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War and Peace: A Summary (Books Thirteen to Fifteen)

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

My summary of War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy continues…

Books Thirteen to Fifteen

The French are in Moscow and the Russians are without, vacillating between activity and lethargy, apparently on the brink of disintegration, suddenly propelling themselves uncompelled into attacks on the invaders. Kutusov is not a happy pensioner. His commanders delay when they should attack and attack when he particularly asked them not to. There is little organisation, and everything – including successful battle – appears to proceed spontaneously of its own accord. Kutusov is a man barely holding onto the leash of the live animal that is his army, but, says Tolstoy, his genius lies in the fact that he knows how things will be, and knows he must allow history to direct itself. Napoleon is also a man struggling to maintain control, but therein, says Tolstoy, lies his arrogance, his folly, and doom. His attempts to enforce order on Moscow are ineffective; half the city is consumed in flames while the rest is looted by undisciplined soldiers and opportunistic locals.

Eventually the French, following no pressure to do so from the Russian army, get fed up with pretending they have anything to do in Moscow and leave. Weighed down with useless plundered trinkets, they begin their long weary trudge across the same landscape they themselves laid waste to weeks previously, just as a freezing winter dawns. With the departing army marches Pierre, still a prisoner, and shadowing but never closing with the French is Kutusov and his Russian army.  More eager for action are the marauding partisans, informal outgrowths of the Russian forces. Commanding one such guerrilla band is Denisov, old gweat fwiend of Nick Rostov – a remembrance which leads him to encourage Nicky’s younger brother Petya, when that boy-soldier delivers him a message, to stay with his guerrillas for a while. Little Petya is thrilled, he is as desperately eager to prove his bravado as silly Nick was back in 1805. And his chance comes soon – Denisov and cheeky adventurer Dolokhov are planning an attack on a French convoy the very morning after Petya’s arrival. To get an accurate idea of what they will be facing, Dolokhov allows Petya to accompany him on a daring night-time undercover mission into the French camp – a spy escapade that old Dolly carries off with such aplomb that Petya, overcome with adulation, cannot resist kissing him. I’m not sure whether it is standard military protocol to offer a sloppy kiss as a reward for gallantry, but had young Petya not been killed in the attack on the following morning, he surely would have been a force for change in the Russian military.

As it is, Petya does die in the dawn raid, but Pierre, who had been in the very French convoy under attack, is saved from captivity by his old love-rival Dolokhov, and swiftly sent packing to convalesce from his harrowing experience. After spending some time under the tenderless care of his cousin and pondering, as the terrible destruction of the French army on its long march continues, how newly happy he is and how at peace with his fellow man he now feels himself to be, Pierre is soon strong enough to return to an equally rapidly-recovering Moscow. There he dives back into his ‘affairs’, and soon after learning of the death of his wife Helene with a little more than equanimity (‘How good, how splendid’ he says on hearing the news), happens to come across his old crush Natasha Rostov. That young lady found the death of ex-fiancé Andrei a little harder to get over than Pierre did Helene’s; indeed, it is not until Natasha hears of her little brother Petya’s fate that she starts to cheer up. After spending some time petting inconsolable Mummy Rostov, Natasha is sufficiently recovered from Andrei’s death to accompany new best buddy Mary to Moscow. It is there, at drab Princess Mary’s house, that Natasha and Pierre are reunited and convince themselves, after so many years of acquaintanceship, to be suddenly and naturally in love.

Georgina Phipps, Editorial Administrator

Read the next installment: The Epilogues

(Missed the previous summaries? Read them here: Book One , Book Two , Book Three , Book Four, Book Five, Book Six, Book Seven, Book Eight, Book Nine, Book TenBooks Eleven & Twelve Part I and Books Eleven to Twelve Part II)


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