ARMS AND THE WOMAN by Baron Boris Uxkull


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These are the diaries of a dashing young Russian officer of German origin during the Napoleonic War, the invasion of Russia. The book's last third is about an idyllic love affair after the capitulation of Paris and Napoleon's defeat. (Boris, who lived to 77, wrote about thirty diaries, but all of those following the present one were destroyed in a fire. This one seems to be edited to conform to the scheme indicated in its title.) Boris had a good eye as a diarist and a deft tongue with the ladies. His descriptions of Kutuzov's retreat before the advancing Grand Army, of the battles of Borodino, Leipzig and others, are full of his pathetic reactions to the devastation he saw. At the same time, he keeps his pages fairly clean of blood and corpses, despite the agony and the empathy with which he responds. His entries seldom fill a page and even his more expanded passages are sketches rather than a serious history of anything more complicated than a young man's ego. (See 1812, p. 559, for a truly brilliant set of eye-witness accounts of Napoleon's disastrous invasion.) The love affair follows Boris's two years in Heidelberg studying philosophy under Hegel. He runs off with an 18-old-beauty as his mistress and, after six months, abandons her although with a full year. This is splendid as a diary, even if the big love affair's pastoral sighs seem as much out of Werther as of Boris.

Publisher: Macmillan