Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 4 Part 3 Chapters 16 19 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "War and Peace Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Sep. 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2019. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, September 29). War and Peace Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "War and Peace Study Guide." September 29, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2019.


Course Hero, "War and Peace Study Guide," September 29, 2016, accessed January 21, 2019,

War and Peace | Vol. 4, Part 3, Chapters 16–19 | Summary



In Chapter 16 the narrator describes the defeat of the French in tragic terms. The French army "melted away and was annihilated." Their chaotic retreat and the equally chaotic Russian attacks are described by the narrator as "a game of blindman's buff, when two players are blindfolded and one occasionally rings a little bell to let the catcher know where he is" (Chapter 17). In the end the leader of the Grande Armée abandoned his men. "Whoever could, also rode off," the narrator says, "whoever could not surrendered or died."

In Chapter 18 Tolstoy reiterates that, despite the views of historians, the character of the retreat was in no way orchestrated by Napoleon. He criticizes historians for calling Napoleon great, when he did so much harm: "[T]he recognition of a greatness not measurable by the measure of good and bad is only a recognition of one's own insignificance and immeasurable littleness," he says. Further, "there is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth."

Some of the Russian people wonder why all of the French were not captured by the end of the campaign of 1812 (Chapter 19). Tolstoy notes such a feat would have been impossible because of the disorder of the French army, and it was also unnecessary. In fact the Russian army acted "like a whip on a running animal," as the remaining French made the long journey back to the Niemen River.


Tolstoy sees tragedy, not just in what happened to the Russians, but also in what happened to the French. While he shows hatred for Napoleon, he feels compassion for the army. The men in Napoleon's army, who were a cross-section of many nationalities, suffered great hardship in the Russian winter, and the narrator describes "men freezing or roasting to death by campfires," even while the "emperor, kings, and dukes in fur coats [continued driving] in carriages filled with stolen goods." By Tolstoy's reckoning, the Grande Armée of Napoleon had been reduced to some 36,000 between Moscow and Vyazma.

The retreat and attack as the French withdraw from Russia has the same chaotic aspects of war the narrator has been describing up until now: sometimes the French accidentally run into the Russians, while the Russian army has difficulty ascertaining where the enemy is most of the time, since they had no cavalry patrols. Tolstoy criticizes the senselessness of the French campaign at this point in the war, pointing out how ludicrous it is for historians to describe the army's strategy when there was no strategy.

Tolstoy also criticizes the Russian historians who parse Kutuzov's actions and find him coming up short. "[I]t was senseless to waste our troops on the destruction of the French army, which was being annihilated without any external causes in such a progression, that ... [they brought] across the border ... one hundredth of the entire army."

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about War and Peace? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!