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War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

Book One

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Book One, page 2

page 1 of 3

Book One, Chapters 1–3

“I warn you . . . if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist—I really believe he is Antichrist—I will have nothing more to do with you. . . .”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

At a society party in St. Petersburg in 1805, Anna Pavlovna Scherer speaks to her old friend Prince Vasili Kuragin about the threat Napoleon presents to Russia. Anna, calling Napoleon the Antichrist, declares that Russia alone must save Europe. The prospect of war dominates the conversations at the party. But Anna also raises more personal issues, expressing esteem for Vasili’s children—especially the beautiful Helene—with the exception of Anatole, a rogue. Vasili asks Anna to arrange a meeting between his son Anatole and Mary Bolkonskaya, the lonely daughter of Prince Bolkonski, a rich, reclusive, retired military commander.

Meanwhile, Helene Kuragina arrives at the party, as does Lise, Bolkonski’s daughter-in-law, who is married to his military officer son, Andrew. Next to arrive is Pierre, the unpolished and ungainly son of Count Bezukhov, educated abroad and only recently returned to Russia. The ugly Hippolyte Kuragin, Helene’s brother, is also present.

Pierre . . . watched [Andrew] with glad, affectionate eyes. . . . Andrew frowned again, expressing his annoyance with whoever was touching his arm.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Andrew Bolkonski arrives at the party. Vasili Kuragin promises a promotion to Boris, the only son of a well-connected but impoverished old acquaintance, Princess Anna Mikhaylovna Drubetskaya. Pierre voices approval of the French Revolution. After the soiree, Pierre visits Andrew at his house, where they discuss the idea of perpetual peace advanced by one of Anna’s guests. Pierre believes in this possibility of peace, but he thinks that such peace must be spiritual rather than political. Andrew advises Pierre not to marry, saying that marriage wastes a man’s sense of purpose and resolve—the same resolve demonstrated by Napoleon.

Later, Pierre visits his friend Anatole at his house near the barracks, where the drunken officers are carousing with a trained bear, and Anatole’s friend Dolokhov is proving that he can drink a bottle of rum while precariously perched on the window ledge.

Book One, Chapters 4–13

This black-eyed, wide-mouthed girl, not pretty but full of life . . . ran to hide her flushed face in the lace of her mother’s mantilla—not paying the least attention to her severe remark—and began to laugh.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Anna Mikhaylovna has gone to Moscow, to the home of her wealthy relatives, the Rostovs. Both the Rostov mother and youngest daughter are celebrating their name day (the feast day of the Christian saint after whom the women are named). The guests discuss Pierre’s uncouth lifestyle.

The thirteen-year-old Rostov daughter, Natasha, appears, carrying her doll. She is accompanied by other children, including her brother Nicholas; his friend Boris, Anna Mikhaylovna’s son; and Sonya, Count Rostov’s niece—all of whom live in the Rostov household. Nicholas states that he is joining the army out of a sense of vocation rather than a wish to accompany Boris, who has been made an officer. Natasha mischievously hides in order to watch a tearful exchange between Nicholas and Sonya, in which Nicholas begs forgiveness for flirting with Julie Karagina, one of the guests. When Boris appears, Natasha seeks a kiss from him and extracts a half-joking promise of marriage in four years. Countess Rostova makes her daughter Vera leave the room, so that she and Anna Mikhaylovna may discuss financial worries. Anna Mikhaylovna hopes that Boris’s godfather, the ailing Count Cyril Bezukhov, will help Boris.

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Wrong answer

by sabinkamalinka, October 22, 2013

I am currently taking Russian Literature- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and I know for a fact that the chronology for War and Peace goes throughout 18th century! You should really consider changing the answer on the War and Peace quiz!

19th century begins in 1800

by tothetin, October 23, 2013

The events of War and Peace begin in 1805 and proceed to around 1812. The century that begins in the year 1800 is referred to as the 19th century.

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2 out of 2 people found this helpful

Correction to plot summary, Book 12

by keepbabbling, April 27, 2014

"Natasha takes Mary into the room where Andrew is lying, and Mary is shocked to see her brother looking soft and gentle. Mary knows this appearance to be a sign of his approaching death."
Natasha tells Mary there has been a change recently in Andrew, and while Mary expects that means he has become soft and gentle because he is dying, she is shocked to find it is the opposite -- he has become hard and indifferent. His mind has became fixed on the next life and so he no longer has any emotions for anything in the current life.

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