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War and Peace

PART I. At the country home of Count Rostov, spring 1809. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, a guest, wonders whether the romantic promise of spring is an illusion. When he overhears Rostov’s daughter, Natasha, and her cousin Sonya talk about the beauties of nature, his interest in life is revived.

The following New Year’s Eve, at a ball in St. Petersburg, Maria Akhrosimova welcomes her goddaughter Natasha, Count Rostov, and Sonya. Among the other guests are Prince Andrei, Count Pierre Bezukhov, his wife Hélène, and her brother, Prince Anatol Kuragin. Andrei asks Natasha to dance and tells her that he heard her “dreaming aloud” the previous spring. Rostov invites Andrei to visit them at their home the following Sunday.

February 1812. Natasha is engaged to Andrei, who is traveling abroad. Rostov brings her to the Bolkonsky townhouse in Moscow to meet Andrei’s father. The old man at first refuses to receive them and sends his daughter Maria instead, but shortly after he enters in his dressing gown and insults Natasha. Maria is upset by her father’s behavior, but Natasha realizes that he has sent his son away in hopes of discouraging the marriage. She feels that Andrei’s family has no right to reject her, and that she will remain steadfast in her love for him.

In May at the Bezukhov house, Hélène congratulates Natasha on her engagement and confides that her brother Anatol is also in love with her. Impressed by Hélène’s beauty and friendliness, Natasha thinks there can be no harm in such a person. A moment later he appears, declares his love, kisses her, and thrusts a letter in her hand, in which he says that she alone must decide his fate. Missing Andrei and feeling vulnerable in his absence, Natasha finds herself fascinated with Anatol despite Sonya’s warnings.

Anatol tells Lieutenant Dolokhov about his plans to elope with Natasha. Even though Dolokhov wrote Anatol’s love letter for him, he disapproves of his friend’s intentions, but Anatol insists. He rushes off into the gathering snowstorm with Dolokhov.

Natasha waits for Anatol at Maria Akhrosimova’s house. She learns from a maid that Sonya has revealed her elopement plans, and when Anatol arrives, he is intercepted and escapes. Akhrosimova scolds Natasha for her behavior and her association with Hélène and her brother. Natasha is defiant. Pierre Bezukhov enters, and Akhrosimova tells him what has happened. He promises to get Anatol out of Moscow before there is a scandal or a duel. Alone, he admits that he, too, is in love with Natasha, who overhears him saying that Anatol is married to another woman. Believing her life ruined, Natasha takes poison, then calls to Sonya for help.

Pierre confronts Anatol and demands that he leave Moscow and return Natasha’s letters. Anatol agrees, without regretting what he has done. Disgusted with his wife, his brother-in-law, and the others, Pierre wishes he could live according to his humanitarian instincts. Lieutenant Colonel Denisov enters with the news that Napoleon’s troops are gathering at the front: war is inevitable.

EPIGRAPH The Russian people are defiant against the forces that have overrun their country. The invaders will be driven out.

PART II. On August 25, 1812, amid preparations for the Battle of Borodino, Denisov and Andrei discuss strategies to stop Napoleon’s advance. Alone for a moment, Andrei thinks about the love he felt for Natasha and how foolishly things have turned out. When Pierre appears as a civilian observer to the battle, he and Andrei embrace, fearing that they might not meet again. Marshal Kutuzov offers Andrei a position on his staff, but Andrei declines, preferring to stay with his own men. The opening shots of the battle are heard.

That same afternoon, Napoleon surveys the battlefield and looks forward to conquest. Adjutants enter, bringing bad news about the progress of the battle. Napoleon reluctantly sends reinforcements, surprised at the strength of the Russian resistance.

Two evenings later, Kutuzov hears advice from his staff. The general decides that only by retreating, and sacrificing Moscow, will there be any hope of victory. After his entourage has left, he thinks about Moscow and its great significance to the nation. He knows the people will rise to the occasion.

Several weeks later, during the French occupation of Moscow, Pierre has a fantasy of assassinating Napoleon. From servants in the street he learns that Natasha has been looking after the wounded at her family’s country home, and that—unknown to her—Andrei is among the injured men.

French soldiers arrest Pierre and several other Muscovites for arson, among them Platon Karatayev, an old farmer whose stoical attitude encapsulates the fortitude of the common Russian people. As the prisoners are led off, Napoleon arrives with his officers, appalled to see Moscow burning at the hands of its own citizens.

Andrei lies wounded and delirious with pain, unaware that he is in one of the Rostovs’ houses. He wishes that he could see Natasha once more. She finds him and tries to apologize. He again declares his love and says he regrets having discovered the real meaning of life only at the moment his own life is ending. Natasha stays at his bedside as he dies.

November 1812. During a snowstorm, the French retreat along the road to Smolensk with their prisoners, Pierre and Karatayev among them. When a guard shoots Karatayev, a group of partisans led by Denisov attacks the convoy and frees the surviving Russians. Pierre learns that Andrei has died but that Natasha is alive. Kutuzov appears and declares Russia saved. He thanks the troops, who celebrate their victory and the indomitable will of the Russian people.