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War and Peace
By Leo Tolstoy  (1828-1910)
A Study Guide
Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site
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Settings
Characters
Themes
Climax
Type of Work
Structure and Style
Tolstoy's Theory of History
Commentary: Virginia Woolf
Author Information
Questions and Essay Topics
Complete Free Text in English
Complete Free Text in Russian
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Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Editor's Note 

Most English translations of War and Peace are easy to read and understand. However, the novel contains so many characters–nearly 600 of them–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–as well as information on this page about themes and other aspects of War and Peace–is designed to help orient students reading the 15 books and 2 epilogues that make up the novel. 
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The Story
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.......It 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’s troops are mobilized to fight at the side of Austria.
.......At a grand soirée in St. Petersburg, hostess Anna Pavlovna Scherer–a spinster on intimate terms with the Russian empress and therefore an important society luminary–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: 
......."Our 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!"
.......Vassily 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–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:

Pierre Bezuhov

.......Pierre 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–certainly not a popular one–is that Napoleon is a great man. Others, like Anna Pavlovna, disdainfully refer to the French emperor by his original Italian name–Buonaparte (spelled with a u after the b), to underscore his origin as the son of Corsicans of Italian heritage–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

.......Prince 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’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. 
.......On 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–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’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 Characters

.......Pierre 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–in particular, the Rostov and Kuragin families. 
.......The Rostovs–who live at an estate at Otradnoe, near Moscow–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–and the gambling habits of Nikolay–plunge the family into debt.
.......The 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 Inheritance

.......When Pierre’s father dies, he makes Pierre–to Pierre’s surprise–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–perhaps even loves–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’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. 
.......Meanwhile, 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.
.......Napoleon, of course, is a wily, unpredictable military genius who registers one victory after another–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. 
.......During the fighting, Prince Andrey fights bravely and carries his country’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’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, “visits to a certain house.” 
.......Nicholas 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’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–for a while.
.......Meanwhile, 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’s child. Then she dies. The child is a boy, Nicholas–or Nikolushka, as his family calls him. 

Andrey and Natasha Fall in Love

.......One day when Pierre visits the Rostovs–old friends of his who are always read to welcome him–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’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.
.......One 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–impressionable and capricious romantic that she is–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’s scheme. Pierre angrily drives off Anatole, then consoles Natasha and informs her of Anatole’s marriage. 
.......In 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’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’s policy of strategic retreat by destroying supplies and allowing Napoleon’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. 
.......Fighting 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’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’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.
.......About 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. 

Pierre Arrested

.......In 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–nobles, peasants, everyone.
.......Oddly, life continues as usual in St. Petersburg–the parties, the balls, the banquets. At one of Anna Pavolovna Scherer’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.
.......After occupying Moscow for 39 days, Napoleon and his troops withdraw. They are out of supplies. Moreover, marching in pursuit of the enemy army–or attacking the city of the czar, St. Petersburg–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–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 walking corpses. 
.......At Yaroslavl, where the Rostovs are staying, Prince Andrey’s sister, Marya, visits Andrey. There is no hope for him, and he dies peacefully after he and Natasha reconcile.
.......The war peters out in Russia, but not before one young fellow–headstrong Petya Rostov, who longed to be like his brother and fight in the war–enlisted and died in a skirmish.
.......During 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–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’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. 
.......Many of the elders in the Rostov, Bolkonsky, and other families have died by now. 
.......Kutuzov is a hero. 
.......Life goes on in the villages and cities of Russia. 
.......There is peace.

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Main Characters
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Protagonist: Pierre Bezuhov
Antagonists: Bezuhov’s Insecurities, His Insincere Acquaintances, and the War
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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 Handsome, intelligent, cultured, and at times arrogant nobleman who is Pierre’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 Pretty, 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 Daughter of Prince Nicholas. She marries Nicholas Rostov late in the novel. 
Princess Lise Bolkonsky Wife of Prince Andrey. She dies in childbirth.
Prince Nicholas (Nicholushka) Son 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 Ilya's wife.
Count Petya Rostov Younger son of Ilya and Nataly Rostov.
Countess Vera Rostov Older 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 High society wheeler-dealer who manipulates Pierre Bezuhov into marrying his daughter, Hélène, after Pierre inherits his fortune.
Princess Hélène Kuragin Vassily’s self-seeking daughter. She becomes Pierre’s wife but continues to seek the attentions of other men.
Prince Anatole Kuragin Vassily’s dissolute son. He attempts to elope with Natasha Rostov even though he is already married.
Prince Hippolyte Kuragin Vassily's 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 St. 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’s wife, Hélène. Pierre wounds him in a duel.
Napoleon Bonaparte 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 Borodino.
Czar Alexander I Ruler of Russia. 
Military officers, foot soldiers, nobles, peasants, serfs, servants 
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Settings
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(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 villages. 

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Themes
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Theme 1..Love 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–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. 
Theme 2..Human 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, the evil). 
Theme 3..Rather than attempting to control the course of history, human beings must move with its currents. This is Tolstoy’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–that is, fate, destiny. Que sera sera–whatever will be will be. Kutuzov succeeds, Tolstoy maintains, because he understands this great truth.
Theme 4..Acquisition 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 war.
Theme 5..War 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.
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Climax
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The 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 colossal blunder.  
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Type of Work
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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.
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Structure and Style 
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The 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–there are nearly 600 of them–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’ psyches and the conflicts enveloping them. The consensus of critics is that War and Peace is one of the world’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’s dialogue and imagery. 
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Tolstoy's Theory of History

Tolstoy 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 3 above.

Commentary: Virginia Woolf
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The 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 of Tolstoy:

    There remains the greatest of all novelists—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’s length in suspicion and bewilderment? From his first words we can be sure of one thing at any rate—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’s knock is heard at eight o’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’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.
Author Information 
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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.

Study 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 theory of history?
  • 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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