War and Peace

War and Peace

by

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace: Volume 3, Part 2: Chapters 15–18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Kutuzov takes command of the armies, he orders Prince Andrei to headquarters. While Prince Andrei waits for Kutuzov to return from a review of the troops, a hussar lieutenant with bristling mustaches rides up and introduces himself as Denisov. He’s heard of Bolkonsky’s misfortunes and greets him sympathetically. Andrei heard of Denisov from Natasha’s stories—he was her first suitor. What with Smolensk and his father’s death, Andrei hasn’t thought about Natasha for a long time. Denisov, for his part, thinks briefly of his silly proposal to 15-year-old Natasha. His purpose now, however, is to present a campaign plan to Kutuzov. He thinks the Russians ought to break through the French communications, using the French’s overextended line to their advantage.
Prince Andrei’s visit to headquarters brings another unlikely meeting, this time with Nikolai Rostov’s old captain and friend Denisov. They have Natasha in common, though for different reasons, neither of them thinks much about their failed romances anymore. Denisov thinks the Russians should take advantage of the strained French position—the French are far from home and extended deep into enemy territory, a situation that makes them vulnerable.
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Kutuzov, heavier than before and breathing hard, rides into the yard, attended by a crowd of fawning generals and officers. He tiredly greets Prince Andrei and, when Andrei mentions he’s just learned of his father’s death, Kutuzov embraces him tenderly, his eyes filling with tears. Denisov boldly approaches at this moment, unaware of the adjutants’ annoyance, and explains he has a plan for the good of Russia. The plan, to cut the enemy’s line of operations between Smolensk and Vyazma, is a sensible one. When Kutuzov learns that the commissary general is Denisov’s uncle, he cheerfully invites Denisov to stay at headquarters and to talk more tomorrow.
Prince Andrei’s father and Kutuzov were personal friends, so it’s easy for him to get access to the general. A family connection proves vital to Denisov’s ability to gain a hearing, too. These encounters suggest that even ethical and independent-minded generals naturally gravitate to such connections—it’s how aristocratic society works.
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Prince Andrei is invited to stay while Kutuzov signs some papers. In the meantime, Kutuzov listens patiently to the general who’s speaking to him, yet it’s evident that he doesn’t care about even the most intelligent reports, as if, in his old age and experience, he knows that intelligence won’t ultimately decide matters. Later, while talking in the commander in chief’s quarters, Kutuzov invites Prince Andrei remain with his staff. Prince Andrei thanks him for the honor, but he explains that he’s grown used to regimental life and is attached to his men there. Kutuzov understands that the regiments need good men, too, and he remembers seeing Andrei carrying the standard on the day he was injured at Austerlitz. Andrei is flattered.
Much as he fell asleep before the battle of Austerlitz, disregarding detailed war plans, here Kutuzov is similarly disengaged from others’ reports, showing that he relies more heavily on instincts than on supposed intelligence. His invitation therefore suggests that he genuinely thinks highly of Prince Andrei, seeing more in him than bare intelligence. However, Andrei has had enough of the abstractions of higher office and fatefully declines.
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Before Andrei goes, Kutuzov talks with him about criticisms he sustained for his actions in the Turkish war, concluding that everything comes at the right time to the one who knows how to wait. He reflects that to win a campaign, it’s not necessary to attack; one just needs patience and time. He believes the same will hold true with the French, though the younger advisers don’t want to hear that. Kutuzov says goodbye to Prince Andrei, reminding him to regard him as a father.
Kutuzov has been criticized in the past for his slowness to act in battle. However, this doesn’t deter him from what he senses is right: most often, victory is a matter of waiting out the enemy. Young, impatient generals prefer to rush to the offensive, but Kutuzov refuses to abandon the instincts he’s developed through long experience.
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When Prince Andrei returns to his regiment, he feels calmer. He believes that Kutuzov understands that there’s something more powerful than his own will— “the inevitable course of events.” He also trusts Kutuzov because he’s Russian, as his deep emotion indicates.
Prince Andrei (reflecting Tolstoy’s own views here) trusts Kutuzov’s humility before fate and his passionate “Russian” instincts—the makings of a good Russian general.
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Life in Moscow flows much as before; it’s easy to forget that Russia is in danger. The patriotic fervor of recent days has faded. In the face of the coming danger, people are torn between self-preservation and the desire to not think of anything unpleasant. While the former is usually considered in solitude, the latter is expressed in company: Moscow is filled with merrymaking that year. People enjoy discussing Rastopchin’s propaganda posters, which insult the French. Some find them humorous, while others think they’re stupid.
Back in Moscow, the atmosphere is tense with anticipation, yet curiously tinged with denial at the same time. It’s simply human nature to avoid unpleasant subjects—like impending invasion—until it’s absolutely necessary. So people have parties instead of panicking. Rastopchin, Moscow’s military governor, produced his infamous posters in an attempt to stir up patriotic feeling again.
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In Julie Drubetskoy’s circles, people have taken to speaking Russian only; if someone utters French by mistake, they have to make a donation to the war effort. Julie is leaving Moscow shortly, and Pierre comes to her farewell soirée, where people have just been joking about the militia he is outfitting. Pierre laughs at this idea himself, saying he’s too big to ride a horse.
In certain society circles, people continue their rather frivolous boycott of the French language. Meanwhile, Pierre is following through on his rather audacious pledge to finance a militia for the war effort—a serious effort, but society people make light of that, too.
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The conversation turns to the Rostovs’ struggles. Natasha is better, and the Count wants to return to the country, but the Countess insists on waiting for Petya, who’s joined the Cossacks but is soon to be transferred to Pierre’s regiment. Julie teases Pierre about Natasha, calling him her “knight,” and Pierre gets annoyed. Julie changes the subject to Marya Bolkonsky, who’s soon arriving in Moscow after the death of her father. She tells the story of Nikolai Rostov rescuing Marya from the Bogucharovo peasants and hints that Marya might be in love with Nikolai.
Despite years of friendship with Princess Marya, Julie Karagin has shown her true colors the more she’s entered into society life. Not only does she gossip about her old friend, but she appears to betray a trust as well. Such gossip is valuable currency in aristocratic circles, and Julie evidently cares more about her own status than about true friendship.
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When he gets home, Pierre looks at some of Rastopchin’s posters. One of the posters insists that the enemy will never enter Moscow. This convinces him that the French actually will reach Moscow. Pierre wonders, for the hundredth time, if he should enter military service. He shuffles a deck of cards for a sign that he should enter the service. Even after the cards turn up the sign he’d been hoping for, he remains irresolute.
Deep down, Pierre seems to have an accurate sense of truth versus propaganda. Yet when it comes to his own actions, he continues to waffle rather than commit, relying on dubious signs to guide his decisions. Though he’s already contributed quite a bit to the war effort, donating his wealth doesn’t feel like enough.
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By this time, most of Pierre’s acquaintances have left Moscow. He has other troubles—in order to fund a regiment, he’ll have to sell one of his estates. To distract himself, he goes to a nearby village to see a hot-air balloon. On his way back into the city, he sees two Frenchmen being publicly flogged, one of them a cook accused of spying. Pierre hurries back to his coach. Suddenly, he feels utterly resolved to leave Moscow and join the army.
It’s not totally clear why witnessing the flogging of the two Frenchmen has such a decisive effect on Pierre. Public opinion has turned harshly against French residents, and perhaps Pierre, aware of his past struggles to fit in as Russian, feels the need to prove himself. Or maybe the brutality of the scene simply shocks him out of his indecision.
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The next day Pierre sets out for Mozhaisk, which is filled with troops of every kind. He feels both restless and joyful, longing to sacrifice something. The everyday comforts of life, he realizes, are nothing compared to…something else. Pierre isn’t sure what he wants to sacrifice for—yet the idea of sacrifice delights him.
Pierre’s feelings as he goes to the warfront hearken back to his emotions during his Masonic initiation. Once again, he feels he’s on the cusp of a life-changing breakthrough. At the same time, he still doesn’t understand what his sacrificial longing should be directed toward.
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