War and Peace
First Epilogue–Second Epilogue
The narrator examines historians’ attitudes toward Tsar Alexander and Napoleon, finding them once again oversimplified, and asserts again the view that history is made not by great men, but by countless tiny factors.
Natasha and Pierre are married in 1813. Count Rostov dies that same year, after seeking his family’s forgiveness for ruining their finances. Nicholas, who is in Paris when he receives the news, accepts his inheritance, which amounts to debts totaling twice the value of the deceased count’s property. Nicholas pays what he can, borrowing money from Pierre, and enters government service to pay the rest of the debts. Nicholas struggles to maintain his mother and Sonya in their customary luxury, hiding his poverty from them.
Mary arrives in Moscow, having heard reports that Nicholas is sacrificing himself for his mother. Nicholas is unexpectedly cold to Mary. Countess Rostova presses Nicholas to court Mary. After a long silence, Nicholas visits Mary, treating her formally. Mary tells him that she misses the man she used to know, but that she accepts his new attitude. Secretly she still feels love, and starts crying. Suddenly they both realize a relationship is possible between them.
The year 1813 also sees the marriage of Nicholas and Mary. Nicholas soon repays all his debts and becomes a successful, traditional Russian farmer who takes special interest in his peasants. He rebuilds Bald Hills. Despite occasional antagonism, Nicholas and Mary are a happily married couple. Nicholas reads Mary’s parenting journal, in which she records her child-rearing experiments, such as grading her children on their behavior. Nicholas approves of Mary’s enthusiasm as a mother, though he somewhat objects to her pedantic style. Nicholas criticizes Natasha’s domination of Pierre without realizing that he dominates Mary in the same way. Mary tries to be patient, listening to her husband’s financial updates while striving to maintain Christian forbearance and forgiveness.
By 1820, Natasha has become a sturdy mother of four, thinking only of her family, never of fashions or accomplishments. Pierre wholly submits to his role as family man, never flirting with women or dining out. When Pierre overstays a trip to St. Petersburg by three weeks, Natasha becomes worried and irritable, but then is filled with joy when he returns with gifts for the family. Pierre discusses St. Petersburg gossip with his family and with his friend Denisov, who has accompanied him home.
Andrew’s fifteen-year-old son, Nicholas Bolkonski, adores Pierre and wants to stay up late to be with him. Pierre speaks to young Nicholas about the problems of running charitable institutions. Pierre asserts that things are rotten in St. Petersburg, predicting an overthrow soon. Privately, Natasha and Pierre reflect on their home life and whether Platon Karataev would have approved of it. Pierre concludes that the peasant would have, though he hesitates somewhat in his response. Nicholas Bolkonski muses on his veneration for his uncle Pierre, and dreams of military glory.
After further musings on the enigma of history in the abstract and philosophical Second Epilogue, the narrator reflects on human power. Power, which he defines as the collective will of the people transferred to one ruler, is the only identifiable motor that drives history forward. But power is impossible to define, so the mystery of history is insoluble. It is impossible to explain why Napoleon, for example, despite a repeatedly expressed desire to invade England, never took any steps to do so, but instead invaded Russia, a country he wanted as an ally.
The enigma of historical change implies the theological question about free will and the extent to which any individual is truly free in his actions, whatever his illusions of freedom may be. According to the narrator, it is just as impossible to imagine total freedom as it is to imagine total determinism. In the end, the narrator puts forth the idea that we must necessarily depend on a power of which we are not conscious. This idea amounts to a recognition that, though our sense of freedom is indispensable, so too is our repressed understanding that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, a force that moves our lives forward.
Analysis: First Epilogue–Second Epilogue
The fortunes of the Rostov family continue their fluctuations, but end on an optimistic upswing that bodes well for the future of Russia. Despite Tolstoy’s presentation of Nicholas as an honorable son making sacrifices for his family, the author allows room for a bit of criticism. The same aristocratic disregard for money matters that ruined the Rostovs is still present and still harmful, as we see in the fact that Nicholas suffers so his mother can continue her financially oblivious lifestyle. Yet we still sense there is hope for the future. Mary’s love ensures that Nicholas and his family are saved financially and suggests that better fortunes are fated for the future of Russia as a whole. It is important that enrichment comes from spiritual sources such as love rather than from economic ones—Nicholas does not consider going into trade. Nicholas’s new wealth is like manna from heaven rather than the fruits of enterprise. In his farm management, Nicholas is not interested in new western agricultural science, but shows a markedly traditionalist attitude toward his land that aligns him with his own Russian peasants more than with modern western landowners. Tolstoy thus hints that Russia can prosper as Nicholas prospers, despite a history of profligacy and waste, while still remaining true to his Russian traditions.
Readers who make it to the end of the novel often complain about the abstract dryness of the Second Epilogue, which reads more like a treatise on the philosophy of history than the conclusion of an absorbing piece of fiction. Yet the Second Epilogue, while undeniably difficult, is essential to understanding Tolstoy’s deepest meanings in War and Peace. Here, the author’s obsession with the irrationality of history throughout more than a thousand pages of the novel becomes relevant to more than just our ability to grasp what takes place on the field at Borodino. History is not simply an interpretation of events, but an investigation of their true causes—which, in Tolstoy’s explanation, is ultimately God. We finally see here that the question of history’s inexplicability is really a question of theology, individual free will, and our ability to judge our ownership of our actions and our lives.
Our unconscious dependence on hidden forces, the idea with which Tolstoy ends his mammoth novel, is really a final tribute to God’s secret laws, which are inscrutable to human minds. This inscrutable truth is seen not merely in wartime events like the inexplicable Russian victory over the French, but in personal events like Nicholas’s sudden and unexpected decision to wed Mary. Though this marriage initially seems just as irrational as Napoleon’s defeat at Borodino, in the end we sense that it is just as fated, and therefore yet another component of God’s mysterious, higher plan for human history.
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