Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*St. Petersburg

*St. Petersburg. Capital of Imperial Russia amid whose high society Tolstoy introduces his novel’s major players through the mechanism of a formal party. In many ways Tolstoy portrays St. Petersburg as an empty place, of people who only pretend to live—a view in line with a long tradition in Russian literature that St. Petersburg is an unnatural city in which reality is at best tenuous. Even while central Russia is being invaded by Napoleon’s French army and Moscow is endangered, rounds of parties and social activities continue unabated in St. Petersburg, although there is much talk about war and self-sacrifice.

St. Petersburg is also the place where Pierre Bolkonsky is initiated into the mysteries of Freemasonry, an experience that he finds profoundly meaningful. He later becomes disillusioned when his fellow Masons do not want to get their hands dirty with real social reform work and reject his suggestions for a world shadow government that would advise and reshape the world’s governments in accordance with Christian principles.


*Moscow. Traditional capital of Russia. Here the Rostovs live, closer to what Tolstoy regards as the real heart of Russia than the glittering stone palaces of St. Petersburg. Although Moscow is no longer the official seat of the imperial Russian government during the period in which the novel is set, its citadel known as the Kremlin still retains important cultural and ceremonial roles. Czar Alexander visits the Kremlin, leading to a near-riot among a mob of people gathered to adore him.

Because of Moscow’s deep cultural significance, it becomes the primary target of Napoleon’s thrust to conquer Russia. However, Napoleon’s taking of the Kremlin proves to be a hollow victory, for his forces arrive after the residents of the city have already fled after setting fire to the wooden buildings to deny the French any profit...

(The entire section is 799 words.)