Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 2 Part 1 Chapters 1 6 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 2, Part 1, Chapters 1–6 | Summary



Chapter 1 opens at the beginning of 1806 in Moscow, with Nikolai on leave with his friend Denisov. Nikolai professes his continued love for Sonya in speaking with Natasha, who indirectly reminds him of his informal promise to her. At the same time, he draws away from his cousin because he does not want to be tied down. At the beginning of March, Count Rostov, who has recently remortgaged his estates, is generously sponsoring a banquet for 300 in General Bagration's honor, despite the allies' stunning defeat in Austerlitz, and partly as a reprimand of General Kutuzov, whom Muscovites are blaming for the defeat (Chapters 2–3).

At the banquet Pierre finds himself sitting across from Nikolai and Dolokhov, uncomfortably thinking about the rumors circulating about his wife, Hélène, and Dolokhov (Chapter 4). The restored officer has used his previous acquaintance with Pierre to impose on his hospitality, living at Pierre's house and even borrowing money from him. After Dolokhov makes a snide toast to beautiful women and their lovers, Pierre takes the first opportunity to quarrel with him and challenges him to a duel. In Chapter 5 Pierre, who has to be taught how to shoot the gun, unexpectedly hits Dolokhov first, and Nikolai, who is Dolokhov's second, learns that "this rowdy duelist ... lived in Moscow with his old mother and hunchbacked sister and was a most affectionate son and brother." After the duel (Chapter 6) Pierre begins thinking about the evidence of his wife's depravity, including her scornful treatment of him and her public and inappropriate physical affection toward her brother, Anatole. She is angry about the duel, saying, on the one hand, that she is innocent and, on the other, that any woman would take a lover if she had a husband like Pierre. In a temper Pierre picks up a slab of marble to hit her but stops himself in time, and a week later he gives her power of attorney over most of his estates and leaves for Petersburg.


When Nikolai comes home, he acknowledges his connection to Sonya. The possible coupling of Nikolai and Sonya remains a minor plot point for a good part of the novel; as Nikolai changes, he outgrows his romantic feelings for Sonya, but he still loves her and she remains a part of his life that cannot be left behind. While the family sympathizes with the feelings of the young people, the Rostov parents hope that Nikolai will make a "brilliant match," and as they sink further and further into debt, Nikolai's marriage will take on more importance. For now the new lieutenant, fresh from battle and lauded by his home town, decides to keep his options open.

Moscow wants to honor those who are fighting for Russia, and General Bagration is a good representative for soldiers because he valiantly fought off the French at Schöngraben while Kutuzov's army retreated. People are only starting to absorb the terrible defeat at Austerlitz, which Bagration also took part in, and they don't realize that Kutuzov was only nominally in charge of the Battle of Austerlitz.

Pierre has not been married long, but already he is suffering the consequences of his hasty union. He is generally mild mannered, but the narrator tells us that his father's blood is evident when he loses his temper with Hélène and almost kills her. And even though gentle and awkward, he is no coward, as is evidenced by his willingness to fight a duel when he has no experience with weapons. Dolokhov, known for bouts of capricious cruelty, obviously has a lot more experience with guns. Pierre's sense of honor and morality are further tried in the aftermath of the duel. He does not simply feel himself to be a wronged husband: he knows that he is at fault for marrying a woman he did not love simply because he was sexually attracted to her, and for his pride in having such a beautiful wife. He is not hypocritical enough to continue pretending he is Hélène's husband, but it would be very difficult for him to divorce her. He would have to definitively prove her an adulterer and bring shame on both of them. Instead he simply leaves her, although he shows his generosity of spirit, or possibly just his disgust with his life as Count Bezukhov, by giving her control of a large part of his fortune.

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