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.
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.