Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 3 Chapters 1 11 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 3, Chapters 1–11 | Summary



In Chapter 1 Tolstoy points out that historical analysis is always incomplete because it looks at a series of events apart from the continuous flow of time and examines key individuals as representing "the sum of all individual wills." More effective would be to study the "infinitesimal elements that govern the masses." In Chapter 2 Kutuzov sends word to Alexander of a victory at Borodino, but as more reports come in, it becomes clear that the Russian army will not be able to finish off the enemy in a new battle as the general planned, since half the army has been lost.

Chapter 3 picks up the action after the Battle of Borodino. The Russian troops have retreated to Fili. Two war councils take place, at which several generals discuss strategy. At the first council Kutuzov realizes he has already made the terrible but necessary decision to abandon Moscow. At the second council he hears out all the generals and then orders a retreat away from Moscow (Chapter 4).

The narrator says that the abandonment and burning of Moscow was just as inevitable as the army's retreat (Chapter 5). He notes that, beginning with Smolensk, the rich people left each place the enemy approached, while the poor people stayed behind and set fire to the cities and towns. Similarly in Moscow the rich left, having no intention of staying behind to fraternize with the Frenchmen as people did in Vienna and Berlin.

The war is far removed from the Petersburg salons. Hélène is brooding over her love problem—two men vying for her affections, while inconveniently married to Count Bezukhov (Chapters 6–7). Hélène decides to become a Roman Catholic and then wrangle a divorce from the Roman church by winning favor with the Jesuit priests. After Hélène converts, she writes to Pierre asking him for a divorce so she can marry one of her admirers.

Meanwhile a dazed Pierre leaves the front with the intention of returning home (Chapter 8). When he gets back to his room it is quite late, so he sleeps in his carriage, waking up with war flashbacks and bad dreams (Chapter 9). On the way home, he is told that Anatole and Andrei are dead. As soon as he gets back to Moscow on August 30, he is called to the governor general's office (Chapter 10). While waiting he learns Rastopchin is spreading the story that the army is coming to defend Moscow. He has also jailed a young radical, Vereshchagin. When Pierre is summoned, Rastopchin questions him about his membership in the Masons (Chapter 11). When he finally gets home, Pierre reads the letter from his wife. The next morning several people are waiting to see him, but he slips out the back door.


Some of Tolstoy's ideas about history were much ahead of their time. For example, the idea that context is everything in examining a historical event and that history books have been skewed because they are written by the winners are modern ideas. Tolstoy's notion that history is distorted when it focuses only on identified leaders or great personages instead of everyday people was also radical for its time, but this perspective is reflected in the way historians now approach the study of historical periods. His assertion that time is continuous and that therefore it is not possible to take a slice of time and provide an objective interpretation of it, is something that no quantum physicist would argue with.

Tolstoy attempts to illustrate—perhaps somewhat imperfectly—his ideas about history by using Kutuzov's decision to retreat as an example. Kutuzov cannot pinpoint the moment he realized he would have to retreat, and he keeps wondering about it. As he will say later, he did not want to lose Moscow and the army, too. So he chose to save the army, knowing that the French would ultimately be destroyed, since their spirit and their physical army has already been broken by Borodino.

Pierre suffers post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of seeing the battle, even as he is being threatened by Rastopchin for possible disloyalty. Finally he is suffering because of his unrequited love for Natasha. Not surprisingly he throws up his hands and runs away. Pierre has come to the end of his rope; he can no longer go on with his previous life, which is empty of meaningful content. He needs a heroic project. In subsequent chapters he will begin developing a delusion that he has a mission from God to kill Napoleon.

Of course the war has not reached Petersburg, although the Petersburg salons continue to gossip about the war as well as Hélène, whose shenanigans have taken center stage. She has two suitors even though she is married, and she brazenly asks Pierre for a divorce, simply assuming that he will accede to her demands. She wants to marry again, but it would be impossible to get a divorce in the Russian Orthodox church in a way that would allow her to maintain her position in society, given that she commits adultery on a regular basis. Pierre is unlikely to take the entire burden of adultery on himself to give her a divorce—which is what she wants him to do, so that she can then remarry in the Catholic Church, now that she is becoming a Catholic. The priests who are finagling the situation for her tell her that they will finesse the situation for her, and since she is changing faiths, the second faith will not recognize the marriage that occurred in the church it doesn't recognize. The extent of Hélène's narcissism and sense of entitlement is evident in the way she attempts to bend the rules of two religions to get what she wants, as well as the way in which she treats her husband—not like a man, but like a function who ought to serve her purposes.

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