War and Peace

Summary

Book Eleven

Summary Book Eleven

The half-crazed Pierre prepares his plans to assassinate Napoleon and goes out with a dagger under his cloak, walking in a dazed and distracted manner. As if waking up from a dream, he comes upon a burning house with a woman standing outside, weeping over a little girl left inside. Pierre circumvents the French guards, enters the house, and saves the girl. Once outside again, he is unable to find the girl’s family. Then, attempting to stop a Frenchman from bothering an Armenian girl, Pierre becomes angry, attracting the attention of the French authorities, who arrest him on suspicions of espionage.

Analysis: Book Eleven

The idea of renunciation, of surrendering the external valuables of one’s life, recurs frequently in these chapters as Tolstoy’s symbol of spiritual achievement. This renunciation is both private and public, both emotional and military. The citizens of Smolensk give up their city to the invading French, and Kutuzov follows suit by regretfully surrendering the city of Moscow. Such surrender astonishes Napoleon, who in his materialistic fashion cannot fathom that a country would prefer spiritual freedom to material loss of property. Indeed, we see that the Russian abandonment of Moscow is the real undoing of the French. The invaders loot Russian treasures, but they cannot conquer Russia. The French failure to conquer the Russian soul is mirrored on an individual level in Pierre, who, even when held captive, knows that the French cannot touch his “immortal soul.” We see another willing surrender of the physical world in the Rostovs’ abandonment of their possessions so that the wounded Russian soldiers may be evacuated from Moscow. To Tolstoy, giving up material possessions is not a loss, but rather a spiritual gain.

Tolstoy constantly emphasizes the absurdity of war in his portrayal of occupied Moscow through Pierre’s eyes. Pierre’s awareness of the stupidity of the war is heightened by the fact that, of the Russians, he is the one most symbolically associated with the French. Pierre is called by a French name throughout the novel (the narrator never calls him “Petr,” as the name “Peter” typically appears in Russian), speaks French beautifully, has lived in Paris, and gets along well with the French officer Ramballe. Through Pierre’s example, Tolstoy—himself one of the modern world’s great pacifists and an important influence on Gandhi’s doctrine of non-aggression—highlights the human instinct for solidarity and togetherness that opposes the contrary instinct for division and bloodshed.