Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 1 Part 2 Chapters 1 8 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 1, Part 2, Chapters 1–8 | Summary



Chapters 1–3 take place in Braunau, Austria, in early October 1805. Commander-in-Chief Kutuzov reviews the troops. He greets soldiers he knows and admonishes Dolokhov, now among the ranks because of his prank in Petersburg. He promises to give his status back if he proves himself. Although an Austrian general has come to persuade Kutuzov to join General Mack in Ulm (in Prussia), he avoids putting his troops in the field on the strength of a report from Archduke Ferdinand that the Austrians are winning. While Prince Andrei, Kutuzov's new adjutant, is writing a memo about current intelligence, General Mack bursts in to relate that the Austrian army has surrendered to Napoleon. Andrei is excited about the prospect of an encounter with the French and irritated that it crosses his mind that Bonaparte, whom he admires, might lose.

Nikolai Rostov is only two miles from Braunau, in the Pavlogradsky hussar regiment where he is living with the squadron leader, Captain Denisov (Chapter 4). Nikolai gets into an argument with a lieutenant who has stolen money from his captain. In exposing the thief to the regimental commander in front of his fellow officers, he inadvertently brings shame to the squad (Chapter 5). He does not want to apologize to the commander, but his dilemma is shelved after news of General Mack's defeat puts the Russian army on the march.

Kutuzov takes his troops toward Vienna, burning bridges as he crosses them. As the troops cross the bridge at Enns, they begin to dawdle (Chapter 6). General Kutuzov realizes the danger and sends Prince Nesvitsky to the back of the line to repeat his order to have the hussars cross last and then set fire to the bridge, but Nesvitsky's communication is misunderstood by the hussars' colonel. After the hussars cross the bridge, the order is reiterated two more times (Chapter 7). Finally Nikolai's squadron is ordered to go back to torch the bridge the French are now firing on. He has neglected to bring a plait of straw, so he can do nothing except stand around (Chapter 8). As he watches men fall, he notices how beautiful the river, sky, and sun look. The men succeed in setting fire to the bridge, and the colonel is triumphant, referring to "two hussars wounded and one killed on the spot" as "trifles."


Russia and Austria became allies when they joined England in the third coalition against France and Napoleon Bonaparte. He marched on present-day Germany in 1805, which is why the Russians are in Braunau. Kutuzov is well liked and respected by the troops. Currently he faces the urgent demand that the Russians march to Ulm, but as a cautious and strategic warrior, Kutuzov won't put his men at risk without a reason. Throughout the novel he prefers a "wait and see" approach to charging in without thought. Prince Andrei, his favored adjutant (a confidential assistant or aide-de-camp), will help him stall the Austrians by writing the memo. Almost immediately his judgment proves to be astute when Mack appears.

Nikolai is getting himself into trouble a few miles away because of his impetuous nature and ideas about honor. His calling out the thief in public is bad form because what one soldier does is a reflection on the whole regiment. Nikolai says he would do anything to honor the regiment but can't bring himself to apologize when he feels himself to be in the right. In this scene Nikolai undergoes his first initiation into the world of the military, and he must learn its rules and protocols.

Nikolai is a member of a hussar regiment, which means he is on horseback. In his first encounter with danger, he experiences a heightened sense of awareness—vividly experiencing nature. Tolstoy also uses this first scene of battle to show how so much of what happens in war is error, misunderstanding, and people working at cross purposes. He touches again and again on this idea throughout the novel: that while we attribute events in history and in our own lives to a very few circumstances, events are actually dependent on an infinite number of variables. The commander of the hussars either deliberately or because of his stupidity misunderstands the orders, not once, but at least three times. As a result his men are at additional risk for starting late.

One of the major themes of the novel is that war is immoral because it is the senseless taking of life in the most horrific way imaginable. Moreover men (and now women) at war lose their moral compass in the pursuit of victory. This commander at the bridge cares mostly for his own glory because when his men successfully accomplish the mission, he thinks nothing about what it cost in human life. For him they are just cannon fodder, not individuals with hopes, dreams, desires, and potential that have been so thoughtlessly snuffed out.

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