War and Peace

by: Leo Tolstoy

General Kutuzov

The commander of the Russian forces against Napoleon, Kutuzov is old, fat, and one-eyed—hardly the archetypal image of military leadership. Yet Kutuzov is a brilliant strategist as well as a practiced philosopher of human nature, and Tolstoy’s respect for him is greater than for any other government functionary among the French or Russians—greater even than his respect for the somewhat oblivious Tsar Alexander. Kutuzov is humble and spiritual, in sharp contrast to the vain and self-absorbed Napoleon with his cold use of logic. After the Battle of Borodino, Kutuzov stops at a church procession and kneels in gratitude to a holy icon, demonstrating a humility of which Napoleon certainly would be incapable. Kutuzov is motivated by personal belief rather than the desire for acceptance, which makes his final fall from grace only a minor tragedy for him. Whereas Napoleon is always convinced of being absolutely right, Kutuzov is more realistic and wary about the state of things. He hesitates to declare a Russian victory at Borodino despite the obvious advantages of doing so, partly because the experiences of his long career have proved that reality is always more complex than one initially thinks. Such awareness of the mysteries of existence win Kutuzov our—and Tolstoy’s—approval.