Full Title   War and Peace or Voyna i mir

Author  Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy

Type of work  Novel

Genre  Historical novel; realist novel; epic

Language  Russian

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.

Tense  Past

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.