HomeLiterature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 2 Chapters 19 25 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 2, Chapters 19–25 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 19 the narrator speculates on why Napoleon offered battle in late August at Shevardino and Borodino and why Kutuzov accepted. After the second battle, Napoleon lost a quarter of his army but continued to extend his troops farther into Russia, even as his offers to negotiate were ignored. The narrator concludes that both generals were involuntary agents, despite arguments made by historians after the fact about their foresight and genius. The narrator goes on to correct errors made by historians about each army's respective positions at the Shevardino battle, in which the Russians lost control of the redoubt (fortification) and were forced to accept battle at Borodino in "open, almost unfortified terrain with forces twice weaker than the French."

Pierre arrives in Borodino with the intention of fighting, and he watches the preparations for battle (Chapters 20–21) as well as a church procession, in which people are carrying an icon (image) of the Mother of God. When the crowd parts, he sees General Kutuzov come forward to pray before the icon.

Pierre is spotted in the crowd by Boris Drubetskoy (Chapter 22). When Pierre says he wants to take part in the battle and look over the army's position, Boris agrees to give him a tour. Drubetskoy has attached himself to Bennigsen, the chief of staff, who dislikes the commander-in-chief. Kutuzov calls Pierre over while Dolokhov, who has again been demoted, is reporting his reconnaissance. Pierre declares his intentions to give his service, and Kutuzov humors him and tells him to make himself at home. Dolokhov then approaches Pierre and asks for his forgiveness for their past misunderstandings. After Kutuzov leaves, Pierre stays with Bennigsen as he inspects the troops and fortifications (Chapter 23).

On the eve of battle, Prince Andrei is thinking about the three griefs of his life—the loss of Natasha, the loss of his father, and the French invasion of Russia—and feeling bitter that everything human beings treasure is ultimately snatched from them (Chapter 24). Suddenly the prince hears voices, and Pierre is brought into his shed. He is not thrilled to see him but invites him to tea, along with Andrei's officers (Chapter 25).

When Pierre asks him what he thinks of Kutuzov and de Tolly, Andrei praises the former and disparages the latter for retreating from Smolensk and not understanding the determination of the troops who were fighting for their own soil. He also tells Pierre that he thinks prisoners should not be taken in war but executed. If people played less at war, he says, it would be less cruel; furthermore, people would fight fewer wars if more were at stake. He speaks eloquently about the depravity of war, and then says to Pierre, "Ah, dear heart, lately it's become hard for me to live." Finally he sends his friend away so he can get a good night's sleep before the battle, but he is tortured by thoughts of the loss of Natasha and the fact that Anatole is still alive.

Analysis

Tolstoy did a great deal of research when writing War and Peace and even went back to some of the battlefields. For this reason he is confident in correcting the mistakes of earlier historical accounts of the battle that preceded Borodino. He explains that the Russians made several errors that cost them the Shevardino redoubt, which is where they should have staged their major battle against the French. As a result of that loss, they were forced into a much inferior strategic position when they fought the French again two days later. These events do not simply have consequence for the novel's characters: the chaos they undergo reflects the actual Russian experience, which War and Peace interprets and makes more coherent.

Pierre's mission to fight with the troops is amusing, pathetic, darkly comic, and tragic by turns, from when he gets to the front in Chapter 20 to when he leaves with the wounded in Chapter 32. Earlier he tells Julie and her company that he is too fat to ride with the regiment he has raised and financed, but now he has come to the front on horseback. One of the first sights he encounters is General Kutuzov praying to the Mother of God. Tolstoy inserts this important detail to show that Kutuzov is another character who is a true Russian, as opposed to the empty-headed and cold-hearted Gallic Russians. Kutuzov does not have a big ego and can be called a servant leader. He knows he is an instrument in the hands of God and the community, and he derives strength from his connection with "the folk," who will never allow an invader to make himself at home on Russian soil. In his approach to his mission, therefore, Kutuzov exhibits the Russian soul.

Pierre gets what seems to be a tourist's tour of the front. Here is Boris, sucking up to Bennigsen, whom he no doubt thinks will be an important person in the future, when Kutuzov again falls out of favor. Here is Dolokhov, attempting to curry favor with the general to make up for another bout of bad behavior. When Pierre tells the general he wants to fight, he finds it amusing, "looking at Pierre with his laughing, narrowing eye." Dolokhov apologizes to Pierre, momentarily humbled in the face of his possible impending death, and Kutuzov leaves Pierre behind for Bennigsen to babysit.

When Pierre stumbles upon Andrei, he is not happy to see his old friend because he associates him with the painful past. Once Andrei begins talking, all his bitterness comes out. He has nothing but scorn for de Tolly, since it is the view among the officers that the Russians could have won at Smolensk and should not have retreated. General de Tolly is viewed as a non-Russian by Andrei and others, accused of not understanding the depth of the Russians' feeling about the invasion of the fatherland. It may seem cruel that Andrei says that in war there should be no prisoners, but he is thinking that perhaps if war resulted in even more casualties, then countries would think twice about going to war so easily.

Later, when Andrei tries to sleep, he can't stop thinking about how he loved Natasha for her soul, while Anatole wanted to use her as a plaything. He is still infuriated by the fact that Anatole is "alive and cheerful." Andrei's spirit is broken, and his tragic words to Pierre, that it is hard for him to live, foreshadow his imminent death. This is the last meeting between the two friends, and an aura of melancholy hangs over their parting. They have been like brothers, but they ultimately were unable to help each other. Pierre thinks it will be the last time he sees his friend.

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