your lip.” Which for some reason calms the regimental commander down.