full title War and Peace or Voyna i mir
author Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy
type of work Novel
genre Historical novel; realist novel; epic
time and place written 1863–1869; the estate of Yasnaya Polyana, near Moscow
date of first publication 1865–1869 (serial publication)
publisher M.N. Katkov
narrator An unnamed, omniscient, detached, third-person narrator
point of view The anonymous narrator presents facts and inner thoughts of characters that no single character in the novel could know all at once. The narrator describes characters’ states of mind, feelings, and attitudes, as well as practical facts more relevant to a military historian. He also slides into philosophy in places, most notably in the second epilogue.
tone The narrator consistently maintains the impersonal but sympathetic tone most often used by the European realist novelists of the mid-nineteenth century. He focuses on facts and feelings with equal attentiveness, but allows himself few authorial commentaries on the fates of characters or editorial observations about the story unfolding. The bulk of his direct authorial appearances are limited to musings on the philosophy of history sprinkled throughout the text. Generally, the description of a given scene is carefully detailed, again in general accordance with literary realism. This detailed realism underscores a point frequently made in the philosophical sections of the narrative, which is that little things and little people matter more than big ideas and great leaders.
setting (time) 1805–1820
setting (place) Various locations throughout Russia and eastern Europe, including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Austria, Prussia, the Russian eastern frontier, and Smolensk
protagonists Pierre Bezukhov; Andrew Bolkonski; Natasha Rostova; General Kutuzov; Mary Bolkonskaya; Nicholas Rostov
major conflict Napoleon’s French forces triumphantly spread across Europe and threaten the balance of power that includes Russia; Russia responds by declaring war against France and fighting at the decisive Battle of Borodino. On the level of individual characters, Pierre, Andrew, Mary, Nicholas, and Natasha all grope their way through life while struggling to maintain their ideals, vitality, and love for humanity in the face of loss, sadness, and disillusionment.
rising action Napoleon’s conquests in western Europe, which alarm Russians with a threat of invasion; Pierre’s inheritance, leaving him prey to schemers such as Helene Kuragina, who prompt his search for wisdom; Natasha’s growth to womanhood, forcing her to choose a fitting mate; the testing of Mary’s faith by a cruel world; the testing of Nicholas’s heroic impulses by the limitations of his life; Andrew’s loneliness after his wife's death, leading him to reevaluate the purpose of his life.
climax The Russian troops’ showdown with the French at the decisive Battle of Borodino; Pierre’s meeting with Platon Karataev, who infuses him with wisdom; Natasha’s parting with Andrew and bonding with Pierre; Mary’s parting with her father and meeting with Nicholas
falling action The Russian victory at Borodino; the subsequent French withdrawal from Russia; the return to normalcy and everyday life for the Russians; Pierre’s marriage to Natasha; Nicholas’s marriage to Mary
themes The irrationality of human motives; the search for the meaning of life; the limitations of leadership
motifs Inexplicable love; financial loss; death as a revelation
symbols The Battle of Borodino; the French occupation of Moscow; Nicholas’s rebuilding of Bald Hills
foreshadowing Anna Pavlovna’s prophecy of war against Napoleon later comes true when war is declared; Sonya’s vision of Andrew lying down foreshadows Andrew’s lying wounded on the field of Austerlitz and then lying as an invalid in the Rostov home; Natasha’s first appearance with a doll foreshadows her later role as a mother.