War and Peace: A Summary (Book Nine)

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

Book Nine

It is Book Nine, and we have reached, in this summary exercise, the halfway point of War and Peace. It is also now, and will till the end remain, 1812: a pivotal year for European history, and, it transpires, this novel. For henceforward the book divides into two distinct threads. The first is the story of 1812, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the consequences for our characters’ fates. The second is the increasingly dominant, thick, nasty knotted thread: Tolstoy’s need to express his theory of the laws of history and human behaviour and demonstrate how his fair and balanced portrayal of the war of 1812 supports his theory and no other. Indeed, any other theories and all other historians are blithely, patronisingly, and repeatedly dismissed with breathtaking sweeps of his arrogant hand.

I am determined to spare you as much of this second thread as possible and will stick to summarising the plot which will be very much a case of sieving the morsels of action from the dregs of Tolstoy’s intrusive historical lecturing. The fact is, Book Nine is little more than a preamble for the remainder of the novel (hence this preamble of a blog) and during this fore-taster interlude, the great actors of our piece spend most of their time backstage, enjoying a fag break. In other words, very little actually happens…

Prince Andrei and Nicky Rostov are with the retreating Russian army, where one finds himself mired in general staff politics and strategic squabbling, and the other gallops about capturing French dragoons and chatting up married women (no points for guessing which is which). Little Petya Rostov, stricken with love for his tsar, desperately wants to join the army too, but must for the moment confine his demonstrations of devotion to fainting amid an ecstatic throng of Muscovites as they welcome the tsar home from the army (from which he had been tactfully sent packing, having proved himself far too bothersome a camp-mate). And finally, while even naughty Helene musters sufficient patriotism to follow the army to Vilna (where she no doubt performs invaluable services for the troops), her chubby hubby Pierre, when not drooling over Natasha, spends his time indecisively wondering whether he ought better not join the army, and how much, if he did join, of a stupid eejit he might look, propped up in a tight-fitting uniform on an overstrained horse. The question appears resolved though when, after ever so slightly manipulating a freemasonry trick of fortune-telling, Pierre becomes convinced that he and he alone is destined to bring down that damned antichrist Napoleon. Action is what is required, and Pierre is a man of action: he therefore promptly pledges a thousand of his serfs to join the army, and toddles off home again.

But, unlike the tax-dodging banks of our modern age, Pierre can only avoid his inevitable responsibilities for so long, and as he steps up to the mark in book ten, action for all comes by the bucket load…

Georgina Phipps, Editorial Administrator

Read the next installment: Book Ten

(Missed the previous summaries? Read them here: Book One , Book Two , Book Three , Book Four, Book Five, Book Six and Book Seven and Book Eight)

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