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KEY LITERARRY ELEMENTS
The novel is set on two fronts: the war front and the home front. As the war wages, people continue with their routine at home. The novel begins in 1805 and ends much later than 1812. The French are pitched against Russia and its Allies. The war starts on the German soil before reaching Austria. After capturing Vienna, the French defeat the Russians at the battle of Austerlitz.
The novel opens with a soiree at the residence of Anna Pavlovna in Petersburg. All those who matter in society turn up at this party to show themselves off and their knowledge on general matters including politics. Anna Pavlovna being the confidante of the empress is highly influential and hence Prince Vasily seeks her help to sort out his problem. The Petersburg society is superficial and most men wear masks to hide their real, deceitful selves.
The seat of political power rests in Petersburg. Prince Andrei comes to Petersburg to suggest his measures of reforms to the authorities and also to get his commission in the army. The head quarters of the society of Free Masons is also situated in this city. In these quarters, young men are initiated into brotherhood without really understanding the concepts preached to them. Pierre is one such member of the society. Petersburg, thus represents authority and power.
Moscow is one more place that serves as a setting to the novel. The mansion of Count Bezukhov is in Petersburg and Pierre comes to live here. Whenever Pierre gets tired of his wife and her life in Petersburg, he comes over to Moscow. Even when Moscow is burning, Pierre is in the city witnessing the atrocities caused to its citizens. Moscow attracts Pierre as it does many others. As Tolstoy describes, the charm of the city lies in its "Iberian chapel with its countless tapers burning before the gold icon encasements, the Kremlin square with its snow untouched by vehicles, the sledge drivers, the hovels of Sivtsev Vrazhok; --- Moscovites quietly living out their days, desiring nothing, hurrying nowhere, old Moscow ladies and young girls, Moscow balls and the English club."
The Rostovs live in Otradnoe, a pleasant country site near Moscow lined with Polard trees and lush vegetation. Here, they lead a contended and healthy life. When circumstances compel them to vacate their ancestral home, they move to Moscow and later to Yaroslavl. Shifted from their serene surroundings, they become restless and insecure. Natasha gets lured by the glare and glamour of Moscow and falls into the trap laid by the lecherous, Anatol Kuragin. Of course, she realizes her mistake before it is too late. The Rostovs move to Yaroslavl when they are forced to abandon Moscow. It is here that Prince Andrei breathes his last.
About forty versts from Bald Hills is Bogucharovo, the large estate gifted by the elder Bolkonsky to Andrei. It "lay in a flat, prepossessing region among fields and forests of fir and birch, part of which had been cut down. The homestead was at one end of the village, which stretched straight along the main road. It stood in the midst of a corpse with several large pines among the smaller trees, and in front was an overflowing pond, newly dug, its banks still devoid of grass." In such pleasant surroundings lives Andrei by reading, writing and pondering over his life. Later, when the old Prince and Marya are forced to vacate Bald Hills, they come to live in Bagucharovo.
As the families keep moving from one place to another, the army keeps shifting its base to encounter its enemy. After Napoleon violates the pact of peace with emperor Aleksandr and marches towards Moscow, the Russian soldiers fight against him at Smolensk. The Russian army gets defeated and Napoleon captures Smolensk. In answer to its enemyís attack, the Russians put up a brave fight at Borodino and drive away the French. However, Napoleon has the last word and marches into Moscow. After Kutuzovís orders, its residents abandon the city. Thus, when the French enter it, "Moscow was left without its residents, and the soldiers are absorbed into it like water into sand, diverging in all directions from the Kremlin into which they had first marched. --- Soldiers had no sooner found quarters than they ran out into the streets to see the city, and learning that everything had been abandoned, rushed off to where objects of value were to be had for the taking. --- There was an abundance of wealth: it seemed inexhaustible;" The Russians wait to take their revenge on the French for plundering their beautiful city and hence, at Tarutino, they attack their enemy and drive them out of Moscow. Moscow is thus a dominant setting of the novel, both in the times of peace and war.