War and Peace: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. "Just as in the clock the result of the complex action of innumerable wheels and pulleys is merely the slow and regular movement of the hand marking the time, so the result of all the complex human activities of these 160,000 Russian and French - of all their passions, hopes, regrets, humiliations, sufferings, outbursts of pride, fear and enthusiasm - was only the loss of the battle of Austerlitz, the battle of the three Emperors, as it was called; that is to say, a slow movement of the hand on the dial of human history". (p.298)
    This quotation is an example of the recurring interest demonstrated in War and Peace in the part played by countless wills in the shaping of history. It also exemplifies an understanding of the importance yet simultaneous insignificance of such a battle in relation to the passing of time.
  2. "Gazing into Napoleon's eyes, Prince Andrei mused on the unimportance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain". (p. 340)
    This thought occurs when Prince Andrei is found injured on the battlefield and is saved by Napoleon. Prince Andrei's musings are of significance because of the questioning of Napoleon's 'greatness', which Tolstoy develops through the novel, and for the recognition of the absurdity of the meaning of life and death in the face of death.
  3. "Everything was just as it was everywhere else". (p. 552)
    This reference is an example of why Vera and Berg are pleased with the outcome of their soiree. Their complacency in conformity is indicative of those who care only for social acceptance.
  4. "He had the unlucky capacity many men, especially Russians, have of seeing and believing in the possibility of goodness and truth, but of seeing the evil and falsehood of life too clearly to be able to take any serious part in life. Every sphere of activity was, in his eyes, linked with evil and deception". (p. 635)
    Here, an example of Pierre's growing disenchantment with both his life and with the hypocrisy of those around him becomes evident.
  5. "She could not follow the opera, could not even listen to the music: she saw only painted cardboard and oddly dressed men and women who moved, spoke and sang strangely in a patch of blazing light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so grotesquely artificial and unnatural that she felt alternately ashamed and amused at the actors." (p.663)
    These are Natasha's thoughts when she visits the opera and may be regarded as a figurative description of her qualms about the insincerity of society life. However, she gradually becomes intoxicated by the performance, just as she becomes overwhelmed by the attentions of Anatole and the superficiality of what he represents.
  6. "Almost in the centre of this sky, above the Prichistensky boulevard, surrounded and convoyed on every side by stars but distinguished from them all by its nearness to the earth, its white light and its long uplifted tail, shone the huge, brilliant comet of the year 1812 - the comet which was said to portend all manner of horrors and the end of the world." (p.711)
    This is the instant, at the end of Book Eight, when Pierre looks up to the sky after comprehending that he loves Natasha. He experiences no fear, only rapture.
  7. "Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own freewill, is in the historical sense not free at all but is bound up with the whole course of history and preordained from all eternity." (p.719)
    This is a useful example of how this novel persistently returns to the discussion of the tension between freewill and pre-destination.
  8. "War is not a polite recreation but the vilest thing in life, and we ought to understand that and not play at war". (p.922)
    Prince Andrei reveals his full contempt for war and gamesmanship to Pierre. A stark truth is offered here as Prince Andrei voices the contradiction of playing at war. He argues that if war was not treated as a game there would be fewer conflicts.
  9. "The army, like a herd of cattle run wild and trampling underfoot the fodder which might have saved it from starvation, was disintegrating and perishing with every day it remained in Moscow". (p. 1192)
    The reasons for the collapse and defeat of the French army are conveyed here in condensed terms.
  10. "Power is the relation of a given person to other persons, in which the more this person expresses opinions, theories and justifications of the collective action the less is his participation in that action". (p.1425)
    This quotation is a useful demonstration of how this novel examines power relations and freewill in the Second Epilogue. It is also a recurrent theme throughout the whole of the novel.

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