War and Peace: A Summary (Book Three)

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

Book Three

As Book Three opens in 1805 (yes, still), we wade deeper into war. But more important than all the trumpeting and strategizing and sauntering is a certain revelation: a clue as to why weepy Sonya is having so little success in winning Nicky’s love. For it seems he is smitten with another, that other being none other than: the Tsar himself! It doesn’t hurt to aim high, of course, but one must keep one’s passions reigned in, and the extent of Nicky’s excitement when the Tsar hoves into view is frankly so alarming that he would be an upsetting sight for any bystander with a nervous constitution. Nicky is, to put it simply, absolutely potty about the Tsar, and he’s not alone – Prince Andrei Bolkonski too is thrown into great throes of emotion at the promise of serving, indeed, saving, his beloved monarch on the battlefield.

The chance for these over-emotional dreamers to prove themselves comes one foggy morning in early December, as the Russian and Austrian emperors face down Napoleon near the village of Austerlitz. They lose. If only Nicky had bought faster horses! If only the generals had listened to Andrei’s brilliant plan! Yet instead of leading the army heroically to victory, fluttering standard in hand, Andrei ends up flat on his back, looking up at the pretty blue sky and having philosophical daydreams about what reality really is. An ominous premonition of a multitude of such male mental meanderings which crop up henceforward with disquieting regularity.

Never mind that now though, back to the plot – Andrei is one of the lucky Russians, his luck being that he is not dead. Instead, the a-little-bit-wounded prince, declared lost and assumed dead by his own side (an assumption suspiciously quickly accepted by his grumpy Papa), is whisked off and stitched up by Napoleon’s own physician (fancy! It’s one emperor after another with this one!).

Meanwhile, shifting the scene back to Russia, where life has been rolling on as normal (is that not always the way?), we find Prince Vasili, the Cilla Black of our saga, is proving himself quite the little matchmaker. After first lumping fat, tongue-tied (and, despite all evidence to the contrary, ‘intelligent’) Bear Pierre on his enigmatic but beautiful offspring Helene (an engagement he secures by the ingenious device of accidentally on purpose congratulating the ‘happy pair’ before any proposal had been made), Cilla then drags his wastrel son Anatole into the countryside to shack him up with Andrei Bolkonski’s drab, super-Christian sister Mary. This little plan comes an instant cropper though when Anatole, quite understandably, finds Mary’s beautiful French companion rather more dishy. So Mary continues to ply her spinsterhood while Pierre, deprived such a lucky escape, finds the marriage he blushed his way into a most miserable one . . .

Georgina Phipps, Editorial Administrator

Read the next installment: Book Four

(Missed the previous summaries? Click here – Book One and Book Two)

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