Book Eleven, Chapters 1–9

With more comments on the infinite complexity of historical processes, the narrator tells us that Kutuzov warily reports a victory at Borodino but then decides to retreat beyond Moscow with his depleted army. Listening wearily to his disagreeing advisors, and despite the commander Bennigsen’s firm refusal to abandon the Russian capital, Kutuzov realizes that Moscow must be left for the French. Privately, Kutuzov tries to understand how he ever allowed Napoleon to reach Moscow. Despite official orders not to flee, Muscovites leave the city, refusing to submit to French occupation.

Meanwhile, Helene has become romantically attached to a foreign prince and an old Russian grandee. She converts to Catholicism in the hopes of persuading the Pope to annul her marriage to Pierre, making a sizeable donation to the church at the same time. After some wavering, Helene settles on remarriage to the Russian grandee. She seeks divorce from Pierre even though the Rostovs’ friend Marya Dmitrievna publicly calls her a whore.

After Borodino, Pierre is dazed and distressed, traveling on the road to Mozhaysk, where he intends to take refuge. Sleeping in the courtyard of an inn, he dreams of his Masonic benefactor and of other acquaintances. He awakens to news that Mozhaysk is being abandoned to the French, and that Andrew and Anatole Kuragin are dead. Arriving in Moscow, Pierre is summoned by Count Rostopchin, the local commander in chief. Another official tells Pierre of a case involving a forged Napoleonic proclamation, and also conveys rumors about Helene’s plans to travel to Europe. Count Rostopchin warns Pierre to break off contact with the Masons. Informed that Helene has converted to Catholicism to attain a divorce, and reflecting sadly on Andrew’s death, Pierre suddenly abandons the twelve people waiting to conduct business with him. He flees into the city of Moscow without telling anyone where he is going.

When Petya joins the hussars, Countess Rostova is distressed that both her sons may be killed at any moment. Meanwhile, the Rostov family inefficiently prepares to flee Moscow, despite contradictory official rumors that no one will be allowed to leave. The countess is pleased at Nicholas’s news of a romantic interest in the wealthy Princess Mary. Even Sonya admits this development is a good prospect, and she appeases her grief by directing the evacuation of the Rostov household. Natasha and Petya, home on leave, are in high spirits, awaiting the extraordinary events to come.

The Rostov household is in disorder as the evacuation from Moscow grows imminent. Natasha, too distracted to help pack the family’s belongings, invites wounded soldiers stationed outside to stay in the Rostov home. Petya learns that there will be a battle the next day. The countess is terrified, but Petya is excited. Natasha takes control of the packing, and the household prepares to leave the following day. Andrew shows up wounded and dying, and is given refuge in the Rostov home without the Rostovs’ knowledge.

Moscow is thrown into confusion, as commodities are pricier and serfs are running away. Just before departing, the old count generously offers to unload some of his carts and use them to convey wounded soldiers, despite his wife’s objections. Under Natasha’s influence, the count finally orders all the family’s possessions to be unloaded, and all the carts made available to the wounded. Sonya, told that Andrew is among the soldiers being conveyed, informs the countess, who worries about Natasha’s reaction and hides this development from her.

On the way out of the city, Natasha glimpses Pierre on the street. They talk, and Pierre says he is staying in Moscow. Natasha wishes to stay with him. Pierre, depressed with news of Helene’s intended remarriage, has been living in the house of his deceased Masonic advisor, Bazdeev. Pierre has been sorting through the books and papers Bazdeev left, and has disguised himself in peasant clothes and armed himself with a pistol for self-protection.

Book Eleven, Chapters 10–16

Napoleon, meanwhile, is in the Poklonny Hills near Moscow, filled with pride that the great city will soon be his and imagining the high level of civilization he will bring to Russia. He prepares to meet with the elders of the city, to appoint a governor, and to conduct other business. But Napoleon is startled and insulted by the news that the elders have left Moscow, and that the city is full only of drunken mobs, like a hive without its queen bee. Some of the Russian troops being convoyed out of Moscow are tempted to escape and loot the abandoned shops, and it is hard to maintain order among them. With the gentry and administrators gone, anarchy threatens the city, and murders proliferate.

Count Rostopchin, local commander of Moscow, is told to reinstate order. In order to promote public tranquility, however, he lies to the common folk, telling them Moscow is in no danger of French invasion. He also makes insufficient preparations for total evacuation of the city. Though out of touch with popular feeling, Rostopchin imagines himself as leader of the people of Moscow. When he is told to leave the city without any opportunity for heroism, his ego is wounded. He gives thoughtless orders to release prison inmates and patients from mental asylums out into the city.

Rostopchin prepares to leave Moscow, but he is delayed by the necessity of dealing with a political traitor named Vereshchagin—the man who earlier forged Napoleonic decrees and distributed them. Rostopchin publicly displays Vereshchagin and orders the crowd to punish him, which they do with cruelty. Inwardly, Rostopchin is sickened by the mob. Riding in his carriage on the way out of the city, he is approached by a lunatic who thinks himself to be Jesus Christ. Rostopchin again is inwardly appalled at the cruelty he has caused. Rostopchin meets Kutuzov, whom he gently blames for the chaos in Moscow. Kutuzov meaninglessly states that Moscow will not be abandoned without a battle, though that is exactly what is occurring. The French troops enter Moscow and delightedly enjoy its houses and food supplies, looting wherever they can. Careless soldiers contribute to igniting vast fires that consume much of the city.

Meanwhile, Pierre, still lodged in Bazdeev’s house, is obsessed by what he sees as mystical evidence that he is destined to be Napoleon’s vanquisher. Constantly drunk and nearly insane, he develops a fantastic plot to assassinate the French leader. When a French officer named Ramballe wanders into the house, Bazdeev’s madman brother fires upon him. Pierre forgets his disguise and rushes to the officer’s aid, asking him in French if he has been wounded. Ramballe calls Pierre his savior and invites him to dine. The patriotic Frenchman rhapsodizes about Paris and informs Pierre that Napoleon is to arrive the next day. He tells Pierre tales of love, and Pierre confesses his love for Natasha.

The Rostovs catch sight of Moscow in flames, which causes the countess and the servants to weep. Natasha, who has learned that Andrew is in their convoy, is agitated to think he is sleeping just across the courtyard. In the night, she sneaks into his room and greets him. For the first time, Andrew remembers his earlier battlefield revelation about true happiness. He imagines Natasha to be a hallucination at first, but then sees she is real. Natasha begs Andrew for forgiveness.

The half-crazed Pierre prepares his plans to assassinate Napoleon and goes out with a dagger under his cloak, walking in a dazed and distracted manner. As if waking up from a dream, he comes upon a burning house with a woman standing outside, weeping over a little girl left inside. Pierre circumvents the French guards, enters the house, and saves the girl. Once outside again, he is unable to find the girl’s family. Then, attempting to stop a Frenchman from bothering an Armenian girl, Pierre becomes angry, attracting the attention of the French authorities, who arrest him on suspicions of espionage.

Analysis: Book Eleven

The idea of renunciation, of surrendering the external valuables of one’s life, recurs frequently in these chapters as Tolstoy’s symbol of spiritual achievement. This renunciation is both private and public, both emotional and military. The citizens of Smolensk give up their city to the invading French, and Kutuzov follows suit by regretfully surrendering the city of Moscow. Such surrender astonishes Napoleon, who in his materialistic fashion cannot fathom that a country would prefer spiritual freedom to material loss of property. Indeed, we see that the Russian abandonment of Moscow is the real undoing of the French. The invaders loot Russian treasures, but they cannot conquer Russia. The French failure to conquer the Russian soul is mirrored on an individual level in Pierre, who, even when held captive, knows that the French cannot touch his “immortal soul.” We see another willing surrender of the physical world in the Rostovs’ abandonment of their possessions so that the wounded Russian soldiers may be evacuated from Moscow. To Tolstoy, giving up material possessions is not a loss, but rather a spiritual gain.

Tolstoy constantly emphasizes the absurdity of war in his portrayal of occupied Moscow through Pierre’s eyes. Pierre’s awareness of the stupidity of the war is heightened by the fact that, of the Russians, he is the one most symbolically associated with the French. Pierre is called by a French name throughout the novel (the narrator never calls him “Petr,” as the name “Peter” typically appears in Russian), speaks French beautifully, has lived in Paris, and gets along well with the French officer Ramballe. Through Pierre’s example, Tolstoy—himself one of the modern world’s great pacifists and an important influence on Gandhi’s doctrine of non-aggression—highlights the human instinct for solidarity and togetherness that opposes the contrary instinct for division and bloodshed.