Page 3. " He spoke in that refined French "

The French writer Montesquieu
Public DomainThe French writer Montesquieu
 A total of 2% of War and Peace was originally written in French, and the translators Louise and Aylmer Maude chose to preserve this.

In nineteenth century Russia the aristocracy used French almost as a first language. French culture was widely admired and emulated in aristocratic society. At this time Russian literature had yet to develop, so French writers and philosophers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau were particularly influential. Russia was considered not entirely 'European'; by the standards of the time this meant not entirely civilised. The adoption of the French language was an attempt to combat this perceived inferiority.

Tolstoy himself was an excellent linguist who knew Russian, French, English, Arabic, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and German. Although he was extremely familar with French, he disliked its widespread adoption in Russian society. When Tolstoy has a character speaking in French it is an implied sign of insincerity or inauthenticity.

Page 3. " Prince Vasili, a man of high rank and importance "

In Russian, the title 'prince' (kniaz) did not imply that the holder was an immediate member of the royal family, as it does in English. 'Prince' or 'princess' were titles used by the nobility to show they were descended from Rurik, the semi-legendary founder of Kievan Rus. The title could be inherited, or granted by the tsar.

Page 4. " la dépêche de Novosilzoff? "

Nikolai Nikolaevich Novosiltsev
Public DomainNikolai Nikolaevich Novosiltsev
 'The despatch of Novosiltsev?'

Count Nikolai Nikolaevich Novosiltsev (1761–1836) was a Russian politician, an advisor to Tsar Alexander. He was the illegitimate son of a Russian nobleman, whose family connections secured for him an influential position at the heart of the Russian imperial court. Novosiltsev was often entrusted by Alexander with diplomatic missions to France, England and other states in Europe during the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

Page 4. " Buonoparte a brûlé ses vaisseaux "

 'Bonaparte has burned his boats'

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was one of the world's greatest military leaders. Born in Corsica, he rose to power after the French Revolution of 1789, distinguishing himself in wars of the First and Second Coalitions, where monarchist countries in Europe combined against the new Republic of France. In 1799, after a grand if ultimately fruitless invasion of Egypt, Napoleon seized power in France, naming himself First Consul of the Republic. This led to further war with the rest of Europe; wars which afforded Napoleon more opportunities to exercise his military genius. Over the next five years France grew to dominate continental Europe, and in 1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor of the French. He continued to expand France's domination until 1812, when he decided to invade Russia, a decision which swiftly led to his downfall. He was exiled to the island of Elba in 1814, but escaped and seized power in France again, only to be defeated more decisively at Waterloo in 1815. After this defeat he was exiled to the island of St Helena, where he died.


This brilliant site has a wealth of information on Napoleon.

Napoleon Guide is particularly good on the military history.

Napoleon on Facebook.


Page 4. " Oh, don't speak to me of Austria "
Francis I of Austria by Friedrich von Amerling
Public DomainFrancis I of Austria by Friedrich von Amerling

 In 1805 the Austrian Empire was only a year old, having been founded from the remnants of the far larger Holy Roman Empire. It was founded by the Habsburg Emperor Francis II (Francis I of Austria) in reaction to Napoleon's proclamation of the First French Empire in 1804. After Prussia succumbed to Napoleon in 1795, Austria bore the brunt of France's expansion eastward. This put enormous strain on the Austrian economy, and meant that by 1805 the war with France was extremely unpopular within the country.

Emperor Francis I was in a difficult position: on one hand he recognised the threat posed by Napoleonic France, but on the other, he did not want to antagonise his own hard-pressed people. To balance these opposing problems, in 1804 Francis I entered into a secret pact of military cooperation with Alexander I, proposing war privately whilst declaring that he had no intention of doing so in public. Eventually, Austrian reluctance to join the war in 1805 was overcome by financial aid sent from the British Empire.

Page 5. " crush the hydra of revolution "
Hercules and the Hydra
Public DomainHercules and the Hydra

 In Ancient Greek myth, the Hydra of Lerna was an enormous, many-headed, snake-like sea monster that guarded the entrance to the Underworld. The Greek hero Hercules slayed the Hydra as the second of his twelve labours.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Europe's ruling classes were all rather unnerved by the recent French Revolution of 1789. Many were worried that the radical, violent defeat of the aristocracy in France would lead to similar liberal revolts in neighbouring countries. In reaction to this concern, surviving monarchies became increasingly authoritarian, and any hints of liberal or republican tendencies were treated with great suspicion, and were subject to violent repression.

Page 5. " She has refused to evacuate Malta "

The small Mediterranean archipelago of Malta has a fascinating history dating back to prehistoric times. Settled in Classical times by the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans, the island of Malta became an important battleground during the Crusades. In 1530 the island became the property of the Order of the Knights of St John (now best known for St John's Ambulance service).

In 1798 Napoleon captured the island from the Knights of St John on his way to his campaign in Egypt. The island rebelled against the French and ejected them with the help of a British naval blockade and military support from the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily. In 1800, the Maltese people invited Britain to take the island as part of the empire; it remained as such until 1964, when Malta became independent.

Page 5. " our dear Wintzingerode "
 Ferdinand of Wintzingerode (1770-1818) was born in Saxony in Germany. He spent his life collecting army service, working in the Russian, Austrian and Prussian armies during the Napoleonic Wars. It seems surprising that he never quite made it over the Channel to serve in the British army as well.

He became a General under Tsar Alexander I in 1802, and in 1805 was instrumental in negotiating the alliance between Austria, Prussia and Great Britain against France. After a brief interlude in the Austrian army from 1809-12, Wintzingerode returned to the Russian army where he fought the French invasion of Russia, earning the grand cross of Maria Theresa. When Napoleon's army left Russia, Wintzingerode hopped over to the Prussian army to fight the French in the battles of Lutzen and Leipzig, eventually becoming General of the Cavalry.

Page 6. " Lafater aurait dit que ne n'ai pas la bosse de la paternité "

 'Lavater would have said I lack the bump of paternity.'

 Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) was a Swiss mystic poet and physiognomist, famous for reviving the idea that a person's physical appearance sheds light on their personality. Here Prince Vasili seems to be confusing physiognomy with phrenology, the discredited idea that character traits manifest themselves in bumps and dents in the head.

Page 8. " aide-de-camp of Kutuzov "

Alongside Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I, Prince Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov (1745-1813) is one of the most important historical figures to appear as a character in War and Peace. The son of a lieutenant general in Peter the Great's time, Kutuzov served under the great General Suvorov, who was an important influence on his approach to warfare.

During the war against the Ottoman Empire, Kutuzov fought in the Crimea, where he was shot in the right temple after leading his men in a charge. Miraculously he survived this wound, although he eventually lost his right eye. After the death of Catherine the Great he became a favourite of the new Tsar Paul I, which caused problems when Alexander I ascended the throne, having tacitly approved his father's assassination. After a brief spell of political ostracism, Kutuzov was called back into service for the war against Napoleon in 1805.

After the disastrous battle of Austerlitz Kutuzov fell out of favour again, although most historians agree that he was not responsible for this defeat. When the French invaded Russia in 1812, Kutuzov was put back in charge of the whole of the Russian army. His cautious policies helped to secure victory against Napoleon.

Kutuzov died a year later, in 1813, ending his life with the rank of Prince (see above). As he had no direct male heirs, his fortune passed to his relations, the Tolstoy family.

It is possible to 'like' Mikhail Kutuzov on Facebook. 

Page 12. " the murder of the Duc D'Enghien "

 Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien (1772-1804) is best known for the circumstances of his death: Napoleon had him executed on the 21st March 1804 on invented charges of treason. He was related by birth to the ousted royal family, and as such was seen as a threat to the French Consulate. However, he was entirely innocent of plotting against Napoleon, and his murder was widely condemned; it caused Russia to cut off diplomatic relations with France.

Page 21. " he could not stop short for the sake of one man's life "

 This is an important concept that was fiercely debated in Russian society. It is essentially an utilitarian, 'ends justifying the means' debate. Coincidentally, the first chapters of War and Peace appeared in the same 1865 edition of The Russian Messenger (Ruskii Vestnik) as the beginning of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, which also discusses this theme: whether immoral acts can be justified if they are committed for the greater good.

Pierre argues that Napoleon's unique position justifies his execution of the innocent Duke of Enghien, just as, in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov believes that his murder of the old pawnbroker is justified as it will enable him to achieve his true potential.

This debate continued throughout the nineteenth century, as the radical intelligentsia began to suggest that a violent revolution involving the murder of innocent civilians would be justified by the great, egalitarian society that would be founded after the revolution. 

In 1909 a group of more moderate intellectuals led by Mikhail Gerzhenzon produced a remarkable book of essays, Vekhi (Landmarks) in which they argued that the logic of 'the ends justifying the means' was immoral. However, the book had little effect, and Stalin went on to use this justification for his reign of terror, quoting the French proverb "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs".

Page 21. " Contract social "

Jean-Jacques Rousseau by Allan Ramsay
Public DomainJean-Jacques Rousseau by Allan Ramsay
 The social contract is a concept of political philosophy in which the individual enters into a contract with society, forfeiting total freedom in exchange for the protection and support of the state. The idea is explored in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 1762 book The Social Contract, which famously states: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."

Tolstoy was an admirer of Rousseau's philosophy, agreeing with him that the individual in a state of nature will act morally, and society is therefore to blame for humanity's corruption. As a young man Tolstoy wore a medallion of Rousseau around his neck, and towards his death he said that, alongside the Gospels, Rousseau's work was the most important influence on his own thought.

Page 22. " the 18th Brumaire "
Napoleon on the 18th Brumaire by François Bouchot
Public DomainNapoleon on the 18th Brumaire by François Bouchot
 The 18th Brumaire was the date of the coup d'etat when Napoleon seized power in France. The date comes from the French Republican Calendar, which was implemented after the French Revolution in an attempt to rationalise the calendar. It was in use from 1793 to 1805, when Napoleon abolished it. The month of Brumaire started around the 22nd of October; the date of Napoleon's coup corresponds to 9th November 1799 in the ordinary Gregorian calendar.

To confuse matters a little further, Russia at this time worked from the old Julian calendar, which meant that from 1800-1900 it was running twelve days behind the rest of Europe (a fact many historians have taken to be more than a little symbolic of the state of the country). The Gregorian calendar was only adopted in Russia after the October Revolution in 1914.