“If only they don’t make me responsible for this delay!” – remember the General in the first battle who was worried about the same thing?
The soldier who told the officer of the Horse Guards that the General didn’t want to be found is the wise one here. He knows what game is being played.
For example if I am a programmer and I make an app and start a company and I tell my customers that my company will reinvent X & Y, then even if nobody believes what I say it only matters that I planted that seed in people’s minds. I am now attributed with doing X & Y because nobody has countered what I said. It’s a sales pitch and that’s why Tolstoy never understood it because he was too honest for sales
When I say Tolstoy is arrogant, I say that because he has a really hard time with authority. He does not trust any authority and he holds himself to be the smartest guy in the room. What he’s dumb about is that he thinks these people in authority don’t know what they’re doing, that they just run around stroking egos all day. And while that does happen, they are only playing a game to control a message.
Just as when some CEO of some major company directs the employees to now focus on some new business strategy that is sure to corner the market share and grow sales over last year’s results, the CEO knows it’s mostly just talk. That’s the *plan”, and that’s the best case scenario, but the CEO is not going to give orders for shrinking revenues and lawsuits. It’s all just PR to keep everyone looking forward.
Tolstoy seems to think these dispositions being drawn up are done so with the naive optimism that the Army will actually arrive “at their places at the appointed time and [destroy] the enemy”. But he’s not giving the staff much credit as being humans and I think this is where Tolstoy’s arrogance hurts him. Plans like this are made not because they will definitely work, but because you don’t plan a failure
In chapters like these I really wish Tolstoy had just made Kutuzov an actual character in the novel. I know it would have been harder for Tolstoy to make his point about the grander philosophical issues at stake during the abandonment of Moscow, but he elevates Kutuzov too much by treating him this way. I would love to have read about Kutuzov’s inner struggles instead of being told about them.
Tolstoy berates more historians for not seeing that anybody really never made any choices, the armies just took the paths of least resistance available to them and nobody is to blame or cheer. And maybe he’s right that no man should be held in regard for being a leader, but it’s this edifice which holds the armies and nations together, otherwise the soldiers would wander off with no fear of being shot.
“I should be cursed by posterity were I looked on as the initiator of a settlement of any sort. Such is the present spirit of my nation.” Well, Kutuzov didn’t *have* to write that letter, it’s only because he was smart enough to understand the situation that he restrained himself, any other person would have taken Napoleon’s offer. And Kutuzov was able to hold the Army back, so here’s yet another choice.
This story is what the play and film Amadeus would be if, instead of composers, Mozart and Salieri were writers and all the while Salieri was stealing Mozart’s work. Or you could say he imagined John Williams (the writer, not the composer) and blended it with Gone Girl.
I’m not sure if McEwan has anything to say here about plagiarism, friendship, hard work, or where ideas come from, but he’s written a fun story about someone who is more patient than talented and uses this “gift” to take something that isn’t his: fame.
The breezy style the story is written in works well because what is popular is usually effortless but we all feel just a little guilty that we don’t take “better art” more seriously and so Mr Sparrow takes advantage of our lack of paying attention to the more “serious” arts. Nobody in this story reads anyone else’s work, it just sells a ton of copies and gets made into movies starring famous actors.
But McEwan is also satirizing the serious artists too by saying they might be a bit too stuffy to be worth reading. John Williams was forgotten until long after he died, and though he was a great artist, nobody is probably ever going to read him (thought they’ll all want to and maybe even buy the Kindle edition but never really get around to it). Nobody is paying attention to art and so Mr Sparrow, our “hero” and thief who lives the most average of middle-class lives can take full advantage of the process and launch him to a height he could never reach by talent alone.
This is why I subscribe to the New Yorker because every once in a while you come across a fun little story like this.