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War And Peace
(Leo Tolstoy)

?War and Peace? is a true epic, which fully deserves its position at the forefront of its genre, the historical novel. Set in the beginning of the nineteenth century in Russia it follows the fortunes of the amiable Pierre, his friend Andrei and the Rostov family through fifteen years of war and peace. The novel begins in 1806, when Natasha Rostov, the heroine, is a young girl of thirteen, and her older brother Nikolai has turned eighteen and left to join the hussars serving in Germany and Austria against Napoleon. Pierre?s father has just died, leaving Pierre and his inherited fortune at the mercy of the scheming socialites of the day. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is also serving in the army, as an aide de camp. As Andrei earns glory in a near fatal counter-charge at Austerlitz, Nikolai gets his first taste of war, and Pierre is manoeuvred into marriage with the beautiful but cruel Hélène. Returning after finally recovering months after the battle, Andrei finds his wife giving birth at the country mansion of his father the old Prince Bolkonsky. When his wife dies in childbirth Andrei leaves his son in the competent and kind hands of his sister and, thoroughly perplexed by life, retires to build his own countryside mansion nearby. Pierre meanwhile has become suspicious of his wife, and fought a duel with the vicious rake Dolohov over her. Having survived the duel he separates from his wife and sends her back to St. Petersburg from his Moscow villa. Fallen into a life of depravity he is saved when he meets an old freemason and becomes enthralled with the religious goodwill he sees in the freemason movement. Embarking on a new stage of his life he sets out to do good, primarily through improving the lot of his serfs. Nikolai returns to find his family finances in disarray through his good-hearted father?s mismanagement, but rather than looking for an heiress to marry and restore their fortunes as his mother desires, he becomes increasingly infatuated with his childhood love, his cousin Sonya. As the years pass Pierre becomes dissatisfied with the self-serving attitude he sees in most of the freemasons, and begins to slide back to his old lifestyle. At the same time he becomes increasingly attached to the charming Natasha Rostov, who has already turned down one proposal from Nikolai?s friend and captain, Denisov. Meanwhile Andrei, still living a quiet and dissatisfied life in the country stays a night with the Rostov family on a matter of business, and is wakened to life again by the joy of spirit he sees in Natasha. Meeting her again at a ball in St. Petersburg, Andrei begins to court Natasha and proposes against the will of his father, who demands that Andrei take a year to travel before he commits to marrying. Natasha accepts Andrei, and he dutifully leaves to travel round Europe. The mad old Prince Bolkonsky and his daughter Maria come to Moscow, and Natasha pays them a visit, but is thoroughly disheartened by the cold reception she receives from Princess Maria and the incivility she suffers at the hands of the old Prince. Meanwhile her presence in Moscow has won Natasha the devotion of the rake Anatole, brother of Pierre?s wife Hélène. He seduces her and almost succeeds in abducting Natasha with Dolohov?s help. When the plan fails, Natasha, convinced she loves Anatole and having broken off the engagement with Andrei, falls into a despairing sickness. Returning to find Natasha lost to him, Andrei enlists to fight once again as Napoleon invades Russia in 1812. Nikolai is also back with the army, now a captain, when he encounters Andrei?s sister the Princess Maria being held hostage by her rebellious serfs, and rescues her. She is smitten with her saviour, and he in turn feels an attraction to her that threatens his relationship with his cousin Sonya. However, Napoleon is drawing ever closer to Moscow, and the fateful battle of Borodino sees the mortal injuring of Prince Andrei and Pierre?s first experience of a battle. As the last civilians to leave Moscow, the Rostov family agree to take as many of the injured soldiers as possible with them to safety, including Prince Andrei. Natasha is unaware of Andrei?s presence, but on being told by Sonya rushes to his side and tends him continuously for days. Joined by his sister Maria, the old Prince having died of a stroke when his property became threatened, the two become friends, and mourn together when he finally gives in to death. Pierre meanwhile has stayed in Moscow and been captured by the French, accused of incendiarism. As the French begin their long retreat from Moscow Pierre is taken with them, but during his imprisonment has met the remarkable peasant Platon who teaches him to take pleasure in the small things of life, and reawakens Pierre?s interest in life. Freed by partisans including the Rostov?s youngest son, Petya, who dies in the conflict, Pierre returns to Moscow where he is united with the still grieving Natasha. Despite her mourning an understanding of each other?s feelings is reached, and they eventually marry. Princess Maria marries Nikolai Rostov, and the novel ends several years later with the now adolescent son of Prince Andrei vowing to himself to live up to his image of the father he hardly knew.

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