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Upon the news of Natasha and Andrew’s engagement and the
death of his Masonic benefactor Bazdeev, Pierre loses interest in
his life and becomes depressed, abandoning his Masonic activities.
He moves to Moscow, but does little besides read and party. He feels disappointed
in himself and in the world of falsity around him.
Meanwhile, old Prince Bolkonski also moves his household
to Moscow. The anti-French sentiment prevalent in the city puts
him in the center of the opposition to the government. He is more
crotchety than ever, and is growing senile and forgetful. Mary regrets
the move. She feels isolated, is alienated by her friend Julie’s
whirlwind social life, and misses the visits from the religious
pilgrims. Mary becomes irritable in her lessons with her little
nephew. Despite her promise to Andrew to prepare their father for
Andrew’s marriage to Natasha, Mary is afraid to bring up the subject.
The old Prince Bolkonski continues to show great affection toward
Mademoiselle Bourienne, whom he may seriously consider marrying.
He churlishly kicks out of his house a renowned French doctor who
has been sent to care for him, accusing the man of being a spy.
The prince continues to socialize with old acquaintances, imposing
his spy stories and his anti-French ideas upon them.
Pierre warns Mary that Boris is paying court to her in
hopes of winning her heiress’s fortune in marriage—just as he is
with Julie. Mary confides to Pierre her wish to marry anyone in
order to escape her overcritical father. Boris, while preferring
Mary to Julie, is pushed to propose to the artificial and aging
Julie, due to a threat that Anatole Kuragin will propose if Boris
does not. Julie delightedly accepts Boris’s proposal, and the wedding
plans are announced.
Count Rostov, accompanied by Sonya and Natasha, goes to Moscow
to complete the sale of Otradnoe, to order Natasha’s wedding trousseau,
and to present Natasha to Andrew, who is expected soon. As their
home is unheated, the Rostovs stay with their old friend Marya Dmitrievna,
who helps Natasha select wedding clothes and gives her advice on
how to handle her future father-in-law. The next day, Count Rostov
takes Natasha to visit the old Prince Bolkonski. Despite her self-confidence,
Natasha is wary. Princess Mary takes an instant dislike to Natasha,
whom she views as frivolous, and the prince grumpily refuses to
meet with the Rostovs. Natasha, for her part, finds Mary dry and
boring. After a long silence, Mary forces herself to wish Natasha
well, but both women feel the falseness of the words. Natasha leaves,
and cries about the meeting.
At the opera that evening, Natasha muses that everything
would be fine if only Andrew returned. She sees Boris, Julie, and
Helene, and is conscious that all of them are staring at her. Natasha
turns her attention to the opera, but Anatole Kuragin addresses
her, eyeing her shoulders with interest. Natasha is agitated, and
tries to watch the opera but sees only absurd falsity in it.
The spendthrift Anatole has been sent to Moscow in the
hopes that he will moderate his expenditures and find an heiress
wife. He lives a thoughtless and selfish life, hiding the fact that
he is secretly married, and goes around in the company of Dolokhov.
Anatole is attracted to Natasha, and Natasha is vaguely interested
in Anatole as well, though she still waits for Andrew’s return.
Helene visits Natasha, pays compliments that make Natasha love her,
and invites Natasha to a gathering at which Anatole will be present.
At Helene’s party, full of disreputable people, Anatole dances with
Natasha and tells her he loves her madly. That night, Natasha is
tormented by doubt as to whether she loves Andrew or Anatole, feeling
she loves them both.
The Rostovs’ hostess, Marya Dmitrievna, decides it best
for the Rostovs to return to Otradnoe in order to avoid fighting
with the irritable old Prince Bolkonski. Natasha is upset, especially
when she receives a letter from Mary begging forgiveness for her
rudeness, and another from Anatole declaring love. Natasha decides
she loves Anatole. While Natasha sleeps, Sonya reads Anatole’s love
letter to Natasha, questions her, and threatens to reveal the secret
love. Natasha becomes angry with Sonya and affirms her feelings
for Anatole, resolving to break off the engagement with Andrew and elope
with Anatole. Anatole and Dolokhov obtain money and horses for the
elopement. But at the moment of departure, a footman arrives and
orders Anatole to be brought to Marya Dmitrievna to forestall the
elopement. Anatole barely escapes. Marya Dmitrievna is furious with
Natasha for carrying on with Anatole in her own house, but she promises
not to tell Count Rostov about the elopement plans. Pierre is summoned
to Marya Dmitrievna’s house and is told of Anatole’s plans.
Pierre informs everyone at the house that Anatole is already
married to a girl in Poland. The enraged Pierre hunts down Anatole
and orders him out of Moscow immediately. Anatole is indignant,
but leaves the next day. Natasha falls ill, and is discovered to
have attempted to poison herself. Pierre visits Andrew, who is back
in Moscow. Andrew’s connections with Speranski are finished, as Speranski
has recently fallen from grace, accused of treachery and forced
Andrew returns Natasha’s portrait, absolutely refusing
to forgive her for entertaining thoughts of elopement with Anatole. Andrew
assigns Pierre the task of telling Natasha that Andrew has rejected
her. Pierre visits Natasha, but she already knows the news he is
delivering. She is full of self-blame. Pierre is tender toward Natasha.
He watches the comet of 1812 with a sense
of a new life blossoming.
On June 12, 1812, the French forces
cross Russia’s frontiers. The narrator explores the question of
what caused this invasion, disagreeing with the historians’ answers
to this problem. The invasion, the narrator argues, comes about
not because of diplomatic errors or strategic decisions alone, but
because of a coincidence of millions of small causal events. Even
the great leaders Napoleon and Alexander are not responsible for
the events of 1812. Like all men, they imagine
themselves acting independently, but are really the slaves of circumstance.
There is, therefore, no rational explanation for history.
In Prussia, Napoleon prepares to head eastward, and the
sight of him inspires Polish officers to a suicidal plunge into
the river, hoping to impress him. Forty officers die during this
feat. Meanwhile, on the Russian side, confusion reigns at Vilna,
and no defense strategy has yet been chosen. The tsar attends a
ball his aides have thrown, at which Helene and Boris, now rich
and powerful, are present.
The tsar writes Napoleon a polite note asking whether
Napoleon’s crossing of the Niemen River is indeed intended as an
act of invasion. The tsar sends General Balashev on a diplomatic
mission to deliver the note. On his way, Balashev meets the French
commander Murat, and during their discussion, each side claims that the
other is the aggressor in the war. Upon reaching Napoleon’s camp,
Balashev is surprised at the rude treatment he receives from the
French soldiers and Napoleon’s chief of war, Davout. Napoleon summons
Balashev for a meeting at which Napoleon talks incessantly, irrationally
attempting to justify France’s invasion and trying to impress Balashev
with the French army’s superiority. Napoleon is utterly convinced
by the lies he utters. Later, Napoleon invites Balashev to dinner
and is cordial toward him.
Andrew goes to St. Petersburg, receives an appointment
on Kutuzov’s staff, and unsuccessfully attempts to challenge Anatole
Kuragin to a duel for his plans to elope with Natasha. After some
military service in Turkey, Andrew asks General Kutuzov for a transfer
to the western front. On the way, Andrew stops at Bald Hills, where
he finds everyone unchanged except for his young son, who is quickly growing
up. Still aware of Prince Bolkonski’s mistreatment of Mary, Andrew
speaks to his father and blames Mademoiselle Bourienne for stirring
up discord between father and daughter. The old prince tells Andrew
to leave, and Andrew does so without reconciling with his father.
Mary urges Andrew to forgive their father, saying that men are never
to blame and that evils come from heaven.
On the western front, Andrew encounters massive confusion, with
hard-nosed strategists opposing proponents of bold action, and both
groups opposing the majority that simply wants a situation beneficial
to them. Andrew is summoned to meet with the tsar and his military
advisors, who disagree in a hodgepodge of European languages. When
Andrew’s opinion is requested, he responds that he does not know
enough to offer one, which angers the advisors. When the tsar asks
Andrew where he would like to serve, Andrew irrevocably loses favor
by stating his preference to serve in the army instead of remaining
with the tsar.
The Rostovs write letters to Nicholas on the front, imploring
him to come home. He replies to these letters, and separately to
Sonya as well, that honor must keep him serving in the army in wartime. Nicholas’s
regiment moves into Poland with great excitement. A devoted young
officer named Ilyin serves Nicholas, and invites him one rainy day
to take shelter in a nearby tavern. At the tavern, Ilyin tempts
Nicholas by telling him that a certain Mary Hendrikhovna—on whom
Nicholas has a crush—is present.
In the tavern, all the officers are in love with Mary
Hendrikhovna, the beautiful wife of an army doctor. The men jokingly
flirt with her even in the presence of her beleaguered husband.
Early in the morning, on his way back to the regiment from the tavern,
Nicholas is roused by the sound of gunfire. He knows that the battle
has begun. Seeing an opportunity for attack, Nicholas speaks to
his commander, but rushes into a charge on the French before an
order has been given. He cuts the arm of a French soldier, who instantly
surrenders in fear. Nicholas is recommended for military honors,
but inwardly he is disappointed that his alleged heroism means only
that someone else is more scared than he is.
In Moscow, the Rostovs are troubled by the fact that Natasha has
been ill. Expensive doctors are called, and they have diverging medical
opinions. Though family and patient alike are relieved by the show
of medical attention, the real cause of Natasha’s malady is her
hurt feelings, not any physical ailment. Gradually she begins to improve,
though she is not happy and feels no urge to sing or laugh as before.
Natasha takes solace only in Pierre’s visits and caring company,
and in a new religious devotion she has developed under the influence
of Agrafena, a visiting neighbor. As news of Russia’s dire military
situation spreads through Moscow, with rumors that only a miracle
can save the nation, the Rostovs go to church. Natasha is aware
that people are talking about her. She prays and feels the joyful
possibility of a new and better life for herself. The liturgy affects
Natasha greatly, and she feels that God has heard her prayer.
Pierre, meanwhile, is deeply pleased by his visits to
Natasha, feeling a new vitality within himself. Applying a secret
code the Masons revealed to him, he prophetically predicts that
Napoleon is the Antichrist and will be defeated by the tsar in 1812,
under Pierre’s leadership. Pierre, visiting the Rostovs to inform
them that Nicholas has received military honors, finds Natasha much
improved in spirits. The tsar makes an appeal to Muscovites, asking
for sacrifices to save the country. Sonya reads the tsar’s appeal
out loud to the Rostovs. The count declares that no sacrifice is
too great. Natasha’s younger brother, Petya, declares his wish to
enter the army. When his father resists, Petya cries. Meanwhile,
the developing love between Natasha and Pierre is becoming increasingly
clear to both of them. The next morning, Petya sets off for the
Kremlin to join the hussars. Amid the crushing crowds, Petya is
overjoyed to glimpse the tsar and becomes even more determined to
join the army.
Pierre attends a conference of noblemen that has gathered
to reply to the tsar’s appeal for aid. Against loud avowals of patriotism,
Pierre speaks out in favor of practical strategy. The crowd is irrational,
approving oversimplified versions of the Russian crisis and ignoring
Pierre’s voice of reason. The tsar enters the hall and addresses
the noblemen, sincerely thanking them for their loyalty. The noblemen
and merchants weep in devotion to their leader, offering him everything
they have. Count Rostov goes off to enroll Petya in the army, abandoning
his earlier opposition. Even Pierre, swept away by patriotic emotion,
feels ashamed of his earlier rational comments.
Natasha’s romantic woes in these sections bring about
a great deal of change in her character. Up to this point, she has
always been a child of nature, carefree and happy, falling in love
with man after man with childlike innocence. With Andrew’s departure
for Europe, however, Natasha is forced to see love not as a carefree
joy, but as a test. As time passes, she becomes less able to assure
herself that a year of waiting will make no difference to her commitment
to Andrew—and her infatuation with Anatole Kuragin destroys that commitment
entirely. In Anatole’s so-called love for Natasha, Tolstoy shows
us that love may not be an obvious emotional state, but may also
be an illusion. We also see this illusory nature of love in Nicholas’s
crush on Mary Hendrikhovna. Though Nicholas appears to have real
affection for Mary Hendrikhovna, we see that all the officers have
crushes on her, simply because they are starved for female companionship—not
because of any real or lasting love. In this manner, Tolstoy establishes
love as yet another ideal, like patriotism or religious faith, that
comes into question as War and Peace unfolds.
Tolstoy also uses these chapters to explore the unpredictable
irrationality of historical events, which becomes a symbol of the
absurdity of human existence. The narrator makes an unusual direct
aside to us, explaining that it is not great men who make history,
but rather a vast network of tiny chains of cause and effect that
no one, even emperors, can control. We see that neither Napoleon
nor Tsar Alexander is in full control of the military situation.
Both leaders, swept along by events as they unfold, are merely doing
their best to pretend to be in control. The tsar’s military advisors
can agree on nothing, and the Russian and French commanders disagree
about which side is the aggressor in the war. Moreover, Tolstoy
implies that what is true in war is true in all human endeavors.
Even the best laid plans end up having no importance, as Andrew
learns when all his work in developing a new civil code is rendered
worthless for purely random reasons. Speranski’s sudden and unexplainable
fall from grace, due to vague allegations of treachery, similarly
invalidates all of Speranski’s work. In an unpredictable world,
the most successful may be those who follow their instincts of the
moment, like Nicholas when he rushes into battle without waiting
The intriguing character of Napoleon offers us a surprising,
up-close portrait of the leader as an egomaniac. Contrary to our
expectations, Napoleon is not gifted with superior rational powers.
His stream of chitchat with the Russian General Balashev, steamrollering
over his conversation partner in a way that leaves no room for contradiction
or questioning, is based almost exclusively on outright lies. Napoleon
claims the Poles as his allies, for instance, all the while knowing
this assertion to be untrue. Napoleon’s genius lies not in his powers
of reason, but in his conviction that he is absolutely right in
all matters. He ends his conference with Balashev by mentally communicating
to the latter “I have convinced you”—indicating the irrational self-confidence
that seems to be the primary secret behind his stellar success at
world domination. More broadly, Tolstoy uses Napoleon’s brand of
authoritative falsehood to bring to the forefront the broader issue
of the subjectivity of reality. If Napoleon is so effectively able
to impose his views of reality upon others, we wonder who else in
the novel is doing the same.
Ace your assignments with our guide to War and Peace!