Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 2 Chapters 1 5 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 2, Chapters 1–5 | Summary



While the participants in war think they are exercising free will, they are actually the instruments of history (Chapter 1). Drilling further down, it becomes clear that the French army was defeated because they marched into Russia late in the year and were not prepared for winter. On the Russian side, the people felt deep hatred for an enemy and thus burned their towns behind them rather than give them to the French. While in hindsight historians say the Russians lured the French further into Russia, in fact they did not, and Napoleon was not aware of the danger of "extending his line." In addition two generals who disliked each other, de Tolly and Bagration, delay in uniting their armies, and their quarrel resulted in a defeat at Smolensk.

In Bald Hills Prince Nikolai has taken his son's advice and backed away from Mlle Bourienne after Prince Andrei sends him an apology (Chapter 2). On August 1 Andrei sends his father another letter advising him to go to Moscow, since the war theater is advancing directly toward Smolensk, near Bald Hills. Because of Prince Nikolai's senility, he confuses the current war with previous ones and doesn't understand the danger. In Chapter 3 he sends his steward, Alpatych, to Smolensk for supplies, and later in the night he has a moment of clarity and realizes the importance of his son's letter.

The tutor Dessales writes a letter to the governor of the province asking for more information (Chapter 4) and gives the letter to Alpatych. When the steward arrives in Smolensk, the governor is not sure what to tell him, since a communication from General Barclay de Tolly says the army will defend the town. By the time Alpatych is ready to leave, the French are bombing the town, the evacuation is in full swing, and people are setting fire to their property. Alpatych runs into Prince Andrei, who sends another note to his family, telling them to leave immediately.

The Russian troops continue to retreat from Smolensk (Chapter 5). On August 10 Prince Andrei's regiment is retreating on the road near Bald Hills, and he stops by his home to see it again. Alpatych has remained behind, and Marya and the old prince are at Bogucharovo, although Andrei thinks everyone went to Moscow. When he returns to the road, he sees his men bathing naked in a muddy pond and feels "revulsion and horror incomprehensible to himself."

The chapter ends with a letter written to the tsar's chief counselor by General Bagration, which says that his men fought valiantly to defend Smolensk but that de Tolly ordered a retreat. Bagration says the army needs one commander-in-chief.


The narrator frames the battle at Smolensk by reiterating what he has said about the forces of history, which operate independently of people's wills. At the same time, he notes that the French did not consider the Russian winter in their calculations, nor the willingness of the Russians to sacrifice their towns, depriving the French of supply sources. Finally he references the argument between two warring Russian generals. Bagration hates de Tolly, who is considered a "German" (foreigner), and he bristles in submitting to his command. This is the reason he delays uniting with his army. In fact de Tolly was Russian, born in territory under Russian control (modern-day Lithuania). On de Tolly's side, he is indecisive in his actions because he knows he is not entirely trusted.

When Andrei tells his father to leave, he does so because Bald Hills is about 40 miles from Smolensk and not far from the Moscow road. Moscow is about 230 miles—a safe distance, although the French will eventually reach Moscow. As the French penetrate further into Russia, war, which at the beginning of the novel was more a topic of theoretical discussion for most aristocrats than a fact of everyday life, becomes the central focus of the narrative.

Tolstoy skillfully and realistically depicts Prince Nikolai's struggle with senility: he has episodes of clarity, for example, when he understands that the French are very near, even though previously he mixes up two campaigns and thinks they are far away.

The chaos that Alpatych witnesses is a reflection of the general chaos of war, along with the additional confusion created because the two generals are warring with each other. The governor is confused about what to tell Alpatych about the current situation because it is in flux, and he has received a letter from de Tolly that seems to contradict what he sees before his eyes. Even as Alpatych gathers his purchases, the French begin bombarding the town. By now Alpatych has all the information he needs for the Bolkonsky family.

Andrei's decision to stop by Bald Hills is inspired by a desire to take a last look at his family home before it is likely destroyed in the wake of the troops. When he comes back to the road and sees the men bathing in the pond, he is repulsed by their bodies because it reminds him that those bodies might soon be dead bodies, and the thought crosses his mind that the body is "chair à canon" (cannon fodder). Thoughts of death are never far from Andrei's mind, and he has a continuing awareness of the futility of war and indeed, all human effort.

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