Michael J. Cummings...©
Most English translations
of War and Peace are easy to read and understand. However, the novel
contains so many characters~ez_ndash~nearly 600 of them~ez_ndash~that the reader may find
it difficult to keep track of them. The following plot summary attempts
to sketch out the main characters of the novel while distilling the essence
of its plot. Readers should keep in mind that the events in the novel,
both fictional and historical, take place between 1805 and 1814. The summary~ez_ndash~as
well as information on this page about themes and other aspects of War
and Peace~ez_ndash~is designed to help orient students reading the 15 books
and 2 epilogues that make up the novel.
is July 1805. While Napoleon Bonaparte prowls Europe with his seemingly
invincible army, Russian nobles in the capital city of St. Petersburg enjoy
their lavish parties and balls. They believe war will remain outside the
Russian borders, although the czar~ez_rsquo~s troops are mobilized to fight at the
side of Austria.
a grand soirée in St. Petersburg, hostess Anna Pavlovna Scherer~ez_ndash~a
spinster on intimate terms with the Russian empress and therefore an important
society luminary~ez_ndash~discusses the French emperor with an influential aristocrat,
Prince Vassily Kuragin. The French emperor, she declares, is the Antichrist.
If Kuragin disagrees with
her on this matter, she tells him playfully, she will no longer be his
friend. Vassily kisses her hand and sits down, and they talk further of
society matters and war while other guests begin to arrive. It is up to
Russia, Anna Pavlovna says, to save Europe from the French:
good and wonderful sovereign has to perform the noblest role on earth,
and he is so virtuous and noble that God will not forsake him. He will
fulfill his vocation and crush the hydra of revolution, which has become
more terrible than ever in the person of this murderer and villain!"
brings up the subject of court politics and political appointments, as
he is wont to do, for he is a schemer ever seeking advantages for himself
and his friends. During their talk, Anna Pavlovna suggests a match between
Vassily's profligate son, Anatole, and Princess Marya Bolkonsky, whose
father is wealthy. The drawing room begins to swell as guests arrive~ez_ndash~both
regular attendees at such affairs, including Vassily's beautiful daughter,
Hélène, as well as new guests, such as the Vicomte de Mortemart,
an émigré from France, and the Abbé Morio, a great
thinker. During the party and on other social occasions, two of the principal
characters of the novel begin to come into focus:
Bezuhov, the novel's protagonist, is a tall, stout young man looked down
upon in drawing rooms because of his awkward manner and his birth: He is
the illegitimate son of a Russian count in Moscow. But unlike so many other
St. Petersburg partygoers, he speaks his mind directly and honestly. One
of his opinions~ez_ndash~certainly not a popular one~ez_ndash~is that Napoleon is a great
man. Others, like Anna Pavlovna, disdainfully refer to the French emperor
by his original Italian name~ez_ndash~Buonaparte (spelled with a u
after the b), to underscore his origin as the son of Corsicans of
Italian heritage~ez_ndash~rather than by his august French title. One reason Pierre
admires Napoleon, apparently, is that the great military leader is so sure
of himself; he knows who he is and what his destiny is, and he acts decisively
to fulfill that destiny. Pierre, on the other hand, is not at all sure
of himself, for his illegitimacy has provided him no identity and no clear
destiny. Even his own father has treated him like an outsider. Consequently,
Pierre is a man in search of himself, a man who thirsts to learn all he
can about life and, in so doing, discover himself. He roves for meaning
in the same way that Napoleon roves for the spoils of war.
Prince Andrey Bolkonsky
Andrey is a cultured, intelligent, patriotic, and at times arrogant man
who has just received a commission in the army from authorities in St.
Petersburg. Although he is Pierre Bezuhov~ez_rsquo~s best friend, he is in some
ways his opposite, his foil. For example, Andrey has family identity as
the legitimate son of an old-school aristocrat, Prince Nikolay Andreivitch
Bolkonsky (mentioned above as the father of Princess Marya Bolkonsky).
Prince Nikolay is a retired military man who lives at an estate called
Bald Hills, about 100 miles from Moscow. Andrey resides at Bogucharovo,
about 26 miles from Bald Hills, in a home he built on an estate his father
had given him. The old prince values honor and duty and expects his son
to uphold these values even if doing so means he must sacrifice himself
on the battlefield. He would rather have his son die honorably than live
dishonorably. Prince Andrey is also different from his friend, Pierre,
in what really counts in Russian high society: looks, elegant demeanor,
charisma. Andrey is in every way the handsome, dashing nobleman.
the other hand, he is like Pierre in that his father has been cold and
distant to him while bringing up Andrey as a member of the nobility~ez_ndash~a nobility
which, Andrey has come to realize, is shallow and artificial in its tired
traditions and in its corrupt political machinations. Andrey knows that
he is a nobleman, but he wonders whether he is a noble man?
Is his life in upper-class society really worth living? And so he broods,
unsmiling, living in a dark corner of his soul. Making matters worse is
his bad marriage. He despises his pregnant wife, Lise. She is pretty enough
and winsome in her manner, but she lives for the one thing that Andrey
despises: Russian high society. Lise attends Anna Pavlovna Scherer~ez_rsquo~s party
with Andrey, enjoying its dazzling ambience, while Andrey looks forward
to the military service that will give him a respite from his marriage.
Other Important Russian
and Andrey are well known to the other families in the St. Petersburg and
Moscow social circles, and the lives of both men become intertwined with
the lives of the members of these families~ez_ndash~in particular, the Rostov and
Rostovs~ez_ndash~who live at an estate at Otradnoe, near Moscow~ez_ndash~are well-meaning
and likable. The head of the family, Count Ilya Rostov, is genuinely interested
in the welfare of his wife and his children, including Natasha (the most
important female character in the novel), an altogether charming teenager
who brims with zest for life; Nikolay, a decent, fun-loving young chap
who, as a cadet in the colorful hussars (cavalrymen), is ready to go to
war against the French; Petya, a boy who looks up to his older brother,
as all little boys do; and Vera, the distant and unfriendly older sister
of Natasha. Also staying with the Rostovs is Sonya, a poor teenage relative
who lives as a ward of the Rostovs and enjoys their affection. Count Ilya
is kind, sincere, and loving to his family and friends, but he and his
wife are spendthrifts. Eventually, their prodigality~ez_ndash~and the gambling habits
of Nikolay~ez_ndash~plunge the family into debt.
Kuragins, headed by the Prince Vassily, are self-centered and unprincipled.
Vassily, as previously mentioned, is ever scheming for advantages for himself
and his hedonistic son, Anatole, and status-seeking daughter, the beautiful
Hélène. Vassily also has another son, Hippolyte, who is a
quiet fool and therefore of little interest to Vassily.
The Story Continued: Pierre's
Pierre~ez_rsquo~s father dies, he makes Pierre~ez_ndash~to Pierre~ez_rsquo~s surprise~ez_ndash~the principal
heir of his wealth. Now Pierre appears to have an identity, that of a nobleman
who wields power and oversees an estate. Suddenly, he is popular with the
proud aristocrats. They lead him to believe that his personal qualities,
rather than his riches, have endeared him to his former detractors. Chief
among the deceivers is Prince Vassily, who dangles his beautiful daughter,
Hélène, before him in a décolleté dress that
hints at the pleasures awaiting him if he marries her. Even though Pierre
admires~ez_ndash~perhaps even loves~ez_ndash~one of the Rostovs, the very appealing Natasha,
he takes Hélène as his wife to live with him at his home
in St. Petersburg. But Pierre finds that he is still not happy. His wife
cares only for fashions, jewels, and the social limelight. She loves Pierre~ez_rsquo~s
money, not Pierre. So Pierre continues his search for meaning and peace
of mind in various other ways: He joins the Masons. He frees the peasants
bound to his estate.
Prince Andrey Bolkonsky and Nicholas Rostov cross paths before the Battle
of Austerlitz in Moravia (then part of the Austrian Empire and now part
of the Czech Republic), where Bolkonsky is an adjutant serving under the
Russian general Prince Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov. Nicholas sees action.
The first time he is frightened. The next time, when he is delivering a
message and is shot at, he is thrilled.
of course, is a wily, unpredictable military genius who registers one victory
after another~ez_ndash~no matter how large the opposing armies, no matter the lay
of the land or the battlefield conditions. He can do no wrong. When Kutuzov
frowns on engaging the French at Austerlitz, Czar Alexander I, who has
come to the front himself, overrules Kutuzov. The result? The French win
an impressive victory.
the fighting, Prince Andrey fights bravely and carries his country~ez_rsquo~s flag
while leading Russian troops toward enemy fire. However, he suffers a serious
wound. Although it is not fatal, his relatives and friends receive word
that he may have died. After the battle, Nicholas Rostov returns home on
leave. When he arrives with a soldier friend, Denisov, the entire family,
along with serfs and servants, greet Nicholas with kisses, hugs, and tearful
eyes. The family also greets Denisov warmly. Sonya, now 16 and very pretty,
cannot take her eyes off Nicholas, for she loves him. There is an understanding
that Nicholas is meant for Sonya, but Sonya does not want understandings
or promises; she wants Nicholas~ez_rsquo~s love. She wants Nicholas to be free to
make up his own mind. Nicholas does love the charming Sonya, but during
his leave he drifts from her as he and Denisov enjoy club activities, party
bashes, and all the other wild things young soldiers do together, including,
as the narrator says, ~ez_ldquo~visits to a certain house.~ez_rdquo~
and his friends, including the rakish Fedya Dolohov, attend a special dinner
at the English Club in Moscow to honor the Russian general Pyotr Ivanovich
Bagration, who distinguished himself by slowing a French advance at Hollabrunn.
Sitting across from Nicholas and Dolohov is Pierre Bezuhov. It is an unfortunate
seating arrangement, for Dolohov has been seeing Pierre~ez_rsquo~s wife. Pierre
suspects they have been intimate. Angry words are exchanged and a duel
ensues in which Pierre, though unschooled in weaponry, somehow manages
to wound Dolohov. Later, Pierre leaves Hélène~ez_ndash~for a while.
Andrey has returned to Bald Hills intact and in good health, thanks to
peasants who nursed his wound after the Battle of Austerlitz. His family
is jubilant, of course, but all is not well with his wife: She has undergone
a difficult labor giving birth to Andrey~ez_rsquo~s child. Then she dies. The child
is a boy, Nicholas~ez_ndash~or Nikolushka, as his family calls him.
Andrey and Natasha Fall
day when Pierre visits the Rostovs~ez_ndash~old friends of his who are always read
to welcome him~ez_ndash~Prince Andrey tags along. When Andrey sees Natasha for the
first time, he is immediately smitten with her, and she is absolutely awed
by him. In a short time, they make wedding plans. But when Andrey broaches
the topic of marriage while visiting his tyrannical father, the old man
frowns upon a union of the Bolkonskys and Rostovs. The Rostovs haven~ez_rsquo~t
enough money or prestige to suit him. However, if Andrey still wants to
marry Natasha after delaying the wedding for one year, the old prince says,
he will withdraw his opposition to their marriage. Andrey agrees to the
terms and later returns to military service.
evening, Natasha Rostov attends an opera at which the dissolute Anatole
Kuragin spies her out, likes what he sees, and targets her as his next
conquest. After having his sister, Hélène, introduce him
to the dazzling young lady, he lavishes Natasha with flattery. Natasha
shrinks from his advances at first, but~ez_ndash~impressionable and capricious romantic
that she is~ez_ndash~welcomes them later, forgetting all about Andrey. What she
does not know is that Kuragin is already married; he had been forced into
a union with a woman he wronged. Kuragin talks Natasha into agreeing to
elope with him after persuading a friend to pose as the priest who will
perform the marriage. While Natasha prepares for the elopement, her cousin
Sonya tries to talk her out of it but fails. So Sonya tells Pierre of Kuragin~ez_rsquo~s
scheme. Pierre angrily drives off Anatole, then consoles Natasha and informs
her of Anatole~ez_rsquo~s marriage.
June 1812, Napoleon crosses from Poland into Russia across the Niemen River
with 600,000 men. Along his marching path, Russian citizens destroy supplies
that would help sustain Napoleon~ez_rsquo~s army. Nevertheless, in spite of suffering
hardships, Napoleon marches on. Two months later, Kutuzov becomes commander-in-chief
of the Russian army, replacing Prince Mikhail Barclay de Tolly as the field
marshal. Kutuzov continues de Tolly~ez_rsquo~s policy of strategic retreat by destroying
supplies and allowing Napoleon~ez_rsquo~s army to wear down during its long march.
However, at Borodino, the Russian army digs in to protect Moscow, about
seventy miles east. Pierre Bezuhov is there behind the Russian lines to
observe the ensuing battle as part of his self-education.
is fierce along a three-mile front, and both sides suffer heavy casualties.
One of the wounded is Andrey Bolkonsky. The Russians fight well enough
to halt the French advance and claim a moral victory. By nightfall, the
fighting ceases except for occasional artillery fire, and Kutuzov~ez_rsquo~s forces
withdraw. Several days later, the French march into Moscow. But Napoleon
finds the city almost completely abandoned. The wounded Prince Andrey is
with the fleeing Rostovs, who happened upon him after Kutuzov~ez_rsquo~s army passed
through the city. Pierre Bezuhov is among those remaining in Moscow. He
has a bold plan: to assassinate Napoleon. As for Napoleon himself, he has
conquered a magnificent city only to find magnificent emptiness. His men
loot and build fires to cook food. But the flames from one of the fires,
or perhaps the lit pipe of a sleeping soldier, ignite a building. Soon
another building burns, and then another and another. Eventually most of
the city in on fire.
3½ miles from Moscow, the fleeing Rostovs stop to pass the night
along the road, then resume their journey the next morning. After traveling
all day on roads crowded with other refugees, they stop for the night 14
miles from Moscow at the village of Great Mystishchi. From there, they
can see the red sky above Moscow in the distance. During the night, Natasha,
unable to sleep, goes to the hut where Prince Andrey is lying in a fever.
In a corner under the dim light of a candle, she sees the broken man. When
she kneels at his bedside, Andrey smiles and extends his hand to her.
Moscow, Pierre rescues a child from a burning building and helps an Armenian
woman escape the clutches of a soldier. The French arrest and imprison
him, making it impossible for him to carry out his assassination plan.
During his confinement, he befriends a peasant, Platon Karataev, who gives
Pierre food and helps teach him the importance of compassion. Pierre also
witnesses executions of Russian citizens and, most important, realizes
that the meaning of life lies in love for all of humankind~ez_ndash~nobles, peasants,
life continues as usual in St. Petersburg~ez_ndash~the parties, the balls, the banquets.
At one of Anna Pavolovna Scherer~ez_rsquo~s soirées, there is talk of an
illness that has afflicted Hélène Kuragin Bezuhov, the always
popular coquette. The illness, the reader learns later, is self-inflicted:
Hélène has taken a lethal dosage of drugs. It seems that
her quest for the attentions of the men in St. Petersburg society was really
a quest for love, genuine love, even if she never realized what she was
looking for. She dies a lonely woman.
occupying Moscow for 39 days, Napoleon and his troops withdraw. They are
out of supplies. Moreover, marching in pursuit of the enemy army~ez_ndash~or attacking
the city of the czar, St. Petersburg~ez_ndash~in the gathering cold of fall and
winter will only diminish their ranks. When they head southward in October,
over the same route they used to reach Moscow, they take cartloads of treasure~ez_ndash~and
prisoners, including Pierre. But the withdrawal is a disaster. By November,
weighted down with booty and fighting cold and hunger, they lose many men.
Snow falls. There is no food. A bridge collapses, sending many Frenchmen
to an icy death. Along the way, Cossacks attack the French, further diminishing
their ranks. The Grand Army of Napoleon has become an endless queue of
Yaroslavl, where the Rostovs are staying, Prince Andrey~ez_rsquo~s sister, Marya,
visits Andrey. There is no hope for him, and he dies peacefully after he
and Natasha reconcile.
war peters out in Russia, but not before one young fellow~ez_ndash~headstrong Petya
Rostov, who longed to be like his brother and fight in the war~ez_ndash~enlisted
and died in a skirmish.
one of the attacks on the fleeing French army, Pierre is freed. When he
returns to the north, he marries the young woman he has always loved, Natasha
Rostov, and she proves to be a good and sensible wife who bears children
and loses her figure~ez_ndash~but not her appeal and common sense. At long last,
Pierre has found his meaning in simple family life. Nicholas Rostov, meanwhile,
works to support his impoverished family and eventually marries wealthy
Marya Bolkonsky, Prince Andrey's sister, in part to pay his and his family's
debts, and they adopt Prince Andrey~ez_rsquo~s son, Nicholushka. Poor Sonya, who
has always loved Nikolay, gives him up without protest, thereby expressing
heroic, unselfish love. Cold-fish Vera marries a soldier, Lt. Alphonse
Berg, after he plainly tells her he wants her for her money.
of the elders in the Rostov, Bolkonsky, and other families have died by
is a hero.
goes on in the villages and cities of Russia.
Insecurities, His Insincere Acquaintances, and the War
Pierre Bezuhov Illegitimate
son of a Russian count, Cyril Bezuhov, who bequeaths Pierre a fortune.
Pierre comes in contact with all the other main characters in the novel
during his quest to find meaning in life.
Prince Andrey Bolkonsky
intelligent, cultured, and at times arrogant nobleman who is Pierre~ez_rsquo~s best
friend. He detests the shallow lifestyle he inherits as a member of the
Russian upper class. He also despises his wife, who is charming and attractive,
because she values the upper-class lifestyle. Like Bezuhov, Bolkonsky searches
for meaning in life. Prince Andrey is high-ranking military officer who
serves as a valued adjutant to General Kutuzov.
Countess Natasha Rostov
vivacious, loving young woman who falls in love with Prince Andrey, then
becomes infatuated with Anatole Kuragin. She later realizes she has loved
Andrey all along. Natasha is the central female character in the novel.
Count Cyril Bezuhov Father
of Pierre. The count dies early in the novel, leaving his estate to Pierre..
Prince Nicholas Andreivitch
Bolkonsky Father of Prince Andrey. A retired general, he is a stern,
eccentric, old-school member of the upper class.
Princess Marya Bolkonsky
of Prince Nicholas. She marries Nicholas Rostov late in the novel.
Princess Lise Bolkonsky
of Prince Andrey. She dies in childbirth.
Prince Nicholas (Nicholushka)
of Andrey and Lise.
Count Ilya Rostov
Generous and loving father of the Rostov children. His lavish spending
eventually plunges him in debt.
Countess Nataly Rostov
Count Petya Rostov Younger
son of Ilya and Nataly Rostov.
Countess Vera Rostov
daughter of Ilya and Nataly Rostov.
Sonya Poor teenage
relative of the Rostovs, who have been rearing her as their ward. She loves
Nicholas but circumstances prevent their union.
Prince Vassily Kuragin
society wheeler-dealer who manipulates Pierre Bezuhov into marrying his
daughter, Hélène, after Pierre inherits his fortune.
Kuragin Vassily~ez_rsquo~s self-seeking daughter. She becomes Pierre~ez_rsquo~s wife
but continues to seek the attentions of other men.
Prince Anatole Kuragin
dissolute son. He attempts to elope with Natasha Rostov even though he
is already married.
Prince Hippolyte Kuragin
quiet, weak-minded son.
Platon Karataev Peasant
who is a cellmate of Pierre after the French arrest Pierre in Moscow. Karataev
gives Pierre food and helps him realize what really matters in life.
Anna Pavlovna Scherer
Petersburg spinster who gives lavish soirees for the high and mighty.
Princess Anna Drubetskoy
Impoverished woman who persuades Vassily Kuragin to use his influence to
obtain her son an appointment as a military officer.
Prince Boris Drubetskoy
Anna Drubetskoy's son.
Dolohov Russian soldier
and gambler who has an affair with Pierre~ez_rsquo~s wife, Hélène.
Pierre wounds him in a duel.
Emperor of France and general of attacking French armies.
Prince Mikhail Illarionovich
Kutuzov Russian general under whom Prince Andrey serves. Kutuzov is
appointed field marshal of all the Russian forces before the Battle of
Czar Alexander I
Ruler of Russia.
Military officers, foot
soldiers, nobles, peasants, serfs, servants
(1) Saint Petersburg, capital
of Russia from 1712 to 1918. It is a port on the Gulf of Finland and the
Neva River, about 400 miles northwest of Moscow, that contains many architectural
masterpieces, including Cathedrals and palaces. (2) Moscow, the capital
of Russia until 1712, when Czar Peter the Great moved the capital to Saint
Petersburg. But Moscow remained and important cultural and industrial center.
Napoleon and his Grand Army occupied Moscow for 39 days in 1812. (3) European
battlefield sites, including Austerlitz. (4) Russian country estates and
and compassion are the keys to a successful and fulfilling life. Pierre
Bezuhov spends all of his days searching for the meaning of life. Gradually,
he discovers that it lies in bestowing and receiving love and compassion.
It matters not who the bestower or recipient is~ez_ndash~whether peasant or nobleman,
Frenchman or Russian. Pierre realizes the fulness of this truth when he
saves the life of a Frenchman from a crazed Russian and when he receives
food from a humble peasant in prison.
beings are defined by what they do, not by what they have or what they
inherit. Most of the Russian upper classes in St. Petersburg and Moscow
place a premium on their noble heritage, their estates, their jewels and
fashions, their popularity in drawing rooms and ballrooms. They look down
upon Pierre Bezuhov because of his illegitimate birth and lack of social
graces, then hypocritically treat him like royalty when he inherits a fortune.
Pierre, of course, comes to realize that material things and social status
mean little; what really counts is the good that a man or a woman does
(or, in the case of the dissolute or self-seeking characters in the novel,
than attempting to control the course of history, human beings must move
with its currents. This is Tolstoy~ez_rsquo~s idea. He believes that history
is like a river. Men like Napoleon attempt to divert the river from its
true course; men like Kutuzov merely attempt to control the boat they are
traveling in, not the river itself. Napoleon fails, Tolstoy says, because
no man can manage or manipulate history~ez_ndash~that is, fate, destiny. Que
sera sera~ez_ndash~whatever will be will be. Kutuzov succeeds, Tolstoy maintains,
because he understands this great truth.
of material possessions does not lead to success or happiness. Hélène
Kuragin marries Pierre for his money, then spends it freely on fashions
and jewels to enhance her image as the most beautiful and desirable woman
in St. Petersburg. But she ends up lonely and unloved and takes her life.
Napoleon acquires whole cities and ends up conquering an empty city, Moscow.
He achieves nothing but death and destruction. Ultimately, he loses the
is brutal and barbaric, not grand and glorious. Although many young
men in St. Petersburg and Moscow regard war as a glorious adventure, it
soon becomes apparent that it is nothing of the sort. When Pierre observes
the Battle of Borodino, he sees it for what it is: a cruel, brutal destroyer.
climax of War and Peace occurs at the Battle of Borodino and during
its immediate aftermath, when the main Russian characters attain the knowledge
and insight they have been seeking and Napoleon discovers he had made a
War and Peace is
a panoramic realistic novel that examines the social, familial, historical,
and political activities of a society against the backdrop of war, as well
as the psychological reactions of people to their lot in life at home and
on the battlefield. It was written between 1862 and 1869 and published
between 1865 and 1869 by M.N. Katov.
novel at first focuses on everyday life among the Russian nobility while
Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grand Army march across Europe. The story later
shifts to the battlefield after the Russians become involved in the war.
From then on, the action alternates between scenes of peace and scenes
of war. Occasionally, author Tolstoy interrupts his narration (omniscient,
third-person point of view) to philosophize about war. The novel thus has
three structural divisions: (1) the story centering on fictional characters,
(2) the story centering on actual historical events, and (3) the philosophical
ruminations of the author. The reader discovers early on that many of the
principal characters in the novel are as much at war with themselves as
they are with Napoleon. Tolstoy meticulously interweaves the stories of
the characters~ez_ndash~there are nearly 600 of them~ez_ndash~so that they form a single
fabric bearing one panoramic picture of life and death in early 19th Century
Russia. The descriptions are detailed and realistic, and the story lines
believable and engrossing. Characters respond naturally to the forces acting
upon them, whether internal or external, with a minimum of author contrivance
and manipulation. The reader sees not only flesh-and-blood characters and
the environments in which they live but also the characters~ez_rsquo~ psyches and
the conflicts enveloping them. The consensus of critics is that War
and Peace is one of the world~ez_rsquo~s great novels in terms of character
and thematic development. However, some of these critics have not read
the novel in its original Russian, relying instead on an English (or French,
German, or Spanish translation). Consequently, their evaluations lack the
authority of Russian-speaking Tolstoy critics able to understand nuances
in the original Russian version~ez_rsquo~s dialogue and imagery. .
Theory of History
believed that a single man or woman is incapable of manipulating or changing
the course of history. History, he says, is an inexorable force that will
have its way. For additional information on this topic, see Theme
English writer Virginia Woolf commented on Tolstoy's writing in The
Common Reader, a collection of essays she wrote in two installments,
the first in 1925 and the second in 1932. In one of the essays, she said
remains the greatest of all novelists~ez_mdash~for what else can we call the author
of War and Peace? Shall we find Tolstoi, too, alien, difficult,
a foreigner? Is there some oddity in his angle of vision which, at any
rate until we have become disciples and so lost our bearings, keeps us
at arm~ez_rsquo~s length in suspicion and bewilderment? From his first words we
can be sure of one thing at any rate~ez_mdash~here is a man who sees what we see,
who proceeds, too, as we are accustomed to proceed, not from the inside
outwards, but from the outside inwards. Here is a world in which the postman~ez_rsquo~s
knock is heard at eight o~ez_rsquo~clock, and people go to bed between ten and eleven.
Here is a man, too, who is no savage, no child of nature; he is educated;
he has had every sort of experience. He is one of those born aristocrats
who have used their privileges to the full. He is metropolitan, not suburban.
His senses, his intellect, are acute, powerful, and well nourished. There
is something proud and superb in the attack of such a mind and such a body
upon life. Nothing seems to escape him. Nothing glances off him unrecorded.
Nobody, therefore, can so convey the excitement of sport, the beauty of
horses, and all the fierce desirability of the world to the senses of a
strong young man. Every twig, every feather sticks to his magnet. He notices
the blue or red of a child~ez_rsquo~s frock; the way a horse shifts its tail; the
sound of a cough; the action of a man trying to put his hands into pockets
that have been sewn up. And what his infallible eye reports of a cough
or a trick of the hands his infallible brain refers to something hidden
in the character, so that we know his people, not only by the way they
love and their views on politics and the immortality of the soul, but also
by the way they sneeze and choke. Even in a translation we feel that we
have been set on a mountain-top and had a telescope put into our hands.
Everything is astonishingly clear and absolutely sharp.
Leo Nikolayevitch Tolstoy
was born on Sept. 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. His aristocratic
parents died when he was very young, and relatives reared him. He attended
a university but abandoned his studies before graduating, preferring to
educate himself instead. After enlisting in the military, he served in
the Crimean War (1853-1856). While in the army, he began writing and completed
a short novel in 1852. After returning to Yasnaya Polyana, he worked on
his estate, improved the life of his peasant workers, and continued to
write. His masterpieces are War and Peace (published between 1865 and 1869)
and Anna Karenina (published between 1875 and 1877.
Questions and Essay Topics
Which character in the novel
do you most admire? Which one do you least admire? Explain your answers.
Readers learn early in the novel
that Russian high society looks down on Pierre Bezuhov because he is the
illegitimate son of a count. In an informative essay, explain how illegitimacy
affected a man's legal rights and social status in early 19th Century Europe.
Does Prince Andrey find what
he is seeking in life?
Do you agree with Tolstoy's
Tolstoy writes that war is chaotic,
unpredictable, depending as much on chance, whim, and luck as on battle
strategies for its outcome. Do the developments in recent conflicts involving
the U.S. support this observation?
What was your reaction when
you learned that Pierre Bezuhov married Natasha Rostov, who had been in
love with Prince Andrey?
Does Tolstoy attempt to create
heroes and heroines? Or is he more concerned with creating people as they
are: a mixture of strength and weakness?
Write an essay comparing and
contrasting Pierre Bezuhov and Prince Andrey Bolkonsky.
Write an essay comparing and
contrasting Count Ilya Rostov and Prince Vassily Kuragin.
Write an essay comparing and
contrasting Natasha Rostov and Hélène Kuragin.
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