19 April, 2013

Quotable Friday (7)

I love reading quotations. Whether they’re funny, wise or poignant, I love those snapshots into the human mind; I love the beauty of language. There aren’t always easy ways to crowbar great passages from novels or thoughtful quotations into ordinary blog posts, so on Fridays I’m letting them speak for themselves.

This week, a quotation from that great Russian epic War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I read the novel last year and found this passage really interesting. Even though it appears in the middle of  a very long book, the second I read it I felt as if I'd stumbled across what Tolstoy was really trying to say. The other 560 000 (or so) words are a story wrapped around this passage - or so it seemed to me. I've never felt so able to pinpoint a central idea so clearly in any other novel.


When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it?

Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decays and so forth, is equally right with the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it. Equally right or wrong is he who says that Napoleon went to Moscow because he wanted to, and perished because Alexander desired his destruction, and he who says that an undermined hill weighing a million tons fell because the last navvy struck it for the last time with his mattock. In historic events the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with event itself.

Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in an historical sense involuntary, and is related to the whole course of history and predestined from eternity."

2 comments:

  1. Very wise - but I'm not sure it makes me any keener to read the novel!

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    1. Well you don't have to now - I've told you what it's all about! (Though, to be fair, this isn't typical of the style of the book as a whole, just the overall theme. It's more like Jane Austen for most of it. Not sure if that'll make you want to read it more, but it is at least more accurate!)

      I'm not sure I totally agree with Tolstoy here, but I think he makes his fatalistic point elegantly.

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