Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 1 Part 3 Chapters 1 5 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 1, Part 3, Chapters 1–5 | Summary



Chapter 1 begins with some analysis of Prince Vassily's character. As an instinctive schemer sensing opportunity, he naturally takes an interest in the heir to the Bezukhov fortune. As a newly minted millionaire, Pierre finds himself with a host of new friends and hangers-on, all of whom are anxious to make his acquaintance. Suddenly people see Pierre as kind and intelligent and want to shower him with affection. Prince Vassily takes charge of Pierre's affairs, telling him how much money to give Bezukhov's nieces and enrolling him in the diplomatic corps.

Pierre gets another invitation to Anna Pavlovna's, and Anna, ever the commander of the social battlefield, sits him with the beautiful Hélène Kuragin. Pierre feels an intense sexual attraction and immediately thinks he must marry her. When he gets home, he remembers that he thinks Hélène is stupid, and he's even heard an illicit story about her and her brother Anatole. "There's something vile in the feeling she aroused in me," he thinks. Still he clings to the image of her beauty. Chapter 2 finds Pierre frequently at the house of the Kuragins, but he cannot bring himself to propose. Vassily, who wants his daughter to have Pierre's wealth and social position, manipulates Pierre into a betrothal by prematurely congratulating him, as if Vassily had already heard the news of their engagement. Six weeks later Pierre is married.

Vassily now turns his attention to Anatole in Chapter 3, arranging a visit with the Bolkonskys so that his son can meet Marya. In Chapters 4–5 Anatole, now an infantryman, pretends to court Marya, who is plain except for her "luminous" eyes. The elder Bolkonsky is not happy, but Marya is excited over the prospect of a suitor. Prince Nikolai believes women have a right to choose their mates, but he warns her that Anatole has his eye on her lady's companion. Nonetheless Marya is almost ready to say yes to Anatole until she sees him embracing Mlle Bourienne in the garden. Marya turns him down, and her father couldn't be happier.


Pierre's life is irrevocably changed by his inheritance, and his relative Vassily is the first in a string of people who will take advantage of him. The narrator says Vassily did not consciously think, "Here Pierre is rich, I must entice him to marry my daughter" but that is exactly what Kuragin does. Pierre knows he doesn't have the right kind of feeling for Hélène, but he capitulates to the scheming of the Kuragins.

Pierre embodies the archetype of "the Fool," a character who is oblivious to danger yet, through his innocence and purity, has the potential to educate himself and learn the ways of the world. Pierre steps precipitously into a bad marriage as the first major step on his life journey, and it will take him some years to disentangle himself from that bad union, which sets him back and puts him on the wrong path. But Pierre has no one to guide him except his best friend, Andrei, who is at war. Thus he has to make do with some harsh education from his new spouse, Hélène.

The reader gets a closer look at Hélène's brother Anatole when he arrives at the Bolkonskys. Anatole is so depraved that he cannot even do what is in his best interest—refrain from attempting to seduce the attractive French companion on the eve of his possible engagement to a rich heiress. The narrator notes that Anatole "looked upon his whole life as a ceaseless entertainment, which somebody for some reason had taken it upon himself to arrange for him."

Also made clear is Prince Nikolai's attachment to his daughter: "life without Princess Marya, despite the fact that he seemed to value her little, was unthinkable." Marya feels Anatole's sexual gaze as a torment and an excitement, not fully understanding her own feelings. This chapter also shows her to be naïve, since she believes the licentious and silly Anatole to be kind and good when she first meets him. Likewise her companion Mlle Bourienne cares little for Marya and selfishly diverts Anatole's attention toward herself, but Marya feels nothing but love and friendship for Mlle Bourienne even after she sees the French woman embracing her prospective fiancé. However she has the Bolkonsky pride and refuses Anatole as soon as she sees what he is made of.

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