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...

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Historical Context

(Epics for Students)

The Napoleonic Wars
In 1789, the French Revolution swept through France, marking one of the true turning points in Western...

(The entire section is 918 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Epics for Students)

1805: America is still developing an identity after winning its independence from England in 1783. A second war against England will...

(The entire section is 304 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Epics for Students)

Compare the protests in America during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the Decembrist uprising, which Pierre is involved...

(The entire section is 152 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Epics for Students)

The quintessential adaptation of War and Peace is the six-and-a-half hour film done in Russia in 1968, which was directed by Sergei...

(The entire section is 143 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Epics for Students)

Thomas Hardy was an English author who lived at approximately the same time as Tolstoy. One of the crowning achievements of his later life...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Epics for Students)

Arnold, Matthew, "Count Leo Tolstoy," in Fortnightly Review, December, 1887.

Christian, R. R, Tolstoy's "War and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Citati, Pietro. Tolstoy. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Gives a full explanation of Tolstoy’s youth and background that led to the writing of his novels. A huge section is devoted to War and Peace, with attention to the portrayal of historical Russia. Gives sketches of the major characters of the novel.

De Courcel, Martine. Tolstoy: The Ultimate Reconciliation. Translated by Peter Levi. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988. Explains the research Tolstoy did for writing the historical novel War and Peace and his marital situation at the time of writing it. A long and complete study of Tolstoy.

Noyes, George Rapall. Tolstoy. New York: Dover, 1968. Connects the many works of Tolstoy and refers to biographical information important to them. Draws heavily on Tolstoy’s published writings, diaries, and letters. Discusses the preparations for writing War and Peace.

Rowe, William W. Leo Tolstoy. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Gives background on the writing of War and Peace and includes a thorough discussion of the characters. Other chapters include biographical information and treatments of other novels and stories.

Simmons, Ernest J. Tolstoy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. Focus is on Tolstoy as a major thinker of his time, a religious, social, and political reformer. Describes Tolstoy’s childhood and life as a writer. Explains the reception of War and Peace and early criticism. Includes notes from Tolstoy’s diary during the time he wrote War and Peace.