Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 4 Part 2 Chapters 15 19 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 4, Part 2, Chapters 15–19 | Summary



Once Napoleon is on the march in the beginning of October, he sends an envoy to General Kutuzov with a second peace offer that is quickly rejected (Chapter 15). Elements of the Russian army have turned into guerilla fighters, and Dokhturov's partisans see a French division separated from the rest, which they could easily wipe out. He gets permission to attack, but upon arriving at the place of battle learns that the entire French army is now assembling there (Chapter 16). Dokhturov sends an envoy to Kutuzov to find out what to do, and when Kutuzov learns that Napoleon is on the move, he is overjoyed (Chapters 16–17). Now "Kutuzov's entire activity consists only of restraining his troops, by power, cunning, and entreaties, from useless attacks, maneuvers, and clashes with the perishing enemy." At this point Napoleon's troops have begun to desert. In one action Cossack guerillas happened upon the emperor's suite and could have captured him, except they were too busy re-stealing the booty taken from Moscow. "Napoleon, with his forty-year-old's potbelly, feeling himself no longer as nimble and brave as before, understood that hint," the narrator says, and orders a retreat back to the Smolensk road. With the French in retreat, various Russian commanders want to attack them (Chapter 19). Kutuzov continues trying to hold them back to avoid unnecessary loss of Russian lives, but some of them attack anyway and thousands of men are lost.


Tolstoy takes the opportunity in these chapters to praise some unsung heroes who did not make it into most historical accounts of this war. Dokhturov is one of them. He sends a reliable messenger to Kutuzov, and for once things go right: the messenger insists on seeing the general; the people who receive the envoy understand the importance of his message; and Kutuzov understands that the French are definitively beaten. These chapters also show how the greed of the soldiers on the Russian side prevents them from doing their duty. Again the Cossacks loot the French when they come upon Murat's army and fail to pursue the enemy, losing an opportunity to capture Napoleon. The narrator also pokes fun at his nemesis, the potbellied Napoleon, who is looking less and less like a world conqueror. Unlike Napoleon, Kutuzov is not interested in glory. Unlike most of the other Russian generals and commanders, he is not interested in revenge. He is interested in getting the French off his soil and losing as few lives as possible in the process. The commander-in-chief has a rare quality in a military leader—wisdom.

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