Book Six, Chapters 1–7

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 sloth.

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.

Book Six, Chapters 8–17

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 than God.

Book Seven

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.

Analysis: Books Six–Seven

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 rational understanding.

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.