Book Four, Chapters 1–9

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’s surprise.

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 St. Petersburg.

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.

Book Four, Chapters 10–15

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 for her.

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.

Book Five, Chapters 1–5

Pierre began to feel a sense of uneasiness, and the need, even the inevitability, of entering into conversation with this stranger.

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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 at Helene’s.

Book Five, Chapters 6–18

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 than before.

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.

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.

Analysis: Books Four–Five

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.