Places: War and Peace

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Voyna i mir, 1865-1869 (English translation, 1886)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1805-1813

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*St. Petersburg

*St. War and PeacePetersburg. 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 from their invasion.

Bleak Hills

Bleak Hills. Estate of Prince Nikolai Andreivich Bolkonsky. The hills are a microcosm of rural Russia, where the prince lives as the master of his domain, with everything precisely ordered in accordance with his will. However, his comfortable certainty is soon swept away by Napoleon’s invasion. In Bleak Hills the old prince’s son Andrei sees his wife die giving birth and is tormented by guilt at his inability to relieve her suffering. When Napoleon’s armies approach, the peasants panic and refuse to help their landlord’s family flee to Moscow, and the old prince dies of apoplexy amid the ensuing chaos.


*Branau (BRAH-now). Battle site where Nikolai Rostov is stationed. When he publicly reports a fellow hussar for theft, he is accused of lying and in turn calls his colonel a liar. Although Rostov comes to agree that his public denunciation has compromised the regiment’s honor, he refuses to apologize to the colonel.


*Vienna. Capital of the Holy Roman Empire (later of Austria). General Kutuzov falls back to it, burning his bridges along the way, in a desperate attempt to consolidate his forces and hold Napoleon’s forces back. During this retreat Nikolai Rostov comes under fire for the first time, an incident Tolstoy uses to show the chaos and insanity of battle.


*Austerlitz. Battle at which Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is badly wounded. Here Tolstoy shows the fog of battle. Although “fog” is usually a metaphor in military jargon for the confused state of communications and intelligence during intense combat, here it is a literal fog into which the Russian and Austrian soldiers charge. Amid this confusion, Andrei grabs a fallen flag and urges his soldiers into a heroic charge against the French, but few follow and he is hit by enemy fire. He is then captured by Napoleon, whom he idolizes in a confused way.


*Tilsit (TIHL-siht). East Prussian town (now a Russian town called Sovetsk) where Napoleon and Czar Alexander meet under truce. Nikolai Rostov is first horrified by the upstart Corsican’s presumption of equality with the divine-right monarch of Russia, then confused as to how their sudden profession of friendship can be reconciled with the pile of amputated limbs in Denisov’s infirmary.


*Borodino (bo-ro-DEE-no). Battle site about seventy miles west of Moscow where the Russians try to stop Napoleon’s invasion. Here Tolstoy combines the historical and the fictional, both passing judgment upon the performance of Napoleon and General Kutuzov, and further developing the characters of Prince Andrei and Pierre.


*Tarutino (tah-roo-TEE-no). Battle site at which the Russians rout the French. Here Tolstoy shows Napoleon as the prisoner of the blind panic of his own army, while he fancies himself in command. Paradoxically, Pierre finds a strange freedom in being a prisoner of war, bereft of distractions such as titles and conveniences, reduced to his essential humanity.

BibliographyCitati, 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.
Categories: Places