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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
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
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.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to War and Peace!