Mrs. Schuet's AP Literature Class of '16 discussion

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

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John | 8 comments War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

message 2: by John (new)

John | 8 comments I am reading War and Peace because 1: Daniel and reading it, and 2: I want to read a book about rich white aristocracy and kind of see what their points of view are like.

I just started and am still on the first chapter. There is an important lady called Anna and she likes to throw parties for important people. She feels joy in serving important people and thus, she seems likes she really does not know herself or know what she wants in life. Anna's like is rich but just in the first chapter, she seems she could be static.

message 3: by Daniel (last edited Dec 07, 2015 11:34PM) (new)

Daniel | 11 comments I chose this book because I was seriously interested in learning about the Napoleonic Wars and reading what many people deemed as the greatest novel of all time. I had read through the first book of War and Peace back in freshman year, and I found the characters to be extremely interesting and nuanced (I lost my copy, so I ended up stopping reading it.)

I am currently on Page I. 601, in Chapter 10 of Book 6 of Volume 1. (Each volume has its own numbering system, so I will preface all my page references with the volume number.)

The book begins in Anna Scherer's lounge, where we see Scherer and Prince Vasili Kuragin discussing politics. Vasili asks Scherer for a favor. Pierre Bezukhov, an illegitimate son of the richest man in Russia comes along, and is shunned by the rest of Anna's soiree. Bezukhov's friend, Andrei Bolkonsky, and his wife, Lise Meinen, visit as well. At the reception, Pierre makes a fool of himself by exclaiming his love for Napoleon, and is quickly shut up by Scherer. Two of Vasili' children, Ippolyte and Helene, continue the discussion, and Ippolyte makes some rather uncouth moves toward Andrei's wife.

Pierre, Andrei, and Lise return to Andrei's house, where Andrei and Pierre have a livid discussion on the necessity of war. Andrei announces that he is leaving for the Austrian Campaign, where he is to be part of the Russian Army that assists Emperor Francis in defeating the French, and Lise starts crying, as she is pregnant and fears Andrei's death. Before leaving, Andrei tells Pierre to keep out of trouble, an advice that Pierre, of course, forgets. Pierre immediately meets up with Anatole Kuragin, another son of Vasili, and officer Dolokhov, get drunk, and tie a policeman to a bear they capture. For their antics, Pierre, Dolokhov, and Anatole are expelled from Petersburg. Pierre returns to Moscow, where is father lives

Two weeks later, at the Rostov house in Moscow, Anna Mikhaylovna Drubetskaya visits for Natalie Rostov (and her mother)'s nameday. Anna Mikhaylovna is in Moscow to seek favor from Kirill Bezukhov, one of the richest men in Moscow and the father of Pierre. Kirill is dying, and Anna Drubetskaya hopes to acquire some of his fortune to pay for her son, Boris Drubetskoy's, uniform for his new officership. Prince Vasili is also present, and is trying to acquire some of Kirill's money as well. Kirill's will originally was to leave most of his money to his legitimate descendants, but Vasili discovers that he had changed it to give most of his money to Pierre. Kirill's legitimate descendants try to destroy the will, but Vasili stops them, in hopes of marrying Pierre to his daughter, Helene, and acquiring Kirill Bezukhov's wealth for himself. Vasili succeeds, and Pierre becomes the richest man in Moscow.

Meanwhile, at the Rostovs, Sonya, cousin to Nicholas Rostov, the son of Count Ilya Rostov, is crying over the fact that she is unable to marry Nicholas Rostov. She loves him dearly, and makes Nicholas vow to marry her. Nicholas, meeting up with officer Denisov, plans to leave for the Russian campaign in Austria. He and his friend Boris Drubetskoy, who is currently in love with Natasha, Nicholas's sister, are planning to leave within the week. Sonya feels jealous over the fact that Julie Karagina is smitten over Nicholas. Natasha reassures Sonya that all will be well, and that Nicholas will never break his vow. Natasha and Nicholas's elder sister, Vera, is annoyed at all of them, and the other four children make fun of her and her love with Berg, another officer in the military. Berg, Nicholas, and Boris soon depart for the front.

Meanwhile, Andrei has returned to his father, Prince Nikolai Bolonksky, mansion, Bald Hills. Andrei is dropping off his wife, Lise, there in order to keep her safe as he goes off to war. His sister, Mary, noted for being very unattractive, lives with her father, as her father does not believe that anybody would ever marry her for love. Before he leaves, Andrei's father, Nikolai, tells him to be safe, and that he would rather have his son die than disgrace his name. Andrei sets off, with a crying Lise being too late to say goodbye.

A few months later in central Austria, General Mikhael Illarionovich Kutuzov is trying to show the Austrian generals how unprepared the Russians are for war. Serving as his adjutant is Bolkonsky. Dolokhov, having been reduced to the ranks after his bear affair, tries to show Kutuzov his favor.

Rostov and Denisov are playing cards when another general, Telyanin, steals Denisov's purse. Rostov chases him down, and is surprised when the other officers get angry at Rostov for embarassing the integrity of all the Russian generals in front of the Austrians.

The army is trying to march to Ulm to support Austrian general Karl Mack von Leiberich's army, who is currently besieged by Napoleon. Upon arriving near Linz, Andrei encounters a tired General Mac, who reveals that at the Battle of Ulm, Napoleon had captured his entire army. Now free to make a beeline to Vienna, the Austrian court has fled to Brünn, taking most of their army with them. Now heavily outnumbered, the Russians are sent to halt the advance of the French army under General Mortier. At the Battle of Durenstein, Andrei serves under the famed Austrian general Johann Heinrich von Schmitt, who is killed in battle. Nicholas gets his first taste of war, and almost pees his pants, a fact at which Denisov laughs at. Despite the loss, the Russians win the battle. Andrei is sent as a messenger to Brünn to tell the Austrian court of the good news.

Arriving at Brünn, Andrei meets an old acquaintance, Bilibin, who is currently serving as a diplomat for Russia. Andrei is disheartened upon receiving a lukewarm reception, but Bilibin explains to Andrei that the Austrians are more disappointed at having lost their capital and Schmitt than excited at hearing that Russia had won some minor battle. Just then, news comes in that Napoleon had crossed the Danube, taken Vienna, and was making a beeline towards Brünn. Bilibin flees with the Austrian court to Olmütz, and Andrei decides to return to the Russian army, who was now in danger of being encircled by the French, in order to "be a hero".

Meanwhile, in the Russian army, the Russians are also trying to flee toward Olmütz as well. However, Napoleon's army, greatly outnumbering that of the Russian support, had just crossed the Danube, and was within days of encountering (and most likely decimating) the Russian army. Fearing another Ulm event, Kutuzov sends General Petyr Bagration to march a section of the army to the French and sacrifice it in order to save the others. Bagration heeds his command, and marches his army to Schöngrabern, which includes Dolokhov, Nicholas, and Denisov.

At Schöngrabern, Bagration plays the same trick that Napoleon played at Vienna: clamoring for peace to lull the enemy into a false sense of security and buy their own some more time. As Napoleon was still in Vienna, the French general in charge, Lannes, did not see through this deception, thus partially saving the Russians. Andrei makes it to Schöngrabern just in time for the battle, and works with General Bagration. The battle begins, and Nicholas is heavily wounded, but saved by a Russian sharpshooter. Andrei runs around the battle, and sees one squadron, led by Captain Tushin, fighting even as the other Russians flee. When Tushin is later falsely accused by other captains of cowardice, Andrei saves him in the nick of time.

Book 2 ends with Nicholas, shivering, alone, huddled over a fire with a broken arm, crying over missing his family and his life back home.

Back in Moscow, Pierre has become loved by society because of two main facts: he's now rich AND he's now single! All the mothers and fathers try to hook their daughters up with him, a fact that makes him really uncomfortable. Vasili Kuragin and Anna Scherer cook a scheme to set up Pierre with Helene so that the Kuragin family can acquire some of his wealth. Pierre realizes that he is being set up, but is unwilling to let himself go of Helene because he finds her female form too alluring. Vasili, seeing that Pierre is unable to confess his love to Helene (as he still partially does not want to), pretends as if Pierre proposed to Helene and (awkwardly) starts fake-crying tears of happiness. Helene joins in, and soon Pierre and Helene are married (much to Pierre's regret).

Back at Olmütz, Emperor Alexander of Russia and Holy Roman Empire Francis meet up together to review their armies. Nicholas and Boris meet again after having been seperated for so long, and Nicholas embellishes his heroism at the Battle of Dürenstein. Andrei walks in on this, and is quite displeased. Boris introduces himself to Andrei, and asks him for the favor that Andrei granted his mother, Anna Mikhaylovna, so long ago. Andrei agrees, and tries to help Boris get promoted. While leading Boris around, Boris realizes that society position is more important than military position, and immediately begins to copy the antics of high society. Andrei fails, as everybody is too busy fawning about the emperors, but Boris manages to grab a promotion anyways. Soon, the great review begins. Nicholas, witnessing the spectacle as a troop member, immediately feels love and gratitude for his Emperor, and suddenly wants to die for Russia. The two combined armies decide to march to Austerlitz, a strategic location famed for its hills: the Pratzen Heights, and attack Napoleon. Midway there, they capture a French cavalry and its standard. Alexander is proud, and Nicholas is proud that Alexander is proud. Napoleon asks for an envoy from the emperors, as he wants to settle for peace, but the two empires, unwilling to recognize a commoner like Napoleon as an equal, decide to send another general to visit "General Buonaparte".

The combined army thing turns out to go really badly, because a) the two armies sort of distrust each other and b) they speak two different languages. Nicholas is sent as a scout to see where the French army were on the Pratzen heights, The day before the battle, Andrei tries to revise the battle formations, but is shut down, as the higher officers had already set in a plan. He is invited to see them plan out the battle, and watches all the other officers excitedly mention how Napoleon appears really weak. Kutuzov tries to explain how this is a trap, but is shut down each time. Eventually, Kutuzov decides to fall asleep.

The day of, it takes the armies forever to fight the French. When the battle begins, it originally appears to go very well. Nicholas is sent as a messenger between generals to send word of good news. However, after he is sent, Mortier's army arrives from behind to reinforce Napoleon and surprise attack the allies, and ultimately decimates them. In the fracas, Andrei is heavily wounded and knocked unconscious after trying to rally up his squadron. Nicholas, upon seeing the devastation, is surprised to see the Emperor in the chaos, looking distraught. He wants to comfort him, but cowardly hides. He, Denisov, and Dolokhov make it back to Olmütz. Andrei is left for dead on the battlefield, where he is picked up by the French.

On the brink of dying, he and other wounded officers are visited by Napoleon in the hospital. Napoleon says something to him, but he is too tired to speak, and Napoleon leaves. The doctor, seeing Andrei's wounds, leaves him for dead and takes the other officers back with him to a POW camp in Bavaria. Andrei stays, utterly defeated.


Oh, and I really love this book. It's all that I ever wanted from historical fiction, and so much more. The political intrigues and discussions on wartime strategies interest the history buff inside of me, and the gossip and relationship drama excite my inner Mean Girls. I'm quite content.

message 4: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 11 comments Why does Nicholas Rostov feel like he has to pay Fedor Dolokhov the 43,000 rubles that Dolokhov cheated out of him in the game of cards at the end of Volume 1 Book 4? Does he feel that paying 43,000 rubles to the man who decided to embarrass him because his sister rejected his marriage proposal would allow him to reclaim some of the honor that he feels like he lost, when paying all that money to a scoundrel causes one to lose even more honor?

message 5: by Daniel (last edited Dec 10, 2015 07:23PM) (new)

Daniel | 11 comments Garima wrote: "John wrote: "War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy"
Why does the title have "war and peace" juxtaposed rather than war and violence? Does the author intend to imply the paradox that positive outcomes always..."

Good question! The title has war and peace juxtaposed because the book literally chronologies the saga of several Russian aristocratic families as their peaceful lives are intermingled with battles and campaigns. Take Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, one of the main protagonists, for example. (Warning, spoilers ahead.) In Volume 1 Book 3, he serves as an adjunctant to General Kutuzov during the Campaign of 1805 in the War of the Third Coalition. In the disastrous Battle of Austerlitz, Andrei becomes heavily wounded and is left for dead. However, in Volume 1 Book 4, he manages to survive and rushes home to his father's estate of Bald Hills, 100 miles north of Moscow, where he arrives just in time to watch his wife die in childbirth. Now, a widower with a son he needs to take care of, Andrei has to learn to readjust to home life and manage his family estates.

One of the reasons why Tolstoy decided to starkly contrast home life and war life in his epic is because he strongly detested how history had been portrayed at that time. As Tolstoy heavily expands in his very philosophical Second Epilogue (which I decided to read ahead of time), history, in his opinion, was more of a continuous river-like flow of chaotic, discordant events not directly controlled by one entity or hero, like Napoleon, but rather created as a consequence of the actions of many smaller, less significant people, like the Rostovs or the Bolkonskys. As he states,

"However accessible may be the chain of causation of any action, we shall never know the whole chain since it is endless, and so again we never reach absolute inevitability"(II. 836, Morse translation).

By chronicling the time period of 1805-1812 as a continuous flow of events, both peaceful and bellicose, he deconstructs the notion of sharp differences between "eras".

I do not believe that Tolstoy intended to imply the paradox that positives outcomes always come out of negative outcomes. (He, however, did strongly believe in the idea that outcomes come out of outcomes, as he frequently notes in his Second Epilogue.) In fact, I strongly doubt that Tolstoy believed in the notion of good or evil at all. In Volume 1 Book 5, Pierre thinks to himself:

"What is bad? What is good? What should one love and one hate? What does one live for?" (I. 462),

Tolstoy, as the omniscient narrator, then tells the reader:

"There was no answer to any of these questions, except one, and that not a logical answer and not at all a reply to them. The answer was: 'You'll die and all will end. You'll die and know all, or cease asking'" (I. 462-3).

That quote, I believe, sums up Tolstoy's view on the ideas of "good" and "bad".

message 6: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 11 comments Question for John, as I believe you should be at least halfway through Volume 1 Book 1, and thus have encountered both the St. Petersburg elite and the Rostov family of Moscow:

Why does Tolstoy decide to alternate between the two great Russian cities? In what way are the cities similar, and in what way are the cities different? What do the two cities symbolize, and how does add another dimension to the story that is currently unfolding?

message 7: by John (new)

John | 8 comments Daniel, I am finished with Volume 1 Book 1, need to pick up the pace so I have only seen a few parts of the St.Petersburg Elite and the Rostov family. Those questions I will keep on my bucket list.

This book has a long list of characters that are really in-depth. A lot of the chapters are dealing with under the table arranged marriages and secret affiliations.

Furthermore, the French are obviously used to describe the high-class society and Anna Pavlonva uses just plain English to talk to the illegitimate son Pierre Bezukov with just a slight nod instead of a formal greeting. Anna, as a Saint Petersburg is well endowed in french and finding people to throw parties for. I feel that she could remain as a static character but because there was so much development of the other characters that she was not portrayed as clearly static or non-static.

Part way through the Volume 1 Part 1, the setting shifts to Moscow, Russia old ancient capital, where there is a lot more English used partly to show a little less culture than Petersburg. There are four children introduced, two boys and two girls and I feel that as the two boys are so eager to go to war, their lives will be entangled with the title. More about the Rostov family is that there seem to be a lot of marriage proposals at young ages and no one seems to have a directions they want to take. The oldest daughter of the Rostov Family, Vera Ilyinichna, seems very much like to The Poisonwood Bible's Rachael. Both of those characters are the oldest child and want things to go their way even if it means putting other people down.

As a preparation for a war is made, is it possible a character will die early to show the need peace? I think that with my very little knowledge so far, all the characters have no "transcendency" in themselves and are all wishy washy to meet the social contracts of society.

Daniel, does Napoleon symbolize War or Peace in this book? Both arguments have been made that he is a genius at warfare even though he killed several people. As Emperor, because no one wanted to dispute with Napoleon, there was peace. For me, he seems to represent both War and Peace but there seems to be a hidden easter egg that has not been revealed to me yet.

message 8: by John (new)

John | 8 comments Daniel wrote: "Why does Nicholas Rostov feel like he has to pay Fedor Dolokhov the 43,000 rubles that Dolokhov cheated out of him in the game of cards at the end of Volume 1 Book 4? Does he feel that paying 43,00..."

Well for now, as I am just getting into it, I feel like it is easy to put all the shame onto one pile. Nicholas Rostov can pile all of his shames together and just blame it on one. After that, it seems to be as a person that it is easier to forget about one major thing than a few smaller things. Maybe Nicholas knows that he has to move on from this shame so he decides to put them on top of each other and just burn it up. I imagine all of his shames and failures are written separately on pieces of paper and he just finds all of them and throw them into a fireplace all at once. Same thing we should do college apps.

message 9: by Daniel (last edited Dec 13, 2015 11:13PM) (new)

Daniel | 11 comments John wrote: "Daniel, does Napoleon symbolize War or Peace in this book? Both arguments have been made that he is a genius at warfare even though he killed several people. As Emperor, because no one wanted to dispute with Napoleon, there was peace. For me, he seems to represent both War and Peace but there seems to be a hidden easter egg that has not been revealed to me yet. "

I feel like Napoleon symbolizes a lot more War than Peace. Whenever all the characters mention him, especially early on in the novel, it is always in the context of treaties and campaign strategies and his land grab of Europe. After Volume 1 Book 4, when peace is brokered between Napoleon and Alexander at Tilsit (technically not spoilers because this part of the novel constitutes more historical narrative), and between war breaks out between Napoleon and Alexander in Book 2, this symbolism does not quite die down, but rather shifts, as Napoleon (briefly) becomes an ally with Russia during the War of the Fourth Coalition against Austria. I really won't spoil much of the book to you, but when we do get to meet him in person (and you will get to meet him in person, soon), he becomes not just a symbol, but a dynamic and important character. :)

As a side note, that's one of the best things I love about War and Peace. Tolstoy is able to turn these imposing historical figures, like Kutuzov, Emperor Alexander, Emperor Francis, Bagration, Lannes, Murat, Speranksy, and humanize them and turn them into important characters in the novel like the Rostovs or the Kuragins. Definitely tell me what you think about the characterization of these historical figures as you move along!

message 10: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 11 comments Another question for you, John: Why do you think Andrei so detests Lise? What makes him unable to truly care for her, or act nicely towards her? What in her does he actually loathe? I'm still wondering about this myself.

message 11: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 11 comments John wrote: "Daniel wrote: "Why does Nicholas Rostov feel like he has to pay Fedor Dolokhov the 43,000 rubles that Dolokhov cheated out of him in the game of cards at the end of Volume 1 Book 4? Does he feel th..."

Hah agreed! I've grown to rather dislike Nicholas's character. Kid is so willing to fight for his Emperor that he considers it an honor if he could die before him from a battle wound.

"To Rostóv every word sounded like a voice from heaven. How gladly would he have died at once for his Tsar!... 'Oh, to die, to die for him!' thought Rostóv"(I. 321).

Boy, snap out of that silly stuff! It might be me, but I feel like there is more to living life than falling dead from a musket ball in front of some poor Emperor's face. Then again, as we talked about in that one Othello socratic where none of us ended up agreeing with each other, it does make him a good soldier! "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." Still waiting for him to develop some sense of self-cognizance. Then again, I have 1,000 pages left, so we'll see... :P

message 12: by Daniel (last edited Dec 16, 2015 11:08PM) (new)

Daniel | 11 comments "It was too dreadful to be under the burden of these insoluble problems, so he abandoned himself to any distraction in order to forget them. He frequented every kind of society, drank much, bought pictures, engaged in building, and above all- read"(I. 729).

This passage struck a chord with me. Never before have I empathized so well with a character before! I'm rather amazed at how expressive and connectable these characters are, even though they lived 200 years ago! They just seem so modern, even though they live in such an antiquated world. Tolstoy really is amazing.

message 13: by Daniel (last edited Dec 20, 2015 12:31PM) (new)

Daniel | 11 comments "Paulucci and Michaud both attacked Wolzogen simultaneously in French. Armfeldt addressed Pfuel in German. Toll explained to Volkónski in Russian. Prince Andrew listened and observed in silence." (II. 54)

This is hilarious; it's almost like a scene from Seinfeld. No wonder the Russian army is so incompetent; so much info must be lost in translation that each regiment must be receiving disparate orders!

As a side note, I'm rather surprised how fluid ethnic/national borders were before the rise of nationalism in the mid 19th century. We have Paulucci, an Italian, and a Frenchman, Michaud, arguing with a German, Wolzogen, in French, in the same room as Armfeldt, a Swede, (who is speaking in German) as they fortify a Belarussian town, Dressa, all in the service of Emperor Alexander, a Russian, to protect the Polish province of Wilno, located in an area populated mostly by Lithuanians against the troops of Napoleon, a Corsican, leading his army of French soldiers!

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