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War and Peace begins in 1805 with a gathering held by Anna Pavlovna Scherer in Petersberg. Prince Vasili is present and Anna Pavlovna makes it clear that she does not like his youngest child, Anatole, but says she will try to find him a wife. Pierre Bezuhov is also present and it is made clear that he does not know how to handle social situations. Central characters are then introduced as further illusions of the impending war are made. A discussion about Bonaparte follows a request from Princess Drubetskoy and Pierre defends him. Anna Pavlovna regards Pierre as too opinionated for this type of social gathering. After this gathering, Pierre makes it clear that he does not want to fight against Napoleon, who he thinks is the 'greatest man in the world'. When Pierre and Prince Andrei are alone, Prince Andrei warns him against marriage as he feels as though he has lost his freedom. The action then shifts to Moscow, in Chapter VII, where Anna Mihalovna is visiting the Rostovs.. The Rostovs' are also introduced and Boris tells Natasha Rostov he will ask her to marry him when she is sixteen. Count Bezuhov is dying and Boris and his mother visit him in order to ask for money. Since this attempt is of no avail, Countess Rostov finally gives her financial assistance. In Chapter XVIII, Pierre's father has now had his sixth stroke. Prince Vasili is anxious that there is a will, in which everything has been left to Pierre and wants it destroyed. Anna Mihalovna assists Pierre in teaching him how to conduct himself at this time of his father's illness and death as she tries to look after his interests which are evidently her own. Pierre's father finally dies as those around him) have a physical struggle over his last will. The last chapters of Book One are set in Bald Hills, which is the estate belonging to the Bolkonskys. Through a letter, which Princess Maria ,the sister of Prince Andrei receives from Julie Karagin. This letter is related that Pierre has been recognized as the legitimate son of Count Bezuhov and he has inherited everything. Book One ends with Prince Andrei departing for war and having left his wife Lisa with his sister and father.
Book Two begins in October 1805 and the narrative is concerned with the war in Austria. The Russian army is cantoned in villages and towns of Austria. The Russians have marched for 200 miles and their boots have worn out. They are in disarray, understandably, and it declared that an inspection of the troops is due in Braunau. Confusion arises as the men are told firstly to change, and then change again and this reflects the lack of communication between those in the echelons of the army's hierarchy. Prince Andrei is present at this inspection, as an adjutant, and it is said that he has 'two diametrically opposed reputations'. In Chapter IV, Nikolai Rostov is focused upon. He is a cadet with the Hussars and he cannot find the purse of his superior, Denisov. Rostov is forced to apologize for accusing Telyanin of stealing (even though the accusation is true and Telyanin admits he committed the crime). Rostov has to apologize on the grounds that he will bring the regiment into disrepute. Orders are then given that the men are to march the next day.
A description of battle then follows. Prince Andrei thinks he is going to save the army, as he clearly desires glory. Whilst at Grunth with Bagration, he witnesses the whipping of a naked soldier who has been accused of stealing and this is in sharp contrast with the way Rostov and Telyanin were previously dealt with over a similar matter. As fighting, commences again, there are examples given of injured men and in Chapter XIX Rostov runs off when the French approach. His naivety (and youth) is expressed when he believes there has been a mistake: they cannot have meant to kill him. In the following chapter, further demonstrations of panicking soldiers are given and Prince Andrei delivers the message to retreat. Orders are given to abandon wounded soldiers, but some manage to drag themselves towards help. Rostov is injured and begs for assistance. That night there are boasts and lies about the brave actions performed that day. This Book ends on a note of disillusionment as Prince Andrei thinks this is all so strange and unlike what he had hoped and Rostov wonders what he came for.
Book Three begins with an ironic analysis of Prince Vasili's manipulation of Pierre. This is demonstrated when Prince Vasili holds back some of Pierre's rent income. They both travel to Petersburg and because of his wealth; Pierre is now a desirable husband for his daughter, Hélène. It is because of Prince Vasili's stage directions, however, that Pierre marries her six weeks later. In Chapter III, Prince Vasili then takes Anatole to visit Bald Hills in order to set up a union between his son and Princess Maria. However, Anatole flirts with her companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne, to the point that Princess Maria finally understands the unsuitability of their proposed match. The action focuses on the Rostovs' in Chapter VI and Chapter VII examines the war at Olmütz. Here, Rostov and Boris meet and Prince Andrei walks in as Rostov exaggerates and lies about his involvement with the Schön Graben affair. Following this clash, Rostov's love for the Tsar is made all the more explicit as he inspects the troops. After the Tsar's visit, the troops are more confident. Chapter XI begins with an abstract view of human history, which is compared with the workings of a clock. In the following chapter, it is reiterated that Prince Andrei wants glory and triumph and he is left uneasy after an unsuccessful Council of War. The battle of Austerlitz is then referred to and in Chapter XVI Prince Andrei takes up the standard to help halt the Russian retreat, and appears to be fatally injured. In the following chapters, Rostov is sent with a message for Kutuzov and becomes caught up in the Horse Guard's charge on the French. Later, he sees his 'idolized Sovereign'in an empty field and cannot believe it. The horrors of war are continually referred to at this point and this emphasized with the descriptions of panic among the soldiers. Prince Andrei is injured and is initially presumed dead. In Chapter XIX, he is saved, ironically, by Napoleon. However, Napoleon becomes diminished for Prince Andrei as he looks to the sky, which is where 'only the heavens promised peace'.
It is early 1806 and Rostov is home on leave with his comrade Denisov. Natasha reveals to her brother that she does not want to marry anyone and it is clear that he is drifting away from Sonya. Of other news, Anna Mihalovna lets them know that it is believed that Pierre's wife, Hélène, has been 'compromised' by Dolohov. It is also mentioned that little is being said of Prince Andrei; only those that knew him well are lamenting his death. Chapter III is concerned with the English Club dinner, which is being held by Count Rostov in honor of Bagration. Here, Pierre finds himself sitting opposite Dolohov and Rostov. Pierre knows Dolohov is a bully and eventually shouts at him and challenges him to a duel because of the rumours that he has had an affair with his wife. Once the duel commences, and it is made clear that Pierre has endangered his life by asking for this fight, he shoots haphazardly at Dolohov and yet still manages to injure him. After the duel, in Chapter VI, Pierre remembers his honeymoon and understands that he never loved his wife. In Chapter X, the story returns to the Rostovs' as Dolohov recovers from his injury and Rostov has been appointed as adjutant. Natasha's dislike of Dolohov is expressed, and he falls in love with Sonya. His proposal to Sonya is declined, though, as she still loves Rostov. Rostov and Dolohov play cards and gamble for money and Dolohov wins 43,000 rubles from Rostov in Chapter XIV. Book Four ends with Denisov proposing to Natasha, and Count Rostov having to raise the money for his son's gambling debt.