Book Fourteen

The narrator again expresses his view that war is not scientific, repeating that the French defeat in Russia is rationally unexplainable. He then describes the devastation of the remaining French troops by Russian guerillas.

Dolokhov and Denisov are among the Cossack partisan fighters tracking the retreating French. Denisov receives a message delivered by Petya Rostov, who is now proudly serving in the army. Denisov and Petya come upon a French encampment and consider attacking it. Suddenly, they see a Russian peasant fleeing the French camp, whom Denisov recognizes as Tikhon, a feisty character who enjoys looting the French soldiers. Tikhon is sent off to capture a French informer, but kills the first Frenchman he finds on grounds that his clothes are not fancy enough. Denisov is disgusted by Tikhon’s cruelty. Petya, eager to please Denisov, acts kindly toward a French drummer boy the Russians have taken prisoner. Petya hopes to take part in the attack on the French camp planned for the next day, and is finally allowed to do so.

Dolokhov and Petya, disguised as French officers, enter the French camp for information about Russian prisoners of war. Back at the Russian guerilla camp, Petya is unable to sleep before the -battle, so he goes out to speak to a Cossack who sharpens Petya’s saber. Petya feels as though he is in a dream. When the battle begins, the overjoyed Petya rides with glee into the heart of the shooting. He is killed.

Entering the French camp, Dolokhov and Denisov liberate the Russian prisoners of war, including Pierre, who had been marching painfully with the French while his friend Platon Karataev grew more and more ill. One day, Platon had told a tale of a merchant who suffered for the sins of others and greeted death happily. The next day, the French had shot Platon for being ill and straggling behind the rest. When Dolokhov and Denisov release Pierre, he weeps with joy. Petya is buried.

The French army continues to disintegrate. The troops fight among themselves and plunder each other. Napoleon abandons his subordinates. Nevertheless, Russians readers of histories of the war are frustrated to note that the Russian forces were unable to destroy the remnants of the French army. The narrator explains that attacking the retreating French would have been senseless, like whipping an animal already running.

Book Fifteen

Mary and Natasha, still in exile from Moscow, grieve Andrew’s death in silence and pain. Natasha is much changed, and she refuses to return to Moscow even when the danger is past. She receives word that her brother Petya is dead, and tells her mother, both weeping. Mary attempts to console Natasha, who grows so pale and thin that her father insists that she accompany Mary to Moscow to see doctors.

Unable to pursue the retreating French effectively, Kutuzov is accused of blundering in 1812—a view shared by many historians. The narrator disagrees with this opinion, considering Kutuzov an unsung hero. The Russian troops are in excellent spirits, singing and dancing despite the wretched conditions. Two exhausted French officers emerge from the forest, one of them Ramballe, whom Pierre saved earlier. The Russians give the Frenchmen food and drink.

General Kutuzov, meanwhile, goes to Vilna for rest and recovery. The tsar meets him and, despite criticism of Kutuzov’s military maneuvers, awards him the highest state honors. The tsar wishes to continue the war, but Kutuzov objects, citing the impossibility of levying fresh troops. Kutuzov is replaced as military commander, and later dies.

After reaching safety, Pierre falls ill for three months. After his recovery, he reminisces about the events of the war, including the deaths of Petya and Andrew. He gradually understands that he will no longer be ordered anywhere, that food is available, and that his wife and the French are no longer threats to him. He is no longer obsessed by questions about the meaning of life, but simply accepts life as its own meaning, in accordance with God’s will. Everyone notices that Pierre has become simpler after his ordeal. His estate manager informs him that the burning of Moscow has cost Pierre two million rubles, but that if Pierre does not rebuild, he could come out ahead financially. Pierre muses that loss has made him richer. Meanwhile, Muscovites return to their city, making it even more populous by 1813 than it was before the war. Pierre returns to his house in Moscow. He visits Princess Mary in her house when a lady in black is there also, and only after much time has passed does he realize the lady is Natasha. Pierre understands immediately that he loves Natasha.

Mary, Natasha, and Pierre speak of the deaths of Andrew and Petya, and Pierre says that faith is necessary to accept such losses. With Pierre present, Natasha is able to share deep feelings about Andrew she has never spoken of before. Pierre tells of his adventures in Moscow, and Mary contemplates the possibility of love between Natasha and Pierre. Afterward, Natasha and Mary privately talk about Pierre, and Mary calls him splendid and morally improved after his ordeal.

The next day, Pierre realizes he loves Natasha and must be her husband. He is full of goodwill toward everyone, and even finds Moscow’s ruins beautiful. Pierre goes to visit Mary and Natasha for dinner again, staying later than he should and telling them he plans to remain in Moscow. Privately, Mary tells Pierre that he has a chance of winning Natasha, but that it is best that he leave Moscow for the present. Pierre is deliriously happy. Natasha is likewise overcome with joy when Mary tells her what Pierre has said.

Analysis: Books Fourteen–Fifteen

Tolstoy’s attitude toward the war as a Russian writer comes across clearly in these chapters. He attributes the final Russian victory over Napoleon and the withdrawal of French troops to Russia’s spiritual greatness, but he does not narrate with patriotism. However, the narrator spares no praise in describing the Muscovites who leave behind their possessions rather than submit to foreign occupation. Likewise, he praises the way in which Kutuzov leads his troops with Russian soulful sensitivity rather than French logic. Furthermore, the narrator’s portrait of Platon Karataev’s peasant virtues is a clear tribute to the Russian countryside. Yet Tolstoy does not exaggerate Russian virtues, and he also reveals to us the dark side of the Russian war experience. The grim episode in which the peasant guerilla Tikhon needlessly kills a potential French prisoner of war shows us the cruelty of which the Russian peasant is capable. By the same token, the shocking death of Petya Rostov reminds us that even successful wars of defense—even ones that save Russia—bring needless and tragic deaths. Tolstoy shows the war to have been useful and good, but he does not revel in it patriotically or uncritically.

Pierre’s reaction to the killing of Platon Karataev shows us the deep reserves of selfless sympathy that help define his character. Pierre had hardly known Platon long, but the loss is traumatic to him, and he is unable to bring himself to watch the shooting. The howling of the little dog communicates all we need to know about the devastation of this loss for Pierre, which affects him almost on an animal level. The vision of Platon returns to Pierre later during his recuperation, proving again his extraordinary connection with this unknown Russian peasant. Pierre’s ability to forge deep emotional connections with strangers forms a striking contrast with Napoleon, who shows no emotional connections even with those near him. The narrator makes a point of emphasizing how Napoleon took a warm fur coat for himself during the French retreat, riding off alone and abandoning his troops and officers. French individualism is portrayed in a strongly negative light, the opposite of the Russian tendency for warm human relations.

Natasha and Pierre’s sudden love is one of the most surprising developments in War and Peace. Pierre’s first wife, Helene, is nothing like Natasha, and he finds nothing but disappointment in their marriage. Natasha has been in love with several men by this point; her feelings toward Pierre have always been warm but not romantic. Yet, in another sense, this love almost seems predestined and inevitable. Natasha and Pierre are the two most emotionally sincere and profound characters in the novel, both of them displaying a childlike openness toward the world that neither of their earlier respective love interests, Andrew or Helene, had. Natasha and Pierre share a sensitivity and depth that make them perfect emotional matches for each other. Moreover, both of them have suffered enormously in the past year, enduring extraordinary personal losses that have forced them both to turn inward and reevaluate the meaning of life. They are both ready for a renewal, and their love is perfectly timed. The fact that their relationship develops under the supervision of the morally wise Mary gives a kind of validity and sanctity to it, a sense that their love has been blessed.