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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
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.
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.
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
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
Ace your assignments with our guide to War and Peace!