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Later, in 1806, Nicholas and his
friend Denisov visit the Rostov home in Moscow while they are on
leave. Nicholas’s family greets him with enthusiasm. He is reminded
of his promise to marry Sonya, who is now sixteen and beautiful.
Meanwhile, Natasha, now fifteen, declares she does not wish to marry
Boris. Denisov creates a fine impression in the Rostov house, to
Nicholas enjoys the high life as an eligible Moscow bachelor, drifting
a bit away from Sonya. Count Rostov arranges a dinner for Bagration
at the English Club. The Rostovs plan to invite Pierre, and are
informed that Pierre’s wife, Helene, has been compromising her virtue
with Dolokhov, to Pierre’s great sadness. Muscovite society finds
it difficult to accept that the Russians might be defeated. It is presumed
that Andrew has died, leaving behind a pregnant wife.
Pierre looks unhappy during the party at the English Club,
concerned about rumors of his wife’s adulterous liaisons. A poet
reads verses in honor of Bagration, who arrives looking much less
grand than he appears on the battlefield. Drinks are poured, toasts
are made, and Count Rostov weeps with emotion. When Dolokhov toasts
beautiful women, Pierre takes it as an insult and challenges Dolokhov
to a duel, taking Nicholas as his second. The next day in the woods,
Pierre reconsiders, believing he has acted hastily. Nonetheless,
the duel must continue. Pierre pulls the trigger and wounds Dolokhov
severely, but is himself unhurt.
Pierre wrongly assumes that he has killed Dolokhov, and
reflects that the death is ultimately due to his own original decision
to marry Helene when he did not actually love her—a decision that
led to a life of lies with a cold wife. Helene, hearing about the
duel, accuses Pierre of being an idiot and exposing them both to
ridicule. Pierre announces that they must separate, and Helene agrees
on condition that she receive a part of his fortune. He erupts in
violence, but later cedes his lands to her and departs alone for
At Bald Hills, Prince Bolkonski receives news from Kutuzov about
the apparent death of his son Andrew. The news is given to Mary,
but withheld from Andrew’s widow, Lise, for fear of harming her
unborn baby. Not long after, Lise reports feeling unwell, and the midwife
is called. Lise lies waiting. Suddenly, a carriage is heard in the
drive—it is Andrew, who appears to Mary on the landing of the staircase.
He arrives as Lise is in labor. Soon after, Andrew’s son is born,
and his wife dies in childbirth.
In Moscow, Dolokhov convalesces and befriends Nicholas.
At the Rostov home, everyone likes Dolokhov except Natasha, who
sees him as a bad man. Dolokhov develops an interest in Sonya.
During his last days home before returning to the front,
Nicholas feels the typical atmosphere of love within the Rostov
family disturbed by tensions between his cousin Sonya and his friend Dolokhov.
Nicholas discovers that Dolokhov has asked for Sonya’s hand in marriage,
but Sonya has refused him, clinging to her love for Nicholas. Nicholas
begs Sonya to reconsider Dolokhov’s offer, but she insists that
she loves Nicholas like a brother, and that such love is enough
Meanwhile, Denisov develops an interest in Natasha, with whom
he dances splendidly at a ball. Dolokhov invites Nicholas to a card
game at his hotel, and Nicholas loses all the money his father has
given him and more—the final sum Nicholas owes Dolokhov is forty-three
thousand rubles. Nicholas despairs, promising to pay the sum the
next day, and he returns home in a gloomy mood. Hearing Natasha
sing, however, makes Nicholas forget his woes momentarily. He asks
his father for the money to pay Dolokhov, but it takes the old Count
two weeks to raise the requested amount. Denisov proposes to Natasha,
but is rejected. Both Denisov and Nicholas leave Moscow in disappointment.
Pierre began to feel a sense of uneasiness,
and the need, even the inevitability, of entering into conversation
with this stranger.
See Important Quotations Explained
Pierre began to feel a sense of uneasiness,
and the need, even the inevitability, of entering into conversation
with this stranger.
Pierre is at the Torzhok railway station, en route to
St. Petersburg after leaving his wife. He is miserable and lost,
meditating on the absurdity of human life. Pierre watches a strange,
old traveler wearing a Masonic ring. The man fascinates Pierre and
unsettles him by gazing steadily at him. The stranger knows Pierre
and addresses him, and the two launch into a deep philosophical
conversation about human failings, divine perfection, and the possibility
of reforming one’s life. Pierre recognizes how awful his behavior
has been, and he asks for guidance. The traveler—who Pierre later
finds out is a Freemason named Bazdeev—tells Pierre to contact a
Count Willarski in St. Petersburg.
After arriving in St. Petersburg, Pierre continues his
spiritual search. Willarski visits him and proposes to sponsor him
as an initiate into the Masonic brotherhood. At the initiation ritual,
Pierre renounces his atheism, affirms his faith in God, and vows
to love death as a deliverance from the woes of life. He gives up
his valuables and confesses that his chief sin has been his passion
for women. After this confession, Pierre feels bliss.
The following day, Vasili Kuragin visits Pierre and urges
him to reconcile with Helene. In a new show of boldness, Pierre
asks Vasili to leave, renouncing his earlier mistakes. Pierre then
sets out for his southern estates. Meanwhile, Anna Pavlovna continues
to give her customary parties, and takes a new interest in Boris,
who has found great recent success as a military officer and diplomatic
assistant. Anna Pavlovna introduces Boris to Helene, who asks him
to come visit her. During his stay, Boris becomes a regular guest
As the war recommences late in 1806,
old Prince Bolkonski is appointed a military commander despite his
age. His son, Andrew, having renounced active warfare, takes a desk
job under his father’s command and stays home with his son and sister.
While his baby son suffers from a high fever, Andrew receives a
letter from his father with news of a Russian victory and orders
to leave on a military errand. He refuses to leave until his son
is better. Andrew reads letters from his friend Bilibin about the
confusions and injustices of war, until he panics and fears his
son is dead. As the baby’s fever breaks, Andrew realizes that his
son is the one good thing in his life.
At his vast estates near Kiev, Pierre attempts to reform
his land management in accordance with his new Masonic moral principles. He
orders his serfs to be freed, pregnant women to be exempt from work
in the fields, and so on. His managers try to use Pierre’s goodwill
to their own advantage, eventually persuading him that the peasants
are better off in their current servitude. Seeing happy peasants
on a visit to his lands, Pierre believes that he has done great good
for them, unaware that most of his serfs endure even greater misery
On his way back to St. Petersburg, Pierre visits Andrew,
whom he finds much older and gloomier than he remembered. Andrew’s
philosophy of stoic indifference to the plight of serfs, and to
the fight of good against evil, provokes strong resistance in the
new Masonic convert Pierre. While Pierre secretly fears he cannot
refute Andrew’s grim philosophy, he tries to convince Andrew of
the power of good in the universe beyond the fallen human world.
Pierre’s enthusiasm makes an impact, and Andrew begins to emerge
out of his melancholy state.
Andrew and Pierre drive to Bald Hills and greet Andrew’s
sister, Mary, who is receiving some holy pilgrims. One pilgrim,
Pelageya, tells a story of an icon that weeps holy oil. Andrew and
Pierre gently ridicule the old woman, and Mary rebukes them. Old
Prince Bolkonski returns home and welcomes Pierre, whom Mary and
the whole household like.
Nicholas, back at the front with his hussar regiment,
feels happy despite the hardships of wartime. The soldiers are starving
and poorly clothed, but there is a feeling of camaraderie. Nicholas
has resolved to repay his parents’ forty-three thousand rubles.
One day, Nicholas’s friend Denisov seizes food from a provisions
vehicle in order to feed his men. Forced to appear before the authorities
to defend himself, Denisov finds that the officer who has been keeping food
supplies from Denisov and Nicholas’s regiment is Telyanin, the one
whom Nicholas once accused of theft. Denisov reponds violently,
and soon faces a court-martial. Before the court-martial can take
place, however, Denisov is wounded, and he takes the opportunity
to go to the hospital instead of the military tribunal.
During the break provided by an armistice, Nicholas goes
to visit Denisov in a Prussian military hospital, where he is horrified
to find four hundred wounded soldiers. The patients are all neglected
and threatened by typhus, and the army doctor cannot remember who Denisov
is or whether he is still alive. Nicholas is shocked. Finally he finds
Tushin, whom he had met at the battle of Schoen Graben, as well
as Denisov, who seems strangely indifferent to Nicholas’s arrival.
Nicholas tries to persuade Denisov to seek a pardon from the tsar,
but Denisov initially refuses out of a sense of honor. Finally, Denisov
signs a simple and unspecific request for a pardon. Nicholas leaves
to deliver this letter to the tsar, who is meeting with Napoleon
At Tilsit, Nicholas meets up with his old friend Boris,
who socializes with important Russian and French personages during
the Tilsit meeting. Boris seems annoyed by Nicholas’s arrival, but
offers advice, recommending that Nicholas give Denisov’s letter
to an army commander rather than to the stern tsar. Aware that Boris
is unwilling to help him, Nicholas decides that his only chance
to help Denisov is through direct appeal to the tsar, whom he goes
to visit despite being illegally dressed in civilian clothes. A
general hears Nicholas’s story and speaks to the tsar, but the tsar
says he can do nothing, as the law is stronger than he is.
At a meeting between Napoleon and the tsar, Napoleon offers
to give the Legion of Honor to the bravest of the Russian soldiers.
An aide to the tsar chooses a soldier named Lazarev, almost at random. Nicholas
is dismayed by the falsity of this award, especially in light of
Denisov’s unfair plight.
Just as Books Two and Three explore disillusionment with
ideals of war and leadership, Book Four explores disillusionment
with marriage. In the previous section, Andrew enters battle with
a lofty ideal of glory and greatness; here, Pierre enters marriage
with some optimism about his future life with Helene. Just as Andrew’s
idealistic notions are quickly debunked, Pierre’s illusions of marital
sanctity and respect fade when it appears that Helene has been unfaithful, and
is only too happy to separate from him—provided he share his wealth.
Pierre’s disillusionment, like Andrew’s, haunts him for many years.
The depressed Pierre initially searches for solace in
religion, recalling Tolstoy’s own intense religious fundamentalism
later in life. Indeed, this religious or spiritual exploration,
an important element of War and Peace, is perhaps
most notable in Pierre’s sudden conversion to Freemasonry through
his encounter with the mysterious stranger in the Torzhok station.
Tolstoy’s portrait of the old Mason is otherworldly and even spooky,
a great contrast to the author’s normally highly realistic portrayals
of his characters. The stranger, with his curious ring and his servant
who seems never to need to shave, stands out as an almost supernatural
element. Pierre’s initiation ritual, in which he is undressed and
blindfolded, is an equally surreal addition to the novel’s realistic
tone. The strangeness of these passages reinforces exactly what
the alienated Pierre is seeking—an alternative to the reality of
his despised everyday life, a leap into a different and better world.
In a life full of confusions and minor immoralities, the appeal
of the Masons’ faith in a simple struggle between good and evil
is powerful to Pierre and also to Andrew, who feels swayed by his
friend’s discussion of Freemasonry despite his initial skepticism.
Tolstoy’s religious exploration also finds expression
in Princess Mary’s profound Christian devotion to her father. Mary
cares for her father to the extent of sacrificing her own wishes
for his well being, as she has renounced hopes of marriage. Living
at Bald Hills, solving geometry problems far from society, Mary
is like a nun in a cloister. Whenever her father is harsh and irritable
toward her, she turns the other cheek meekly. As we have seen in
Book One, Mary’s letters to Julie recommend spirituality as the
only defense against the cruel whims of fate. Here, we see that
Mary’s favorite entertainment is receiving the holy pilgrims who
wander the countryside in chains, seeking mortification of the flesh
in order to better understand God. Mary is so moved by the pilgrims
that she even feels guilty at her love for her family, a love that
she fears should be more rightly directed toward heaven.
The pervasive disillusionment that we have seen thus far
in War and Peace suggests, though, that both Pierre’s
and Mary’s religious feelings may ultimately prove to be misdirected.
Indeed, as we see soon in Book Five, Pierre’s well-meaning efforts
to liberate and educate his serfs actually leave the serfs worse
off, and leave Pierre self-deceived. Later, Pierre realizes the
limitations of Freemasonry, growing impatient with its mysticism
and passivity. His discontentment turns to open rebellion when he
delivers a speech at the Masonic lodge, after which his religious
faith fizzles away almost completely. Mary’s faith does not disappear,
but it seems equally misdirected: her father’s mistreatment grows
increasingly tyrannical, and Mary’s nun-like isolation from the
world makes her more and more irritable, even affecting her relations
with her beloved nephew. As with Pierre’s Freemasonry, Mary’s Christianity
begins to seem less like a source of strength in life, and more
like a liability. Tolstoy does not critique the whole idea of faith,
but only shows the limitations of two particular versions of it,
inviting us to anticipate better alternatives that appear later
in the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to War and Peace!