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Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.
But I warn you, if you don’t tell me that this means war, 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....”
These words from the St. Petersburg
society hostess Anna Pavlovna Scherer brilliantly open War
and Peace in Book One, Chapter 1, establishing
a dual focus on the wartime idea of Napoleonic aggression and the
peacetime idea of conversation at a high-society party. These lines
immediately attune us to the fact that war and peace are constantly
interwoven in the novel, as military maneuvers go hand in hand with
socializing. Anna Pavlovna is surprisingly well informed about current
events, a far cry from the somewhat insulated mindset we might expect
from such a socialite. The Italian principalities of Genoa and Lucca
are far from St. Petersburg, yet Anna Pavlovna has a global view
of their importance, just as a minister of war might have. Her toughness
in addressing the prince, with threatening phrases such as “I warn
you” and “I will have nothing more to do with you,” shows that she
is ready to act like a general—a trait we also see in her dictatorial
way of running her party. Moreover, Anna Pavlovna shows a diplomat’s
sensitivity to the political subtleties of language, as when she
calls Napoleon by his Italian name, Buonaparte, rather than his
French name, Bonaparte, thereby delicately insulting Napoleon’s
Yet if Anna Pavlovna introduces the prospect of war into
the novel, she also reveals how arbitrary and absurd people’s understanding
of war often is, both on and off the battlefield. Her declaration
that Napoleon is the Antichrist comes across as exaggerated and
ridiculous, especially in light of later developments, when we see
Tolstoy’s portrait of the French emperor as a silly, vainglorious, and
deluded little man. Napoleon may be dangerous, but he is hardly
the principal of evil incarnate. Similarly, Anna Pavlovna’s threats
to the prince are social games, not intended seriously or taken
seriously. As such, we feel that most talk of war in higher state circles
may be similarly blustery and hollow. Anna Pavlovna may only be
feigning an interest in the war to appear current and informed.
We do not detect much real emotion in what she says, even though
the war may well threaten her own country’s well being. Moreover,
Anna Pavlovna makes no effort to argue against the prince’s supposed
defense of Napoleon by appealing to reason or evidence. Instead,
she does so merely through a trivial threat that she will no longer
speak to the prince if he holds to his opinions. Reason and clear
judgment appear to have little validity in discussions about war,
as Tolstoy repeatedly shows throughout the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to War and Peace!