Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 4 Part 2 Chapters 1 10 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 4, Part 2, Chapters 1–10 | Summary



Tolstoy begins his final volume with another nonfiction gloss that returns to the idea that events unfold as the result of the totality of causes, which are inaccessible to the human mind (Chapter 1). But there are laws that govern events, and these laws may be examined. The narrator briefly examines the Russian retreat, which history called brilliant strategy, but actually was a combination of common sense and good fortune—in that other events did not intervene to create additional problems. The "famous flanking march" was merely a straight back movement and then toward the side where the Russians could have access to provisions (Chapter 2). According to Tolstoy, Kutuzov should be given credit not for strategic genius, but rather for his understanding that the French "beast" had been mortally wounded and for keeping his troops from fighting unnecessary battles. When a Cossack soldier out on patrol spots the left flank of General Murat's army, Kutuzov is forced to engage (Chapter 3). The Cossacks fight the enemy a few days later at the Battle of Tarutino, but in their enthusiasm to take booty—cannons, horses, saddles, and so forth—they do not pursue the French (Chapter 4–7). The battle has the usual multiple elements of chaos, and Kutuzov delays the rest of his army so there is no further engagement. Nonetheless Tarutino puts the Russians on the offensive and exposes the weakness of the French.

Tolstoy turns to analyze Napoleon's actions after he takes Moscow in Chapter 8. He could have easily wintered in the city and had access to supplies and clothing. Instead "Napoleon the genius" ultimately ends up retreating up the same road he originally traveled down (the Smolensk road), where there are no supplies or supply lines, effectively annihilating his army. After Napoleon sends General Murat to find Kutuzov, he fortifies the Kremlin and draws up a plan to conquer Russia (Chapter 9). He attempts to restore order in the city without much success, as his troops continue looting (Chapter 10). The army, "like a herd let loose, trampling underfoot the fodder that might save it from starvation, was falling apart and perishing with every extra day it spent in Moscow." His army takes a lot of loot with them, which will turn out to be a liability when they again try to engage the Russians.


Tolstoy's argument that events unfold from a totality of causes is a rebuttal of the idea that any one person—a Napoleon, for example—is a world mover. The Russian strategy was part luck, part necessity. The Russians actually retreat down the Ryazan road, move to the Tula road, and then go south to the Kuluga road before reaching Tarutino, according to a footnote in the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of the novel. The translators explain that the Russian army at Tarutino prevented the French from gaining access to food in the southern Russian provinces or to military supplies in cities like Tula. Meanwhile two regiments of Cossacks continued to retreat down the Ryazan road, and they were followed by General Murat, who then lost sight of the larger army.

In the novel Tolstoy gives Kutuzov credit for understanding that the French army would eventually self-destruct, and for that reason he avoids engaging them as much as possible so as not to unnecessarily lose men. But at Tarutino he gives the order to fight once the Russians spot the enemy because that is what everyone expects. He knows it won't make that much difference. Still it is a morale booster and puts the French on the defensive.

Tolstoy makes fun of Napoleon when he explains that there were other things he could have done besides go back to his original position and then travel on a road with no access to supplies. The smart thing would have been to winter in Moscow, but things have gotten too chaotic in the city and the disorder of his troops as well as the lack of supplies are good reasons to leave. After Tarutino Napoleon makes one last attempt to pursue the enemy farther into Russia, but the army is hard to find. The narrator reiterates that Napoleon was not directing these events. Rather he "was like a child who, holding the straps tied inside a carriage, fancies that he is driving it." Tolstoy's vilification and mockery of Napoleon, in a book in which the other characters are a mix of flaws and good qualities, occasionally feels jarring. But Tolstoy was trying to challenge the cultural perception of Napoleon as an almost superhuman being; perhaps he could accomplish his purpose only by veering strongly in the opposite direction.

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