Study Guide

War and Peace Ambition

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"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. (

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

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. (

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.

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. (

Right, so Vassily has nothing <em>but</em> 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?

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. (

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. (

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. (

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 <em>The Matrix</em> 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.

Andrei could not have explained how or why it was, but after that interview with Kutuzov he went back to his regiment reassured as to the general course of affairs and as to the man to whom it had been entrusted. The more he realized the absence of all personal motive in that old man – in whom there seemed to remain only the habit of passions, and in place of an intellect (grouping events and drawing conclusions) only the capacity calmly to contemplate the course of events – the more reassured he was that everything would be as it should. "He will not bring in any plan of his own [...] but he will hear everything, remember everything, and put everything in its place. He will not hinder anything useful nor allow anything harmful. He understands that there is something stronger and more important than his own will – the inevitable course of events, and he can see them and grasp their significance, and seeing that significance can refrain from meddling and renounce his personal wish directed to something else." (

So what makes a good general is pretty much just the absence of personal ambition. On the other hand, from what we've seen of Boris and Berg, in order to get to the kind of high rank Kutuzov has, you have to plan your every day around personal ambition. So there's a paradox: how did Kutuzov get to where he is? Or how, once he'd risen to that position, how did he lose his ambition?

During the whole of that period Napoleon, who seems to us to have been the leader of all these movements – as the figurehead of a ship may seem to a savage to guide the vessel – acted like a child who, holding a couple of straps tied inside a carriage, thinks that he is driving it (

First of all, haha, Napoleon is an overreaching baby. Second of all, Shmoop totally used to do this in the car as a kid. Did you?

The aim of the Russian army was to pursue the French. The road the French would take was unknown, and so the closer our troops trod on their heels the greater distance they had to cover. Only by following at some distance could one cut across the zigzag path of the French. All the artful maneuvers suggested by our generals meant fresh movements of the army and a lengthening of its marches, whereas the only reasonable aim was to shorten those marches. [...] Kutuzov felt and knew – not by reasoning or science but with the whole of his Russian being – what every Russian soldier felt: that the French were beaten, that the enemy was flying and must be driven out; but at the same time he like the soldiers realized all the hardship of this march, the rapidity of which was unparalleled for such a time of the year.

But to the generals, especially the foreign ones in the Russian army, who wished to distinguish themselves, to astonish somebody, and for some reason to capture a king or a duke – it seemed that now – when any battle must be horrible and senseless – was the very time to fight and conquer somebody. (

Ah, now we see why personal desire for glory is a bad trait in a general. Instead of actually doing what needs to be done, on the big scale, these guys are stuck at micro level, attacking the French here and there to make a name for themselves. They don't care about the soldiers who are actually doing the unnecessary attacking and getting killed in the process.

Natasha did not follow the golden rule advocated by clever folk, especially by the French, which says that a girl should not let herself go when she marries, should not neglect her accomplishments, should be even more careful of her appearance than when she was unmarried, and should fascinate her husband as much as she did before he became her husband. Natasha on the contrary had at once abandoned all her witchery, of which her singing had been an unusually powerful part. She gave it up just because it was so powerfully seductive. She took no pains with her manners or with delicacy of speech, or with her toilet, or to show herself to her husband in her most becoming attitudes, or to avoid inconveniencing him by being too exacting. She acted in contradiction to all those rules. She felt that the allurements instinct had formerly taught her to use would now be merely ridiculous in the eyes of her husband, to whom she had from the first moment given herself up entirely – that is, with her whole soul, leaving no corner of it hidden from him. She felt that her unity with her husband was not maintained by the poetic feelings that had attracted him to her, but by something else – indefinite but firm as the bond between her own body and soul. (Epilogue.1.10.4)

This is a pretty amazing testament to marriage, no? But what's also funny is that for some reason there are a lot of male critics who are totally horrified that a woman with four kids to raise wouldn't invest in the same level of beauty routines and whatever as a young girl looking for love. Um, guess what, people? That's life, and this description is what a mature family relationship looks like. (By the way, "toilet" here means grooming, so it's not as gross as you may have thought.)

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