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By 1809, France and Russia have
become temporary allies—even against Austria, Russia’s former ally.
Daily life in Russia continues as usual. Andrew has been leading
a secluded life for two years, busy at his estate with reading,
writing analyses of recent military campaigns, and farm management.
His practical intelligence has served him well as a landowner, and
he has carried out the noble plans that Pierre aimed for but could
not effect on his own estates. Andrew has freed all his serfs and
made them wage-earners, one of the first examples of this social
advancement in all of Russia. However, he still feels that his heart
is old and dead.
On a household errand, Andrew dwells on his joyless mood, focusing
on a dead oak as a symbol of his emotional state. Later, he visits
the old Count Rostov on business at the latter’s estate, Otradnoe.
Andrew sees Natasha running in the fields and is struck by her cheerfulness.
Annoyed because he is forced to stay at Otradnoe, he hears girls’
voices singing on a balcony late one night, and his heart is troubled
by youthful emotions. He sees the oak again, now in bloom. Andrew
decides to go to St. Petersburg, not fully understanding the new
life blossoming within him.
Arriving in the capital, Andrew meets Tsar Alexander;
his secretary of state, Speranski; and his minister of war, Arakcheev.
The men are engaged in liberal reforms of the state. Andrew, who
has drawn up a more liberal set of military laws, has submitted
them to the tsar for consideration. Arakcheev criticizes Andrew’s
proposal, but makes him a member of the military reform committee. Andrew,
courted as a great liberal, also meets Speranski, though the two
men disagree on the question of special privileges to noblemen. Andrew
feels that honor is a positive principle by which to guide behavior,
while Speranski believes it to be a spur to superficial rewards.
Nevertheless, Speranski agrees to meet with Andrew again. Andrew
feels awe at Speranski’s vast intellect and cool logic, and he treats
the man as an equal. Andrew receives an invitation to join the committee
in charge of drawing up a new civil code.
In St. Petersburg, Pierre continues his charitable work
on behalf of the Masonic brotherhood, but he grows impatient of
the brotherhood’s passivity and dissatisfied with its mysticism.
Pierre goes to western Europe to seek illumination from other Masons
and returns to St. Petersburg counseling action. Many of his fellow
Masons accuse him of revolutionary sympathies, and Pierre becomes
disgruntled. His estranged wife, Helene, returns from abroad and
seeks reconciliation with him, as does his wife’s family. In a forgiving mood,
Pierre returns to Helene and they live together once again. Helene
had enjoyed great success during the meetings between the French
and the Russians, and has achieved an international reputation for
being intelligent as well as beautiful—a judgment that perplexes
Pierre. Pierre, while playing his role as the crank husband of a
distinguished wife, privately continues his spiritual self-investigation,
recording in his diary his struggle with a jealous hatred of Boris.
Pierre recounts his dreams of his spiritual master, Joseph Alexeevich,
and seeks fortitude to withstand the temptations of debauchery and
Count Rostov, suffering from financial worries, decides
to take his family to St. Petersburg and seek employment there.
The Rostovs, however, are outsiders in St. Petersburg, and have
trouble fitting in to the local society. As no one proposes marriage
to Vera Rostova, she accepts an offer from Berg, who is candid about
his need for Vera’s dowry to help set up a household with her. Count Rostov
is embarrassed to say that he has little financial means to provide
Vera with a dowry, but in the end he promises Berg twenty thousand
rubles in cash, along with a promise of eighty thousand more later.
Meanwhile, Natasha, now sixteen, thinks often of Boris,
wondering whether or not his earlier offer of marriage was a joke.
Boris comes to visit the Rostovs in St. Petersburg and is struck
by Natasha’s beauty. Although aware that marriage to a girl without
a dowry would bring him failure, he cannot help visiting the Rostovs every
day, despite Helene’s anger. Natasha, for her part, seems equally
smitten with Boris.
The Countess Rostova tells Natasha that, despite the mutual
affection Natasha and Boris share, there is no hope of her marrying Boris,
as he is poor and a relation. The countess also feels Natasha does
not truly love Boris. Natasha is not too distraught at the news. The
countess informs Boris of her decision, and Boris no longer frequents
the Rostovs’ home. On New Year’s Eve, a grand ball is held, which
the tsar attends and to which the Rostovs are invited. It is Natasha’s
first society ball, and she and the other women attend to their
toilettes with care. Accompanied by the Rostovs’ friend Peronskaya,
the young women enter the ballroom, the splendor of which dazzles
Natasha. She sees Andrew, Pierre, Helene, Anatole, and others. The
tsar makes his appearance, and the music and dancing begin.
Natasha is worried that no one will ask her to dance,
but at Pierre’s instigation, Andrew takes her to the dance floor,
where her innocent young beauty contrasts with Helene’s hardened
attractiveness. Many men then ask Natasha to dance, and she is overjoyed. Andrew
finds himself toying with the idea of marrying her. Natasha greets
Pierre, who is gloomy and wonders why he does not enjoy himself
more. Andrew goes to a party at Speranski’s home, but is bored by
the guests’ superficial laughter. Andrew goes home distressed by
the useless labor he has performed working for the cause of social
reform in Russia. The next day, he visits the Rostov home, stays
for dinner, and hears Natasha sing. Impressed by Natasha as ever,
he resolves to start living more deeply.
Berg and Vera, installed in their new residence, host
a party to which Pierre, the Rostovs, and Boris are invited. Berg
and Vera are delighted to see that they have imitated the style
of similar parties exactly. Pierre notices that Natasha appears
less radiantly beautiful than usual, until Andrew addresses a few
words to her and her spirit lights up. Pierre wonders what is developing
between Andrew and Natasha, with confusion in his own heart. Andrew
asks about Boris’s childhood promise to marry Natasha. The next
day, Andrew dines at the Rostovs’ home, and everyone knows he is
there for Natasha’s sake. Marriage seems a possibility. Natasha
confesses to her mother her love for Andrew, while Andrew confesses
to Pierre his love for Natasha. Pierre counsels Andrew to marry
her, though he feels gloomy at the thought of Andrew’s happiness.
Andrew tells his father of his plan to marry Natasha, and the old
man advises taking time to think it over. Andrew stays away from
St. Petersburg for a time, causing Natasha great anxiety. Ultimately,
however, Natasha controls her feelings and tells herself she is
self-contented, needing no one else to be happy.
Andrew reappears at the Rostovs, informing them of his
desire to marry their daughter. They agree. Andrew asks Natasha
for her hand, telling her that unfortunately they must wait a year.
Natasha is distraught at the delay, but tearfully accepts his offer.
Andrew refuses to limit Natasha’s freedom by announcing their engagement, telling
her that she may call it off at any moment in the coming year. He
tells her he must go away for a long time. She suffers for two weeks
after his departure, then recovers.
At Bald Hills, the old Prince Bolkonski becomes grumpy
after Andrew’s departure. He treats his daughter Mary with extreme harshness,
though she finds it easy to forgive him. She counsels religion in
letters to her friend Julie Karagina in St. Petersburg, who is mourning
her brother killed in action. Mary says that faith is the only consolation
to the ravages of destiny, which can kill off an angel like Lise.
She reports that Andrew has become more sickly and nervous since
his return from St. Petersburg, and that he shares her belief that
he will not marry Natasha. Mary thinks that Andrew is too devoted
to his first wife to ever accept a replacement. The old prince continues
to take out his anger at his son’s wish to marry Natasha by treating
Mary badly, and by threatening to marry Mademoiselle Bourienne.
Mary takes solace in the pilgrims who visit her in secret, especially
an old woman named Theodosia who goes around in chains. Mary wishes
to emulate Theodosia, and is ashamed that she loves her family more
On the front, Nicholas enjoys an idle military life with
his comrades until he receives troubling letters from home about
the Rostovs’ financial problems. One especially imploring letter
from his mother persuades Nicholas to seek leave and return to Otradnoe,
the family estate. He congratulates his sister Natasha on her engagement
to Andrew, but privately wonders why Andrew is staying away for
so long, concluding that his health must be the reason.
Visiting his father’s manager, Mitenka, in an attempt
to put his family’s finances in order, Nicholas explodes in anger,
convinced that Mitenka has been embezzling. Nicholas’s father urges
him to calm down, and Nicholas agrees not to get involved in financial matters
again, turning his attention to the hunt instead. One bright fall
day, Nicholas and his huntsman, Daniel, are preparing to depart when
Natasha appears, expressing her resolve to go along. Despite Daniel’s
dismay, Natasha joins the hunting party, which sets out with over
a hundred dogs. She proves she can ride beautifully, while the count
earns the censure of one of his serfs for letting a wolf get away.
At his hunting post, Nicholas hopes to earn the prestige
of downing a wolf. Finally he sees a wolf ambling along and calls
for his hounds to pursue it. Nicholas’s favorite dog, Karay, nearly
kills the wolf, but it shakes itself free and continues on. Other
huntsmen’s dogs catch it. Bound, the wolf glares wildly at its captors.
Later, the huntsmen pursue a fox until a hound from another hunting
party catches it. Nicholas is irate, knowing the hound belongs to
their neighbor, Ilagin. To apologize, Ilagin invites the Rostovs
to hunt hares on his own property. They do so, and they catch a
hare. The party spends the night in a peasant village, where they
are regaled with home-cooked food and balalaika music. The peasant
huntsman sings so beautifully that Natasha decides to learn to play
the guitar. As Nicholas and Natasha ride home in a buggy, she declares that
she will never be so happy again.
The Rostovs’ financial problems become so acute that they
consider selling their family home, Otradnoe. The only solution
seems to be in marrying Nicholas off to a rich heiress like Julie
Karagina, whom the countess selects carefully. Julie’s parents are
willing, but Nicholas is unwilling, invoking his honor and arguing
that love should be more important than money. Meanwhile, Andrew
writes to Natasha, saying that his health has forced him to stay
abroad a bit longer. Natasha is bored and restless waiting for Andrew.
She, Sonya, and Nicholas philosophize about happiness, reminisce about
childhood, and put on costumes to entertain the Rostov household.
Sonya, Natasha, and Nicholas drive out to neighbors to
entertain them also. Nicholas is conscious of loving Sonya, disguised
now as a man. At the neighbor’s home, he dares to take her in his
arms and kiss her. Natasha congratulates Nicholas. Back at home,
the girls gaze in mirrors to see their fortunes. Sonya pretends
to see Andrew lying down and looking happy, and then something blue
and red, evoking the way Natasha once described Pierre as a blue
and red object. Nicholas’s parents criticize his decision to marry
Sonya, saying that he is free to marry whom he wishes, but that
they will never treat the gold-digger Sonya as a daughter. Nicholas
is saddened, but he remains firm in his resolve to marry Sonya.
He returns to the front.
The character of Natasha emerges gloriously in these chapters,
and acquires deep symbolic significance. Natasha is more than a
mere girl, though neither especially beautiful nor clever, and less
morally serious than women like Princess Mary. Natasha’s great power
lies not in specific attributes, but in her extraordinary vitality.
When she runs in a yellow dress alongside Andrew’s carriage, or
sings on the balcony, or swoons over a simple Russian folk song,
she is doing no more than living. Yet she is alive with a force
and an enthusiasm that no other character in the novel possesses.
It is almost a mystical power, which explains why none of the men
infatuated with her—including Andrew and Pierre—seem able to recognize
that Natasha is the cause of the spiritual changes within themselves
after they spend time with her. Andrew hears Natasha sing, but then
falls asleep unsure of where the youthful confusions in his heart
come from. Pierre is dejected after learning of Natasha’s engagement
to Andrew, but fails to recognize his dejection as disappointment. Natasha
works below the consciousness of these men, like a vital force beyond
The Rostovs’ financial problems are an important element
in the novel, as they direct our attention to the changing social
and economic climate in Russia. The Rostovs’ simple and old-fashioned charms—their
hospitality, their love of the hunt, their largesse with gifts—are
a liability in the modern world. Their grace and friendliness contrast
sharply with the cool and calculating ways of Vasili Kuragin and
his hardhearted children. Yet, sadly, the Kuragins’ fortunes are
growing at an astonishing pace, as the children make brilliant matches
with wealthy spouses due largely to their father’s maneuverings.
By contrast, Berg very nearly rejects Vera Rostov as a consequence
of Count Rostov’s mismanagement of money affairs. The decline in
the Rostov fortunes is not due to overly luxurious living but to
simple obliviousness. Nicholas’s loss at cards illustrates this
obliviousness, as he squanders money not because of a weakness for
women or horses, but because he does not understand that his opponent
at cards is angry and jealous that Sonya prefers Nicholas. It is
this naïve good faith and carefree lifestyle that is costing the Rostovs
their wealth and standing.
The multiple marriages in War and Peace remind
us of the variety of motives for choosing a particular mate. Spouses
may be selected for reasons that are sentimental or practical, self-serving
or altruistic, self-deceiving or wise; Tolstoy, who suffered in
his own marriage, is aware of all of these possibilities. Pierre’s
disastrous decision to marry Helene is only an extreme form of the
blindness that frequently overtakes various individuals in the courtship
rituals we see in the novel. In Book Eight, Julie Karagina’s foolish
denial of Boris’s fortune hunting shows us how close Mary might
have come to a similar fate with the same suitor, as Mary feels
just as desperate for marriage as Julie. Andrew’s suitability as
a husband for Natasha is in doubt, despite the evidence of love
and affection on both sides. These doubts arise partly because we
know that Andrew was dissatisfied even with his angelic first wife,
Lise, whom all have described as a paragon of virtuous womanhood.
The only real hope for marriage at this point in the novel is in
Nicholas’s proposal to Sonya, which has arisen not out of a desire
for money, but out of sincere feeling.
Ace your assignments with our guide to War and Peace!