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NAX43412 - TOLSTOY, L.: War and Peace, Vol. 2 (Unabridged)
War and Peace – Summary
Before Tolstoy reveals his theories he convinces us by stealth; he shows us them in action. In a series of short chapters containing one dominant idea, a method he adopts throughout the book, we meet four families in the Russia of 1805. We get to know them slowly but they stay with us for life. Pierre Bezukhov, at a reception in Petersburg, at the deathbed of his father; the Rostovs in Moscow; Count Bolkonsky and his daughter on their country estate, Mlle Bourienne, her companion, and Andrei, her brother; the Kuragins in Petersburg.
A multitude of characters, each with their own private concerns, all adding to that infinite, unknowable number of causes which, in Tolstoy’s view, drive history.
Kutuzov is at his headquarters in Braunau in Austria, where Andrei is his adjutant. Cadet Nikolai Rostov is sharing quarters with Vaska Denisov, his squadron commander. Kutuzov retreats across the Enns and Denisov’s squadron returns under fire to burn the bridge. Tolstoy maintains the balance between war and peace and we live through historical events as they are experienced by his fictional characters.
Prince Vasili marries Hélène to a resistant but defenceless Pierre. His attempt on the Bolkonsky fortune for Anatole is less successful. If Petersburg represents the intellect in Russia, Moscow must surely hold the heart of it; the Rostovs rejoice to receive a letter from Nikolai. Nikolai meets Andrei. Napoleon triumphs at Austerlitz, where Nikolai and the Emperor Alexander find themselves equally vulnerable.
Nikolai returns with Denisov to a Moscow shocked by defeat but proud of its heroes. Kutuzov has fallen from favour; Count Rostov organises a dinner in honour of Bagration. Pierre, gloomily aware of his wife’s infidelity, is challenged to a duel by Dolokhov and separates from Hélène. Tragedy involves both Andrei and his wife. Denisov and Dolokhov fall in love and Nikolai gambles.
Pierre joins the Freemasons. He travels to his estate in Kiev, determined to free his serfs, and accompanies Andrei to Bald Hills; there the old prince directs recruitment and Marya tends Andrei’s son. Hélène returns to Petersburg, where she patronises the ambitious Boris Drubetskoi.
Nikolai rejoins his regiment. Denisov commandeers transport to feed his men; facing trial and wounded he retreats to hospital. Both Nikolai and Boris are present as peace is concluded at Tilsit.
Andrei, visiting Count Rostov at Otradnoe, his country estate, meets Natasha. He returns to Petersburg with renewed energy and throws himself into affairs of state. Natasha, in Petersburg, attends her first ball, at which she dances with Andrei. He proposes and is accepted. However, the old prince insists that their marriage be postponed for a year. Andrei leaves, but asks Marya’s help in persuading their father to relent.
Tolstoy defines army life as a blissful state of irreproachable idleness. Count Rostov’s affairs are in disarray and Nikolai agrees, reluctantly, to take leave. His intervention scarcely improves matters. There follows a beautiful account of the Russian soul expressed in Russian country traditions. In painful contrast, the Countess decides that Nikolai must marry a wealthy heiress. He refuses. The arrival of mummers provides a distraction, brings Nikolai closer to Sonya but into conflict with his mother.
Pierre, disenchanted with Freemasonry, returns to Moscow. There a senile Prince Bolkonsky torments his daughter and Boris hesitates between two wealthy women. Count Rostov and Natasha call on the old prince, who offends Natasha. Hélène introduces Natasha to her brother Anatole, who pursues her, seemingly replacing the absent Andrei. She breaks her engagement and agrees to elope, but the elopement is forestalled, and a despairing Natasha attempts to poison herself. In comforting her Pierre reveals his love.
Tolstoy discusses predestination. Alexander I and Napoleon play out the historical facts. Andrei is searching for Anatole, but in 1812 he rejoins the Western Army, after a bitter quarrel with his father concerning Mlle Bourienne. Nikolai, too, is at war again. In Moscow Natasha’s continuing illness brings her closer to Pierre. As he calculates his apocalyptic rôle, the city, in a mood of high patriotism, prays for the salvation of Russia. Petya begs for permission to enlist. The nobility and merchants pledge themselves to the defence of the Fatherland.
The rôles of the two Emperors are discussed. Andrei urges his father to leave for Moscow but he fails to understand the danger. Smolensk is abandoned and Kutuzov appointed Commander-in-Chief. The old Prince dies. Marya is detained by the peasants until Nikolai comes, fortuitously, to her aid. Kutuzov reviews the troops; Andrei joins him at HQ. Moscow society attempts to speak Russian and Rostopchin lampoons the French in broadsheets. Tolstoy contrasts the proposed and actual disposition of the troops at Borodino and the significance of the engagement, which Pierre observes, is assessed.
Tolstoy discusses the forces that move history. Kutuzov decides to abandon Moscow. Hélène embraces Catholicism and plans divorce. Pierre longs to share the soldiers’ simple solidarity. The feeling heart of Russia opposes brutal self-interest as the Rostovs, with most of its citizens, leave the city. Napoleon waits in vain for a submissive deputation as Moscow burns. Natasha encounters the fatally wounded Andrei. Pierre, planning to kill Napoleon, is taken prisoner by the French.
Petersburg society enjoys political intrigue and the scandal of Hélène’s ‘angina’. The abandonment of Moscow inspires a mood of heroic resistance in Alexander I, but the majority pursue their personal concerns. Nikolai and Marya are brought briefly together again; she travels to Iaroslavl to share the care of the wounded Andrei with Natasha. Platon Karataev, Pierre’s fellow-prisoner, personifies that passive, enduring wisdom of the Russian peasant.
Tolstoy reviews the events leading up to the battle at Tarutino and its aftermath. Napoleon’s undisciplined army leaves Moscow with its prisoners. Kutuzov rejects a second approach made by Napoleon, who orders his army to retreat by the Smolensk road. Kutuzov sees no need to prevent this disorderly flight.
Partisan war. Denisov and Dolokhov plan to attack a transport column of French cavalry and Russian prisoners. Petya Rostov, now an officer, joins them. Denisov reluctantly allows him to take part in the action; Petya is killed. Platon Karatayev succumbs to fever and is shot, but Pierre is freed during the attack. Tolstoy analyses this final stage of the war.
Andrei’s death unites Natasha and Maria. In consoling her mother after the loss of Petya a remote Natasha returns to life. Kutuzov sees no sense in hindering the French retreat, but incurs the displeasure of the Tsar. Pierre, in society after a lengthy illness, is shocked by the change in Natasha but loves her no less; with Maria as intermediary he proposes and is accepted.
Tolstoy discusses the rôles of leaders and the masses in history, of chance, genius and the individual. Then he shows us three of his great families in 1820, united by marriage. Only the Kuragins are absent. Pierre is evidently involved in those post-war secret societies which led to the uprising of the Decembrists in 1825. Nikolai opposes him vehemently, and their argument inspires Andrei’s son Nikolenko, now fifteen. We are left to imagine that he will be one of them.
The author’s final word on his theories, both historical and philosophical.
After ‘War and Peace’
Having completed his great novel Tolstoy returned to themes which had attracted him earlier. He studied drama and Greek, and began to write a primer for children. It was not until 1873 that he started work on Anna Karenina. The book was finished in 1877. By then his religious views were beginning to diverge from those of the Russian Orthodox Church. Increasingly preoccupied by moral and spiritual problems, he began to write his Confession.
In 1883 he met Vladimir Chertkov, a dedicated disciple who expected Tolstoy’s impossible standards to be adhered to by their originator. Tolstoy published improving stories with him, became a vegetarian, gave up hunting. Nevertheless, however much he wished to undervalue his creative genius, there was no denying it. In 1886 he published The Death of Ivan Ilyich, surely one of the most moving and honest works on the subject ever written.
Tolstoy finished The Kreutzer Sonata in 1889, and in the following year it was published, to the mortification of his wife. Among other things, the book recommended chastity in marriage, a point of view hardly likely to prove acceptable to the mother of their eleven children. Relations, never easy, became even more strained. Tolstoy went doggedly on, suppressing his gifts in the interests of moral rectitude. He started to write Resurrection, a work which was to take him ten years. His views on moral philosophy and religion moved further and further from Orthodoxy, and in 1901, two years after the publication of this latest work, he was excommunicated. The struggle with himself continued. Oppressed by the wealth and comfort of his existence, with Chertkov and a growing number of ‘Tolstoyans’ on hand to ensure against deviation from his own rules, Tolstoy drew up a will in 1909 in which he relinquished his copyrights. His wife, needing dowries for daughters, was in despair. ‘You’ve gone too far ahead of me’, she wept, ‘I can’t follow you’.
In 1910, making one last effort to subdue the flesh and live in accordance with his declared principles, he walked away from it all, a sick old man, to collapse at Astapovo railway station. There, on November 7, he died.
Notes by Mary Hobson
Count Cyril Bezukhov
Count Ilia Rostov
Prince Nikolai Bolkonski, a retired
Prince Vasili Kuragin
Other Main Characters
Princess Anna Mikhailovna Drubetskaya
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