Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 1 Chapters 1 7 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 1, Chapters 1–7 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 1 Tolstoy inserts the first of several sidebars of historical and philosophical commentary. He begins by saying that on June 12, 1812, "the forces of western Europe crossed the borders of Russia, and war began—that is, an event took place contrary to human reason and to the whole of human nature." He lists any number of reasons that various parties claimed the war started, but in reality countless circumstances added up to produce the war that took place, and all the participants were caught up in history, the "unconscious, swarmlike life of mankind."

Chapter 2 recounts that Napoleon broke the peace treaty of Tilsit and began his invasion of Russia by crossing the Niemen River into territory controlled by the Russians. Alexander and his advisers are in Vilno (Lithuania) attempting to prepare for the war (Chapter 3), but Alexander attends a ball on the day Napoleon breaches the border. The next day the Russian emperor sends a letter through his emissary Balashov, leaving Napoleon room to negotiate a peaceful resolution to their disagreements. Alexander's emissary is treated with disrespect by the French (Chapters 4–5). When Napoleon finally gives him an audience (Chapter 6), he berates Balashov, insults the Russian army and the emperor, and accuses Alexander of breaking the treaty because Russia has been trading with Great Britain. He also brags about his troop strength. The next day Napoleon invites Balashov to dinner (Chapter 7), and the French emperor engages in more posturing, sending Balashov back with a letter that seals Napoleon's decision to begin a war.

Analysis

Beginning in Vol. 3, Tolstoy adds long nonfiction glosses to some parts of the story. This is why War and Peace is a mixed-genre work that defies conventional expectations for a novel. It combines fiction with historical analysis and philosophical speculation; uses different types of omniscient narration; has more than one hero or protagonist; and does without a strong story arc. For this reason some early critics said it was a failure, although the novel would soon earn its well-deserved place in the pantheon of world literature.

The first nonfiction segment appearing in Chapter 1 is a strong condemnation of war and an argument countering the idea that individuals shape history. While human beings have some control over personal aspects of their lives, they are mostly at the mercy of external circumstances—the "swarmlike life of mankind." He will develop these themes in subsequent glosses in the novel, as well as in a long essay at the end of his magnum opus.

Tolstoy was among the first to imagine historical figures as characters and put them alongside purely fictional characters in novel form. This novel has included several historical characters so far: Tsar Alexander and Napoleon, Kutuzov, Bagration, and many others. However in Chapters 2–7, the author creates extended scenes in which Napoleon is a primary character. Napoleon is no romantic hero in War and Peace, and one purpose of the novel is to challenge the trend to lionize him as a world mover. Not only does Tolstoy beg to differ when it comes to Napoleon's genius; he also sees him as a pernicious example of a careerist with no moral grounding, which ultimately makes all of his pursuits meaningless. Since Napoleon is a narcissist who always needs an audience, his exploits are tainted with corruption. In extended scenes with Bonaparte in action, the reader sees him lie, brag, throw a temper tantrum, and unnecessarily abuse power. Balashov is surprised that Napoleon calls him back the next day to have dinner, expecting him to be embarrassed about his initial outburst. But then Balashov realizes that "Napoleon's longstanding conviction that the possibility of mistakes did not exist for him, and to his mind everything he did was good, not because it agreed with any notion of what was good and bad, but because he did it."

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