War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a fictional book first published in 1869. The work is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature. The copy I read was translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude.
- 1350 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; New edition
- ISBN: 0199232768
This part of the book was long.
Granted, the whole book is a beast, but this part could easily be a book by itself. Tolstoy really out does himself here, there are sections which gives the reader an overview of historical events and societies, down to very personal scenes between individuals. The climax of this part, the Battle of Borodino, is fantastic and could, by itself, make a great story.
In this book we discover something else about Tolstoy – he doesn’t like Germans.
Again, Tolstoy goes in an unexpected route and writes in a direction and view point which is unexpected and extremely sad. In this section the reader goes into the unstable mind of Old Prince Bolkonsky, an extraordinary perspective of an unsteady view point. The mind cannot settle on anything in the present and is constantly reassuring itself reaching for the reliable past.
While writing about the upper class, Tolstoy – again – focuses on their insincerity and lack of feelings. They decorate their salons to reflect popular causes (patriotism, peace, etc.) but don’t really understand what’s going on – nor do they care.
Tolstoy also focuses on death, or rather how people get ready to die. Tolstoy writes about Andrei who has lost every connection to anyone living and realizes that what he valued in life (honor, women, etc.) actually has no meaning at all when he is so close to death.
Tolstoy also toys with Napoleon, from his calculations that everything he says will be recorded, to his ridiculous commands which are impossible to execute. Tolstoy makes fun of Napoleon who believes on in himself, his will and his genius.
The French troops are marching intoRussia and the two Russian leaders, Prince Bagration and the German Barclay de Tolly, represent two conflicting and opposing forces within the Russian army. Prince Bagration has the advantage since the Russians don’t like the Germans too much.
Old Prince Bolkonsky still makes Maria, his daughter, suffer with his cruelty. One of Maria’s few escapes is her correspondence with Boris Karagin’s wife, Julie. Maria has a difficult time understanding Julie’s letter because her Russian is littered with French. It has become unpatriotic to write in French but people of Julie’s class barely know Russian.
Maria is blissfully unconcerned about the French army’s advance, she is not used to thinking about such big events or make big decisions. Taking after her father, who is senile and doesn’t deem the matter too important, however the Old Prince’s feeble mind can no longer grasp what is happening. The Old Prince still thinks the French are inPoland. The only time Bolkonsky grasps how close the French are is when he reads Andrei’s letter, but immediately gets reassured when he reaches for a memory of meeting Tsarina Catherine and Potemkin.
A servant of the Bolkonskys named Alpatych is sent to Smolenskto run an errand. While he is there the town is attacked by the French and chaos ensues. In the midst of the panic Alpatych encounters Andrei who immediately writes a note to Maria, his sister, to leave for Moscow. This is a significant gesture since Andrei realizes the state of mind his father is in. Berg sees the two men talking, not realizing it is Andrei, he admonishes them for standing around.
Andrei doesn’t acknowledge Berg.
OnceSmolenskwas taken over by the French, Andrei goes to check on his family in Bald Hills. Andrei is relieved to see that they have left and instructs Alpatych to take the peasants toMoscowas well. As he leaves Bald Hills, feeling sad to see his deserted home, Andrei encounters some soldiers jumping into a pond. The soliders invite Andrei to join them but he can no longer stand the sight of naked flesh, as it reminds him of the flesh that was hit by cannons in battle.
In Petersburg Anna Pavolvna’s salon is patriotic while Hélène’s salon is whishing for peace. During these chapters Tolstoy shows us that to the rich, the war is a game as well, distant and insincere. Prince Vasili’s mind is abandoning him at his old age and Kutuzov has been appointed commander-in-chief of Russia.
Lavrushka, one of Nikolai’s serfs, is captured by the French and even gets to speak to the great Napoleon himself. While Napoleon thinks Lavrushka has no idea who he has the pleasure of speaking to, Lavrushka is well aware and simply plays to Napoleon’s ego. Pleased with the effect he has on ordinary men, Napoleon promptly lets Lavrushka go.
The Bolkonskys don’t make it to Moscow, the Old Prince has a stroke in Bogucharovo, Andrei’s estate. They cannot continue any further because the man is paralyzed and can barely move. Suddenly Maria realizes what life would be like after her father dies and is in shock just thinking of this. On his deathbed, the Old Prince finally is able to express his love for his daughter. The Old Prince loved Maria even though he couldn’t help himself torment her emotionally, in his last lucid moments he thanks her for everything and asks for her forgiveness.
It is made clear to Maria that she has to get away, but the peasants around Bogucharovo mistrust the aristocracy and see no need to help them, after all the French said they’ll treat everyone well. Still in shock from the Old Prince’s death and his parting gestures, Maria tries to think what her father would do, but even Andrei’s steward, Dron, sides with the peasants.
To Maria’s luck, and the peasants bad luck, Nikolai arrives in Bogucharovo. Nikolai knows exactly how to deal with peasants, through beatings and threats, he is not afraid because he knows he has the backing of the army if necessary. Suddenly Nikolai notices how lovely Maria is, maybe it’s the nature of man to response to the tears of a maiden in distress, however he is promised to Sonya.
Andrei meets with Kutuzov and Denisov. Kutuzov is moved to hear of the Old Prince’s death while Denisov wants for the army to enact guerilla tactics against the French, Kutuzov obliges Denisov telling him they’ll discuss it later. Kutuzov also understands the Russian troops pillaging the earch while retreating, they need to eat as well as live as little as possible to the French coming behind. Even though he is offered a position on Kutuzov’s staff, Andrei prefers to go fight with the men.
InMoscowhigh Russian society are in a bind. They are not even used to speak Russian but feel they must do so for patriotic reasons (otherwise they would speak French). Count Rostopchin, the governor, has prohibited anyone from leavingMoscow. The Count doesn’t believe there will be any reason to evacuate since there is no way that the French will reachMoscow. The Count’s act has the opposite affect on Pierre who is no convinced it is only a matter of time before the French march in the streets. Pierre himself doesn’t know if he wants to join the army, but he finds himself in Mozhaisk where much of the Russian army is at. As he walks around,Pierrewonders who will be alive tomorrow and what role will he play.
FinallyPierrelooks for Andrei, he finds Kutuzov and Dolohov who apologizes toPierreand hopes that there are no ill feelings between them.Pierreis dumbfounded when Dolohov embraces him with tears in his eyes.
AsPierrethinks about his life, so does Andrei who feels that he is ready to die. Andrei is still afraid of death but has no emotional ties to anyone living and thinks that all his questions will be answered after death. As he thinks about everything that he has valued, Andrei realizes that it is all meaningless as he might be facing the last few hours of his life, including his love for Natasha.
Finally Andrei and Pierre meet. Andrei is surprised yet not happy to see his friend since he wants to be left alone andPierrereminds him too much of life and pain.Pierreimmediately notices Andrei’s behavior but does not know what to make of it. Instead of being offended,Pierrefeels bad for Andrei who is bitter about the war, his father and himself who can feel nothing but hatred for the French.
Andrei is being realistic, somber and bitter. He does not believe in the glory and honor of war and thinks of only as murder on a grand scale. He goes to say that soldiers are honored the most in European society and those that have killed the most are also the most honored. Here the reader has to remember Andrei’s roots and that he is a product of a proud military family – instead of hating the military and its accomplishment, Andrei’s feelings are more those of self hatred.
In Napoleon’s tent the emperor is still convinced that it is his will that has brought him to this battle and that his military genius practically ensures victory. At this point Tolstoy toys with Napoleon, from his calculations that everything he says will be recorded, to his ridiculous commands which are impossible to execute. Since the battle is far away and many things happen at once, by the time Napoleon gets a report and gives orders, they are already out of date.
The battle is told mostly fromPierre’s perspective who witnesses unimaginable horrors and attempts to help as many people as he can. However,Pierrecan do very little since the battle is, by far and large, mass slaughter of people. The Russians suffer the cannonballs without retreating and the French also lose many men. There are rivers of blood and body parts everywhere and Napoleon faces for the first time the possibility of defeat; despite or because his genius. On the other end of the spectrum is Kutuzov who knows that on the battlefield command from the top mean very little and is simply trying to keep up morale.
Andrei’s regiment is in reserve, but soon enough they come under fire. A shell lands near Andrei and his comrades yell at him to lay low, but he hesitates for a split second asking himself if this it “it”. Suddenly, Andrei feels an overpowering feeling that he wants to live and hits the dirt. As he being carried to the hospital, Andrei is happy to feel pain (because it means he is alive).
The military hospital is a bloody sight, with many suffering. Andrei is taken in before the peasants even though there is pain all around and soldiers screaming in agony. However, Andrei is not even away of what’s happening around him as his mind reverts back to happier times. At the bed next to Andrei a man is having his leg amputated, Andrei hears him sob and wants to cry as well. Andrei questions his feelings, whether he feels sorry for the man to die such an inglorious death, or whether he realizes his childhood is gone forever, or the pain or is it because he is simply happy. Suddenly Andrei realizes that the man next to him is Anatole and that he somehow knows him but cannot remember from where – and then he sees Natasha at the ball and remembers Anatole and weeps feeling compassion for himself, Anatole and his fellow men.
The battle is over and has devastated both sides.
Zohar – Man of la Book