• Alan Bray

Verisimilitude


A work of fiction cannot be held to the same standards of truth as non-fiction; by its nature, it is largely “made-up.” However, a quality of plausibility is necessary to convince the reader that the fiction is at least rooted in a common reality.

The Hour of Parade is a work of fiction. The major characters in Parade are not based on real people as characters in the genre of historical fiction may be but are portrayed in real historic settings, in particular the aftermath of the battle of Austerlitz. Alexi Ruzhensky, one of the main characters, is a Russian officer wounded at the battle who is able to get to the Bavarian city of Munich to find the French officer who killed his brother.

What historical evidence exists that would make the scenario of The Hour of Parade believable as a fiction?

According to Alexander Mikaberidze, in his article “A Few Notes on the Casualties at Austerlitz,” the Russian Army had many men wounded and captured in addition to those killed at the battle. In early January, 1806, the Russian envoy to Vienna made inquiries about their condition. Those captured were being held in detention camps, and agreement was reached between the French and Russian authorities that they would be released to return to Russia. At this time, as many as six hundred Russian soldiers were begging on the streets of Vienna and were rounded up by the French and sent off to detention under Austrian guard. However, the Austrians were sympathetic to their former allies and only 120 Russians reached the camps, the rest allowed to escape.

Many wounded officers were recuperating in private homes in the large area between the cities of Vienna and Brunn. The Russian envoy secretly provided about one hundred of the wounded with money and instructions to escape. It appears from the envoy’s reports that 12,490 wounded and sick Russian soldiers and officers were being treated in hospitals and private homes. 1,355 died, 6,407 had returned to Russia by February, and one hundred forty-one were listed as escaped. That leaves 4,582 Russians left behind to recover under the supervision of their former allies. The number of troops who were hiding in the area of Vienna and Brunn is unknown.

One of the premises of The Hour of Parade is that one of these Russian soldiers reached Munich. Mention is made of bribes given to Austrian officials, a story and disguised identity designed to mislead the French and Bavarian authorities.

Of course, an additional answer to the question how could Alexi do this, is that most cities in Europe, then as is now, had large populations of people from other countries. In 1806, Munich had an ethnic Russian community, served by a Consulate and an Orthodox church.

Finally, as in any time of war, cities were filled with refugees and exiles. Passports and papers could be obtained by bribery and forgery, and without modern technology, the authorities in 1806 were hard pressed to identify people who wished to conceal themselves. A wealthy person, in particular an aristocrat, was much less likely to be questioned.

Mr. Mikaberidze’s article dates from 2006 and can be read on napoleon-series.org.

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