War & Peace: Summary, Characters & Author

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

''War and Peace'', the literary masterpiece by Leo (Lev) Tolstoy, describes a series of events and characters during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia from 1805-1813. This summary introduces the main characters and simplifies the plot through the eyes of three of these characters.

Author Lev (Leo) Tolstoy

Tolstoy is a Russian author best known for the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He was born in 1828 into a Russian aristocratic family. He enlisted in the army and served in the Caucasus, experiences he used for several short stories. Tolstoy eventually settled down, married Sophia Behrs and devoted his time to writing on his estate at Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. In 1870, he went through a spiritual conversion which he recounts in the novel Confession. He re-evaluated his moral beliefs and refined them to a pacifist perspective of life. He wrote about these beliefs in other works, which eventually led to a conflict with the Russian Orthodox Church. Tolstoy passed away in 1910.


Tolstoy revolves his story primarily around five aristocratic families: Rostov, Bezukhov, Belkonsky, Kuragin, and Drubetskoy. There are nearly 600 characters that Tolstoy introduces to his readers. In addition to literary figures such as Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon, there are a handful of characters who would be considered necessary and important to the story. They are:

Natasha (Natalya) Ilyinichna Rostova: she would be considered the main female protagonist. She is introduced as a young girl who is just entering her teens as the novel begins. She develops a relationship with Andrei Belkonsky, but Anatole Kuragin, interferes. Anatole convinces her to run away with him, but Pierre steps in to stop this. When Andrei is wounded in battle, Natasha nurses him until his death. Natasha then falls in love with Pierre, whom she eventually marries.

Pierre (Pyotr) Bezukhov: he is the illegitimate son of Count Cyril Bezukhov. As a result, he is not well received by any of the important societal circles. When he inherits his father's estate and becomes an immediate object of attention due to this great wealth. He eventually becomes the person Natasha believed him to be, thanks in no small part to the influence of Platon Karataev, a fellow prisoner of war. He marries Natasha Rostova.

Prince Andrei Nikolaevich Belkonsky: He is married to Elisabeth, but appears to be bored with marriage. He enlists in the army to escape. When his wife dies during childbirth, he falls into a depressive state, and rescued by Natasha Rastova, with whom he falls in love. Although there are difficulties in their relationship, he recognizes the love he has for Natasha before he dies under her care.

Princess Helene (Elena) Vassilievna Kuragina a socialite who is considered very beautiful and smart. She marries Pierre, an arranged marriage by her father, Prince Vasilii Kuragin, due to Pierre's large inheritance. She has a number of adulterous affairs, even after Pierre learns of her deception. They continue the appearance of husband and wife, but Helene attempts to persuade the Catholic church to annul her marriage through large donations and conversion to Catholicism. She dies under suspicious conditions while pregnant.

There are a number of other characters who play a role in the development of these main characters, such as Anatole Kuragin, Vasilii Denisov, Platon Karataev, Boris Drubetskoy, Vasilii Kuragin, and Pyotr (Peter) Rostov. Through brief introduction to the main characters, one hopefully gains a sense of the intricate relationships that are developed, especially with the large number of characters Tolstoy employs in the progression of his novel.


Tolstoy's War and Peace is an immense novel, rich with scenic descriptions and an unending string of characters. Tolstoy presents fifteen books which cover the period from 1805-1813. He then concludes the novel with two epilogues which provide philosophical exploration of history and war. Any attempt to reduce the plot to a few sentences is doing a great disservice to this literary work. However, this attempt explores the action of the novel through the eyes of three main characters: Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei.

The novel opens in the capital city of St. Petersburg, at Anna Scherer's evening party, where Pierre Bezukhov makes an appearance in order to improve his unpolished social skills. Andrei Belkonsky is also at this party and lends support to Pierre. Afterward, Andrei tells Pierre about his boredom with marriage, and in part a reason why he has enlisted in the army, even though his wife is pregnant. Pierre receives help in becoming the legitimate heir of his father's estate. When Cyril Bezukhov dies, Pierre inherits a large amount of wealth and is a favorite of the aristocrats who were offended by his lacking social skills. Natasha is a young girl who is developing into a young woman.

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