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Forum » General Talk » General Chat » War and Peace (The Napoleonic Era in Books and Film)
War and Peace
FtoomshDate: Sunday, 14/July/2013, 6:13 AM | Message # 1
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If you enjoy Napoleonic Era games as I do, you might also enjoy the era in Books and Cinema. Here is my recommended reading list and watching list. I will start this post series by mentioning Tolstoy and Bondarchuk at length. I will add other recommended reading and watching lists (without the long critiques) in further posts if people are interested. I will mention fictional and historical works which I personally recommend.

The Greatest Novel

Pride of place must go to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. Many consider this to be the greatest novel ever written. Don’t be daunted by its size. It has a readable style and is a realist novel so actions and events are clear. You will experience a few difficulties getting into the novel at first. Its large cast of characters, with Russian names, can be somewhat confusing initially. If English is your first language, you should buy the English edition translation by Rosemary Edmonds. It is an excellent translation. The cast of characters (Dramatis Personae) is atthe beginning of most editions for easy reference. War and Peace starts by introducing mostly secondary characters and progresses maybe 20 or 30 pages before introducing primary characters. It can take a little while to figure out who the primary characters are unless you refer to the character list at the front.

Once you have overcome these initial hurdles the novel will really get you in. So, definitely expect the first 30 pages or so to be hard going (maybe) and then expect to become thoroughly engrossed in the novel. You will find it surprisingly easy to read after that. I could wax long and lyrical about this novel but I will try to control myself. It is a broad saga type novel following the fortunes of several families over a considerable time period. It is also an historical novel and a national epic, describing a key period in Russian history with the war of 1812 as a centrepiece. Superb descriptions of war are delivered in a realistic manner which debunks much of the patriotic nonsense so often written about war. Tolstoy as a young man took part as a volunteer and then soldier in actions in the Caucasus and Crimea including the defence of Sevastopol. He virtually invented Russian war journalism as a young soldier-writer.

War and peace is also a romantic novel, in the sense of JaneAusten novels, in that it follows the courtships and eventual marriages of several young characters.
There are also several red-herrings in the somewhat “gentleman and cads” style that Jane Austen perfected. I am certain Tolstoy read Austen and learnt a lot from her style. W & P is also a philosophical novel with passages where the writer ponders the causes and meanings of historical events and wars and why people act as they do.  I have read War and Peace about four or five times so far so I reckon anyone can read it once. It is worth it.


War and Peace directed by Sergei Bondarchuk

I have managed to get file copies of Sergei Bondarchuk’s four movie series of War and Peace. Even with four movies (about 8 hours of viewing) quite a bit of the novel, particularly of side plots and secondary characters, is lost. Much of the philosophical character (theories of history and motivation) is also lost and replaced in parts by what one can only call Soviet or nationalist propaganda. Russians call the war against Napoleon the Patriotic War of 1812. Bondarchuk is an excellent director and artist but he still had to toe the Soviet line in the 1960s. I recommend you read the novel first.

If you want to get a DVD set then buy the Ruscico set which is available on places like Amazon or from specialist DVD suppliers. The Ruscico set is from original prints (I believe) and definitely has the original language and score (the music is very important). It can be played with subtitles if you are like me and can’t understand Russian. It also presents the movies in the original widescreen format (Sovscope 70) and full length. Avoid imitations as the saying goes.

The battle scenes are tremendous and likely to be more realistic in many ways than anything else one could see without historically being there. Bondarchuk captures the scale of such large battles with real formations and not with CGI of course. From memory, the Battle of Borodino alone runs for 45 minutes. Bondarchuk used the Russian Army for extras (including cavalry mounts). In total 13,500 soldiers and 1,500 horsemen substituted for the historical armies and of course inter-cutting and montage effects allow the creation of a very realistic spectacle which looks like two full armies clashing.

Wikipedia states – “The troops were supposed to return to their bases after thirteen days, but eventually remained (on location) for three months. 23 tons of gunpowder, handled by 120 sappers, and 40,000 litres of kerosene were used for the pyrotechnics,] as well as 10,000 smoke grenades. Tens
of thousands of cubic meters of soil were dug out to construct earthworks resembling the Bagration flèches and the Raevsky redoubt. The set was divided into
sectors, and a system of loudspeakers was installed — one for each area — to enable the director to coordinate the troops' movements.”

All apparel and uniforms are based on historical exhibits fromRussian museums and many of the other locations, in Moscow and St Petersburg
for example, are the genuine locations.

Stylistically, Bondarchuk does a masterful if somewhat idiosyncratic cinematic rendition of the very poetic and expansive nature of some of Tolstoy’s
writing. Each battle is handled differently in the film, artistically speaking, so that subsequent battles do not become more of the same. The Battle of
Austerlitz, being a farce from the Coalition point of view (Russia and Austria), is presented with French martial music in good musical time for the shots of
French troops. Shots of coalition troops are combined with orchestral music of a more parade ground fanfare style and this music is then deliberately syncopated,
distorted and played out of tune by the orchestra. The effect is to emphasise the initial parading vanity of the Coalition troops (they were shown parading for their
Emperors before the battle) and then the change as their troop movements turn into hopeless disorganisation and disarray on the battlefield.

On the other hand, the opening orchestral score of the Battle of Borodino is braying and then frightening, sombre and
relentless as it is combined with rolling gunfire to emphasise the deadly seriousness and brutal competence of both armies. It is worth noting that
Tolstoy, even before the advent of cinema, is an astoundingly “cinematic” writer when he is dealing with large scenes. This facilitates the translation of his
large scenes into cinema.

I can briefly mention other examples of Bondarchuk’s poetic cinematic style like the musical notes of dripping water accompanying the “water
torture” from a nagging wife. Then there is the “from the eye including eyelashes and blinks” view that Natasha has of a real scene which she clearly experiences
emotionally as a dreamlike, magical and disturbing series of events. Each blink of the “camera eye” refracts and splits the images and produces cinematic cuts
that are like changes seen as a kaleidoscope is twisted. Next post I will stop waxing lyrical and post about some historicalworks which I have found interesting and enlightening. I will mention a few other movies worth watching too.

Can't you tell I couldn't get a game today and time is weighing heavy on my hands. wink I should be refining my mod I supposed.

Message edited by Ftoomsh - Sunday, 14/July/2013, 8:26 AM
NowyDate: Monday, 29/July/2013, 2:06 PM | Message # 2
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I got mixed feelings in that matter. For one hand Tolstoy's War and Peace is great literature, but it is also horrible boring lecture. Worse that it generally contain fantasy story. Similar cases represent Bondarchuk's great movie, at last it was based on that novel and did similar mistakes.

I watched this very long movie and tried read Tolstoy's book several years ago, but I can not read all these boring pages. There were too many secondary aspects, many distortions, lengthy, diffuse stories and sometimes even false statements. This book and film also strangely shows Napoleonic warfare and poorly chosen background. In fact it represented one-sidedly Russian story.

For Tolstoy and Bondarchuk Napoleon and his army were bad and Russian were good. They suggested that Russian only tried stop that monster Bonaparte and his revolutionary ideas. These great historical opponents looks like mystical characters painted only in white and black colours. This cleary represent unfair point of view and sometimes looks like Russian propaganda.

Tolstoy and Bondarchuk so easly forget that Russian were not angels. Russian conquerd many neighbouring nations, captured their territories, did many atrocities and even killed civilians. They suppressed insurgents which fought for freedom. Their Tsars and aristocratic society kept in slavery or harsh serfdom Russian and other nations peasants.

Russian destroyed and partitioned Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, attacked Sweden-Finland, Ottoman Turkey and Persia. Russia also captured Georgia Azerbaijan, part of Armenia, Moldavia and Kazakhstan. They badly exploited Belorussians, Estonians, Finns, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Ukrainians, Tatars, Bashkirs, Kalmyks, Kazakhs, many Caucasus and Siberian tribes, and many, many other minorities.

Russian helped aristocratic Austrian, Prussian and British which also kept in harsh occupation or slavery other nations.
Perfidious Russian few times abandoned these coalitions, switched sides and hold some former Polish or Austrian and Prussian provinces.
They simply tried defeat French and captured more territories.

There was quite long list bad and even horrible things which Russian did at that times.
This clearly mean that Russian were not good guys which only defended their holy Russia.

For many people, which do not know well all that history, Tolstoy's book and Bondarchuk's movie could looks like true history.
But these masterpieces were not true history. These were clearly false, fantasy Russian long tales.

Personaly I prefer shorter, laconic, informative and fair written historical books than lengthy, diffuse, fantasy novels or moivies.

I prefer well written books and well made movies which shows real historical problems.
Especially these about armies and warfare from Napoleonic era.

Message edited by Nowy - Friday, 02/August/2013, 10:59 AM
FtoomshDate: Saturday, 03/August/2013, 6:47 AM | Message # 3
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Thanks Nowy, an interesting point of view. Yes, Tolstoy's novel and Bondarchuk's movie are not going to be to everybody's taste. However, I think the novel W&P has less patriotic propaganda than the movie has. The novel has more of people's real motives and shows they are not all pure, least of all the Russians.

You call W&P great literature but also a boring lecture. That could be because of the philosphical passages where the author talks directly to the reader about philosophies of causation in history. That could be annoying to some modern readers but I found it immensely interesting and thought-provoking. As well as being a large realist novel, W&P is also a philosophical novel.

Overall, Russia of the 17th, 18th and 19th C was guilty of all those crimes you mention, as were all the other Great Powers in Europe. No major nation comes out of a history of Europe looking like it was always moral and good. However, when it comes to an invasion of home soil (like France's crossing of the River Nieman and the march into Russia proper) then my sympathies will generally be with the defenders. Russia had some justice on her side once she was fighting a defensive war on home soil.

A book I really enjoyed as a readable history of the war is "1812 -Napoleon's Fatal March On Moscow" - by Adam Zamoyski. It details the human element and the terrible human suffering of this disastrous enterprise undertaken by Napoleon, France and their allies. Zamoyski is proficent in several languages and has been able to draw on original sources and first hand accounts in French, Russian, German, Polish and Italian, many never before translated into English.
NowyDate: Monday, 05/August/2013, 10:13 AM | Message # 4
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I see that you love so much Tolstoy's W&P, that you can not see all real problems there.
This novel is Russian false long tales, however written in soft, romantic and artistic style.

I can not accept such long and bore passages with clearly false statemetns about philosophic causation in history. W&P is not so impresive and thought-provoking, and is not true philosophical novel, because Tolstoy described false history and omitted many facts. He wrote mystical untrue story. Therefore it is not realistic novel, however many people could think that it is realistic.

There could not be excuse and any justice for Russian crimes which they really did.
Tolstoy forgot or covered true under lovely words and false philosophical passages. It was not moral or good when he tried accuse only one French side and meanwhile cleared Russian, and cast poor philosphies. He saw many Russain peasants which lived in harsh serfdom, he knew that Russian soldiers and Cossacks also made crimes, he knew that Russian provoked that war, he knew that Russia conquered and occupied many, many nations at that times. Earlier and later they also were aggressors which destroyed many nations. In such conditions it was not fair cast one-siededly tales, moralities or philosophy.

What is more, when you look deeper, then you can find that this novel was not only about one defensive campaign in 1812. Tolstoy also showed other campaigns, however he did not mention any Russian aggressions, which they did at that times. He did not mention Russain crimes, while he so easily accuse Napoleon and his army. He even did not understand how horrible consequenses inflicted Russian strategy for their own people.

When you look deeper, you find that Napoleon's invasion on Russian Empire in 1812 was not fought only on Russian home soil. Majority of that campaign was in Lithuania, Latvia and Belorussia which Russia captured several years earlier. Only part of that war was waged in proper Russia, between Smolensk and Moscow.

Russian did not defend  these non Russian countries and did not bother about these people. They used scorched earth tactic and rapidly withdrew on the east. Did you know that this caused diseases, starvation and horrible losses for their own subjects? That was not French army which burned Moscow and many, many villages and dwellings on the road to Moscow. Russian burned their own dwellings, food and other materials and leaved their countrymen in harsh living conditions. Russian themselves did such stupid things which cost so many their own people which lost their health, lives and properties during that campaign.

What is more Russia waged many aggressive wars at that times too. These wore out their manpower, resources and their peasantry suffered with poverty. They also lost so many lives.

Some Russian historians estimated that betwen 1812-1817 Russian Empire decreased their population around 10%. Tis was horrendous c.a. 4 millions men!
That was not only simple war or front loses which were not so heavy. That were severe consequnses of stupid Russian self destructive strategy and so many wars which they continued from late 18th to early 19th centuries.

Mentioned by you Adam Zamoyski book is much more interesting. He much better showed all that disaster which Tolstoy covered under poor philosophical passages.

When somebody know some more facts, then he can not offer sympathy for Russian in W&P.
He also do not believe in this one-sidedly written story about good Russian and bad French.
In such terrible case we could offer only condolences.

I can uderstand that English readers did not know how complex were East European affairs.
They simply believed in Russian false tales, because Russia was their storngest and needed ally against Napoleon.

Therefore many people, even today, could sympathize with Russian which showed themselves as not guilty homeland defenders. But these matters were much more complicated.

If Russia did not keep under occupation many nations, if Russia did not provoke Napoleon, if Russia agreed still kept alliance with France accordingly to signed Treaty of Tilsit, that war would not happened. If Russian did not use so foolish, self destructive strategy, then many, many Russian and other people would not suffered with that hostilities and would not died.

Yes, Napoleon attacked, but he was provoked. He had no choice, therefore French invaded Russian Empire, but Russian employed their own very, very costly strategy.

That were real problems which Tolstoy covered or avoided in his long tales and false philosophical passages. He accused Napoleon while in that case both sides were guilty, both brought their men to these terrible hostilities.

Russian were even worse or more guilty. They did worse crimes. They provoked that war, then stupidly used scorched reath tactic, burned Moscow and many, many other settlements. They killed thousands unarmed Napoleonic stragglers, deserters and prisoners. They even did not bother about their own people. This disastrous campaign ended with horrendous losses. There were mountains of dead men and animals bones, ruined towns, villages and dwellings.

Russian perfidity was that they showed themselves as defenders, while they also were guilty in that disastrousd wars.

Message edited by Nowy - Monday, 05/August/2013, 10:25 AM
FtoomshDate: Monday, 05/August/2013, 12:00 PM | Message # 5
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Moving on.

A military historian's book I can recommend is;

THE EMPEROR'S LAST VICTORY by Gunther Rothenberg.

This covers the Battle of Wagram, 5-6 July 1809 which was Napoleon's last decisive victory. It was grim two day struglle fought by more than 320,000 (counting both sides). They clashed over a 14 mile front. Combined casualties (dead and wounded) topped 72,000. Artillery was very important with almost 1,500 guns deployed and a total of over 95,000 artillery rounds fired by both sides. Altho Napoleon won the field, the Austrians retired in good order, still combat capable.
NowyDate: Wednesday, 07/August/2013, 9:31 AM | Message # 6
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Hmm, could you check this book? Some data looks little bit strange there.
I know that sources widely varied, but 1500 artillery guns at Wagram is unbelievable.

For instance according to Buat "1809, De Ratisbone a Znaim" Austrian army had 446 guns while French and their allies had 488 guns.
There aslo were available some guns on nearest Lobau Island and armed boats flotilla on Danube. These in total gave around 1000 guns.

Artillery played important role, French fired horrendous 96 000shots. This was the biggest artillery bombardment during Napoleonic Wars.
There also was the bigest up to date grand battery with 100 guns deployed in the centre of French front line.

This battle was very interesting, because there were used many various types of units.
Engineering and supporting troops also played important roles. They strengthened bridge-head fortifications, built and suplied several magazines nearly Danube and on Lobau.

Engineers also built several wooden and pontoon bridges, and landing crafts. They also assembled and equipped many boats and drafts armed with artillery guns. These preparations allowed French rapidly cross Danube and kept constant supply and support. These cases strategically were very important and crucial for this battle. Several weeks earlier French were not so good prepared to cross Danube and they lost bloody battle of Aspern-Essling.

These cases bring on my mind that C1 game at all do not include important engineer units and C2 had only some sapper/miner/pioneer units.
There are not possible build temporary pontoon bridges, trestles, trenches, gabions and other earthworks. Supply and ammunition horse drawn wagons or caissons are not available too. However all these supporting troops were commonly used in 17, 18 and 19 centuries.

Message edited by Nowy - Wednesday, 07/August/2013, 11:40 PM
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