Click on photos to enlarge.
This will be a departure today, although I can’t imagine anyone questioning my motive for that. Certainly not anyone who has read and loved Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.To wit, today I temporarily abandon my usual habit of writing about real people and events, and, instead, I write about the intersection of fiction and reality.
Elsewhere on this blog I wrote how War and Peace changed my life many decades ago. I will not repeat that here. I’ll just add this: If you have stuck with me even this far, surely the names Andrei Bolkonsky, Nikolai Rostov and, say, Boris Drubetskoi all have the ring of people you know and care about intimately. And, if that is true, the name of Field Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov is, for you, as it is for me, more literary character than historical figure. I haven’t the vaguest notion what Kutuzov was like in real life, but, thanks to Tolstoy, I know him deeply as a grand, folkloric figure, wise, slightly bumbling, more than a tad rude, sentimental to a fault, indifferent to fashion, willing to take chances, and a believer in real patriotism, not that stuff most people put on for show at the right moments in life and history.
Each of the people – the literary characters – that I mention above are brought together in War and Peace at a specific time, late 1805, and a specific place, Olmütz (Olomouc in what is now the Czech Republic, a spectacular city that I recently visited). The decisive Battle of Austerlitz – disastrous for Russia and Austria – is yet to be fought. (That will happen December 2, 1805). The Allied forces of Russian Tsar Alexander I and Austrian Emperor Francis II believe they have Napoleon on the run. And they meet, accompanied by retinues and generals, to discuss further action. The meeting takes place in the Archbishop’s Palace on Wurmova Street in Olmütz – that is, in the structure pictured above and below. It is a real place, originally built from 1497 to 1540 and later rebuilt and enhanced many times. Tolstoy’s characters spend the better part of three chapters in, or around, Olmütz (Volume One, Part Three, chapters 7 to 9). Alexander and Kutuzov, as dignitaries, are quartered inside the Archbishop’s Palace. The Russian army is camped just outside the city.
My Olomouc friend and guide Martina Pálušová actually drove me to a place (now very much inside the city limits of Olomouc) where at least one of these encampments might have been. There was once an inn there where, perhaps, officers like Andrei Bolkonsky or Nikolai Rostov might have hung out. (“Rostov and his comrades went to Olmütz and dined there; he drank a bottle of wine and went on alone…”) But it is long gone, now replaced by an entirely nondescript modern structure.
What does remain, quite as it probably looked in 1805 when Tolstoy’s characters wandered the city, is the Archbishop’s Palace, the lovely cobblestone street on which it stands, and several other buildings standing nearby.
I suppose I should add that, to my knowledge, Tolstoy himself was never here. If that’s true, he had no idea what he was writing about when he described the environs and events of this time and place. According to the book Tolstoy and the Genesis of War and Peace by Kathryn B. Feuer, Tolstoy read several texts written by or about participants in the actual events at Olmütz and Austerlitz. These photos, then, add a tiny bit of clarity and detail to War and Peace, that it cannot claim on its own.
Olmütz first appears in War and Peace in Volume One, Part Two, chapter 12. The Russian diplomat Bilibin, bantering with Andrei Bolkonsky, says, “They say we are going to Olmütz, and Olmütz is a very decent town. You and I will travel comfortably in my caleche.” But the city first appears in earnest in Volume One, Part Three, chapter 7. Here in mid-November we find Kutuzov’s army camped outside the city. (“On the twelfth of November, Kutuzov’s active army, in camp before Olmütz , was preparing to be reviewed next day by the two Emperors – the Russian and the Austrian. The Guards, just arrived from Russia, spent the night ten miles from Olmütz and next morning were to come straight to the review, reaching the field at Olmütz by ten o’clock.”) Several incidents occur in Olmütz that have bearing on the lives of Bolkonsky, Rostov, Boris Drubetskoi, Lieutenant Berg and others. Tolstoy writes the following about some of Nikolai’s adventures in and around the city:
“That day Nikolai Rostov received a letter from Boris, telling him that the Ismailov regiment was quartered for the night ten miles from Olmütz and that he wanted to see him as he had a letter and money for him. Rostov was particularly in need of money now that the troops, after their active service, were stationed near Olmütz and the camp swarmed with well-provisioned sutlers and Austrian Jews offering all sorts of tempting wares. The Pavlograds held feast after feast, celebrating awards they had received for the campaign, and made expeditions to Olmütz to visit a certain Caroline the Hungarian, who had recently opened a restaurant there with girls as waitresses. Rostov, who had just celebrated his promotion to a cornetcy and bought Denisov’s horse, Bedouin, was in debt all round, to his comrades and the sutlers. On receiving Boris’ letter he rode with a fellow officer to Olmütz , dined there, drank a bottle of wine, and then set off alone to the Guards’ camp to find his old friend.”
In chapter 9 Tolstoy describes a trip Boris Drubetskoi takes into Olmütz in order to meet with Bolkonsky:
“That day he did not find Prince Andrei in Olmütz. But the sight of Olmütz, where the main quarters and diplomatic corps stood, and where both emperors lived with their retinues – courtiers and confidantes – only increased his desire to belong to this superior world.”
Boris’s adventures continue:
“…After dinner he again went to Olmütz and, entering the house occupied by Kutuzov, asked for Bolkonsky. Prince Andrei was in and Boris was shown into a large hall probably formerly used for dancing, but in which five beds now stood, and furniture of various kinds: a table, chairs, and a clavichord. One adjutant, nearest the door, was sitting at the table in a Persian dressing gown, writing. Another, the red, stout Nesvitsky, lay on a bed with his arms under his head, laughing with an officer who had sat down beside him. A third was playing a Viennese waltz on the clavichord, while a fourth, lying on the clavichord, sang the tune. Bolkonsky was not there. None of these gentlemen changed his position on seeing Boris. The one who was writing and whom Boris addressed turned round crossly and told him Bolkonsky was on duty and that he should go through the door on the left into the reception room if he wished to see him. Boris thanked him and went to the reception room, where he found some ten officers and generals.”
Eventually, Bolkonsky takes up Drubetskoi’s case and he resolves to introduce the ambitious young man to the proper people at the proper place:
“It was late in the evening when they entered the palace at Olmütz occupied by the Emperors and their retinues. That same day a council of war had been held in which all the members of the Hofkriegsrath and both Emperors took part. At that council, contrary to the views of the old generals Kutuzov and Prince Schwartzenberg, it had been decided to advance immediately and give battle to Bonaparte. The council of war was just over when Prince Andrei accompanied by Boris arrived at the palace to find Dolgorukov. Everyone at headquarters was still under the spell of the day’s council, at which the party of the young had triumphed. The voices of those who counseled delay and advised waiting for something else before advancing had been so completely silenced and their arguments confuted by such conclusive evidence of the advantages of attacking that what had been discussed at the council- the coming battle and the victory that would certainly result from it- no longer seemed to be in the future but in the past.”
There are other references to Olmütz in other chapters, but they are always of secondary importance, referring back to events already described in these three chapters. In all the city is named 22 times over a span of 471 pages. (I refer to, and, with some editing, quote from, an internet version of the novel that runs a total of 2,882 pages. Nowhere does the site mention it, but this is the translation by Aylmer and Louise Maude – the very translation I read way back when I was originally sent on a life journey that ultimately would take me, not only to visit Tolstoy’s estate at Yasnaya Polyana, not only to live on the same street where he once lived in Moscow, but also to Olomouc, that is, Olmütz, which played no small role in the marvelous wending and winding tale that is War and Peace.)