War and Peace

by: Leo Tolstoy

Book One

Summary Book One

Anna Mikhaylovna and Boris visit his dying godfather, Cyril Bezukhov. They are greeted by Vasili Kuragin, who, due to Pierre’s illegitimacy, is the current heir to the Bezukhov fortune. Vasili fears that Anna Mikhaylovna will be a rival fortune-seeker. Boris goes upstairs to see Pierre, who has been expelled from St. Petersburg for riotous conduct, and the two men discuss their lives and financial situations. Meanwhile, Countess Rostova asks her husband for money for Boris’s military uniform.

The Rostovs entertain dinner guests, including an officer, Berg, and a woman, Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova, known for her bluntness. Marya Dmitrievna gives a name day present to Natasha, who is one of the very few people not afraid of Marya. Over dinner, the idealistic Nicholas blurts out that Russia must conquer or die. After dinner, Natasha seeks out Sonya to join the guests for music and finds Sonya crying from despair that her love for her cousin Nicholas will never be sanctified with marriage. Natasha reassures Sonya.

Meanwhile, Count Bezukhov has had a sixth stroke, with no hope of recovery. Vasili Kuragin informs another potential heir, the Princess Catherine Semenovna, that the count has written a letter asking the tsar to legitimize his bastard son, Pierre, making him full and direct heir to his large fortune. Vasili and Catherine try to destroy the letter, but Anna Mikhaylovna prevents them. Pierre shyly visits his father’s room and sees the dying man, but leaves when his father dozes. The count dies.

Book One, Chapters 14–16

At Bald Hills, Prince Nicholas Bolkonski’s estate outside Moscow, the prince lives in seclusion with his daughter, Mary, and her companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne. After a difficult geometry lesson, Mary reads a letter from her friend Julie Karagina, who misses Mary and is sad that Nicholas Rostov has left to join the war. Julie also informs Mary of Pierre’s inheritance. Mary writes back, counseling Julie to remember Christian patience and forgiveness.

Mary’s brother, Andrew Bolkonski, arrives at Bald Hills with his wife, Lise. Andrew tells Mary that he will be leaving for the war soon. Over dinner, the family and a guest, Michael Ivanovich, discuss the war. The old Prince Bolkonski is contemptuous of Napoleon, while Andrew asserts the French emperor’s grandeur. Mary is astonished at her brother’s failure to revere their father, and finds him much changed. Andrew admits to his father and his sister that he is unhappy in his marriage to Lise. Prince Nicholas sends his son off to war with a letter to General Kutuzov requesting favors for Andrew. Andrew bids farewell to his family and leaves.

Analysis: Book One

Tolstoy introduces us to the deep and complex relationship between the two words of his novel’s title—war and peace—from the opening scene at Anna Pavlovna’s party. We see immediately that even the seemingly peacetime activity of partying is actually quite warlike. Anna runs her soirée with a precise strategy, much like a general, knowing exactly when to attack and when to withdraw. Her words to Vasili are described as an attack, and Vasili calls himself her slave. Though these phrases may be only metaphors, they nonetheless refer to a power structure in Russian high society that is as steely and directed as a war machine. Indeed, we soon see how much strategy Vasili uses to secure fortunes for his shiftless children Anatole and Helene, and how Helene herself is a ruthless gold-digger behind her marble beauty.