War and Peace

War and Peace

by

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace: Volume 1, Part 1: Chapters 18–21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the Rostov party stretches into the night, Count Bezukhov suffers his sixth stroke. A group of people, including Prince Vassily, begin congregating at Bezukhov’s house, anticipating his death. While everyone waits, Prince Vassily goes to his cousin Catiche’s room. He says that Catiche, her sisters, and his wife are the Count’s only heirs. But last winter the Count wrote a will bequeathing all his property to Pierre instead. What if, he wonders, the Count has legally adopted Pierre, making him no longer illegitimate? In fact, this has happened, though the letter hasn’t yet been sent to the sovereign. If and when it is, Pierre will become the new Count Bezukhov and will get everything, leaving the others penniless.
In contrast to the carefree party at the Rostovs’, events at the Bezukhovs’—and the implications for Pierre’s fate—grow more dire. Intrigue surrounds the matter of Count Bezukhov’s will. In short, Pierre stands to become the Count’s heir, and Prince Vassily, in league with Count Bezukhov’s nieces, hopes to thwart that development so they can claim the inheritance instead.
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Prince Vassily and Catiche must speak to Count Bezukhov about it before he dies. Catiche blames Princess Anna Mikhailovna—last winter, she got herself into the Count’s good graces. Catiche says the will can be found in the inlaid portfolio kept under the Count’s pillow. Meanwhile, Pierre and Anna Mikhailovna arrive at Count Bezukhov’s; the Count has sent for Pierre. Their carriage stops at the back entrance. When the two pass Catiche’s room, where she’s talking with Prince Vassily, Catiche slams her door. Anna Mikhailovna reassures Pierre that she will watch out for his interests. Pierre isn’t entirely sure what his “interests” are.
Though Count Bezukhov intends that Pierre be his heir, Pierre is still treated like an illegitimate son whose presence must be concealed. Anna Mikhailovna (who’s taken Pierre under her wing because she hopes that Pierre will dispense favors to her son Boris) orchestrates everything. Pierre appears naïve and hapless in such matters, at the mercy of others’ scheming.
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Anna Mikhailovna, bold and self-assured, and Pierre enter Count Bezukhov’s anteroom, where the doctor and some clergymen are sitting. Anna Mikhailovna disappears into the Count’s room, while Pierre sits down, uncomfortable with the others’ sudden, quiet deference and respect—he’s never been treated this way before. He decides he’d better surrender to everyone else’s guidance so that he doesn’t do anything foolish. Prince Vassily comes in and tells Pierre that the Count has suffered another stroke. Everyone rushes into the Count’s bedroom.
So far, Pierre has been treated like a socially awkward misfit; others’ sudden, tacit recognition of him as the Count’s son and heir is jarring. He doesn’t trust himself to handle this new, socially ascendant role. Indeed, he lacks Anna Mikhailovna’s confidence in navigating the aristocratic world into which he’s suddenly been thrust.
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Count Bezukhov lies in bed in the shadow of candle-lit icons while the clergy administer extreme unction. Besides Prince Vassily, Anna Mikhailovna, and the household staff, the princesses (his cousins) are also there. At one point, during a pause in the service, Prince Vassily and Catiche briefly disappear through a door behind the Count’s bed. Pierre takes no notice, believing that everything is happening as it must. His father doesn’t respond when, at Anna Mikhailovna’s urging, Pierre kisses his hand. When Pierre gets up to help shift the Count onto his side, he notices his father’s limp arm hanging grotesquely and begins to cry.
Extreme unction is an Orthodox Christian service of prayers, anointing, and sometimes Communion for those near death. Pierre is oblivious to the intrigues occurring right before his eyes—he’s swept along with the flow of events and doesn’t ask questions about them. The sight of his father’s dangling arm forces him to acknowledge the reality of death. In fact, he has a much more heartfelt reaction than anyone else to the Count’s death—while they’re consumed with the financial fallout.
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After tea, Pierre finds Anna Mikhailovna blocking Catiche from reentering the bedroom to talk to Count Bezukhov about the will. The two women tussle over an inlaid portfolio. But just then the younger princess runs out of the bedroom, saying that the Count is now dying. Prince Vassily follows soon after, crying as he tells Pierre that “everything ends in death.” The next day, Anna Mikhailovna tells Pierre that, though the will hasn’t been opened yet, he might soon possess a large fortune. She adds that if she hadn’t been there, who knows what would have happened? The Count had promised not to forget Boris in his will; she hopes Pierre will fulfill his father’s wish.
The drama intensifies as Anna Mikhailovna and Catiche wrestle over the portfolio that allegedly contains Count Bezukhov’s will. Though Pierre is most directly impacted by its contents, he passively watches. After his father’s death, he doesn’t grasp the implications of his imminent change in fortune or take death’s finality to heart as Prince Vassily seems to. Anna Mikhailovna, meanwhile, is purely self-interested on her son’s behalf.
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