Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 2 Chapters 26 32 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 2, Chapters 26–32 | Summary



Chapter 26 switches the action to the French camp, where two flatterers from Europe have come to present Napoleon with a portrait of his son, "the king of Rome." The emperor is finishing his morning preparation when they arrive; one valet is brushing his body while another is perfuming him. After he admires the portrait, he has it carried out in front of his tent, where his troops see it and shout "Vive l'Empereur!" He surveys the troops and fortifications, making final adjustments (Chapter 27). The narrator then stops to reject the notion that Napoleon did not win because he had a cold (Chapter 28–29). Rather world events depend on predestination and the collective wills of the participants. The narrator goes on to delineate the essence of Napoleon's battle instructions and why they could not be carried out.

Pierre in the Russian camp awakens late to the sound of battle and hurries out, climbing up on a barrow to admire the panorama (Chapter 30). The narrator provides a detailed and lush description of the town and the river, the caissons (ammunition chests), cannon, and soldiers. Watching the puffs of smoke, Pierre wants to be part of the action, so he follows one of the generals down the hill, loses sight of him (Chapter 31), and stumbles upon the infantry.

As Pierre rides into the field of battle, soldiers yell at him to get out of the way. An adjutant comes to the rescue, taking Pierre to the Raevsky barrow (fortification), where the Russians have an artillery battery set up and where he will have a good view. At first the soldiers are annoyed by Pierre's presence, but then they get used to him. Cannonballs are hitting the ramparts and killing artillerists, but the men keep firing, and when a general orders more ammunition, Pierre runs to get it with cannonballs flying overhead. As he gets to the caissons, a blast knocks him unconscious, and when he regains consciousness he runs back to the barrow, now taken by the French (Chapter 32). He runs down the battery as the Russians run up and retake it, and suddenly the carnage taking place penetrates his awareness as he follows the stretchers carrying the wounded off the battlefield.


The narrator's description of Napoleon before the battle is dripping with contempt. Representatives from his empire have arrived to flatter him with a portrait of his young son, whom people call "the king of Rome." Napoleon's self-importance is revealed in the way he is pampered by his valets. Moreover the narrator's description of him as hairy and fat makes him repulsive. Napoleon's reaction to seeing his son's portrait is described as artificial and staged; the general pretends to be a tender father full of feeling as he contemplates the portrait of his heir.

Tolstoy laughs at the idea that Napoleon's army did poorly at Borodino because the general had a cold. A more likely reason is that it was the result of the sum total of the collective wills of the people participating in those events. From one perspective, this gives a randomness to the outcome of this historical event. If Napoleon takes credit for what he does, he is merely deluded.

Tolstoy deflates the glory of war in his portrayal of Pierre's darkly comic insistence on participating. When he goes down to the barrow where he stood the day before, he is delighted by the view. It is a beautiful day, and the village, the distant woods, and the movement of the troops along with the smoke from the cannons appear like a painting to him. Seen from a distance, the war is beautiful. Pierre is almost hypnotized by what he sees, which is now connected to a mental movie that has been playing in his head since he first thought he would have some important, heroic role to play in defeating the French emperor. Tolstoy is taking an opportunity to show how people—even good people—get caught up in the glamour of war. War engenders passion and a misguided sense of heroism. The ability to make meaning is of paramount importance to a human being, after food and shelter, and when war is imbued with a strong sense of meaning people are more than willing to lay down their lives.

When Pierre gets caught among the infantry, he shows no fear; neither does he get scared on the Raevsky battery. He begins to come to his senses, however, after he leaves the battery for the last time and begins to actually see the dead and wounded. They do not make a pretty picture. This is the real fruit of war—a harvest of bodies.

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