War and Peace

War and Peace

by

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace: Volume 2, Part 2: Chapters 5–9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Pierre sits at home, reading and daydreaming about the new life he’s about to begin. Just then Prince Vassily comes in and tells Pierre that Hélène is completely innocent. He blames Pierre for his newly awkward position in society and wants to help the couple reconcile. Remembering his Masonic vow to be “gentle and affable,” Pierre struggles not to respond sharply to his father-in-law. Yet, suddenly, he jumps up and opens the door, firmly telling Prince Vassily to go—he was not invited. A week later, he leaves large sums of alms for his Mason brothers and leaves for his southern estates with letters of recommendation for the Masons in Kiev and Odessa.
Pierre’s new life is abruptly shaken out of the realm of daydreams. His old problems continue to haunt him. Still only concerned about his own social position, Prince Vassily tries to smooth over his daughter’s faults in the marriage. In his response to this still fresh wound, Pierre finds it harder than expected to live up to his new ethics. Living morally in a troubled world isn’t a matter of simple resolve; it’s a continual struggle.
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Though Pierre and Dolokhov suffer no legal consequences for the duel, rumors spread. Now that Pierre is no longer a wealthy young suitor, society no longer coddles him, and he is solely blamed for what’s happened to his marriage; everyone says he takes after his father, subject to rages. When Hélène returns to Petersburg, she assumes the role of a suffering martyr among her society friends. Anna Pavlovna Scherer, for her part, claims that she always knew Pierre was “crazy,” never supported this marriage, and predicted it would fail.
Dueling is illegal, so Pierre could have suffered worse consequences; his social status probably helps. Nevertheless, now that he’s no longer an eligible bachelor, society freely criticizes him, no matter how much (like Anna Pavlovna) they claimed to admire him before. It all goes to show the shallowness and fragility of reputation in aristocratic Russia.
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Anna Pavlovna is still throwing her soirées. She invites the cream of Petersburg, and the parties always reveal the political mood of society. In late 1806, a new war with Napoleon begins. Around this time, Anna Pavlovna throws a soirée with Hélène, Mortemart, Prince Ippolit, some diplomats, and others not yet well-known. One of these is Boris Drubetskoy, who’s currently serving as an adjutant to someone important and has just come from an errand to the Prussian army. Boris is the special guest whom Anna Pavlovna hopes to “serve up” to her guests, and she guides the discussion around diplomatic relations with Austria.
By late 1806, one Prussian fortress after another has surrendered to Napoleon, and the Russian army has moved into Poland to meet the French. Accordingly, Anna Pavlovna chooses a different centerpiece for her latest party, focusing on warfront diplomacy instead of French gossip. It’s a reciprocal arrangement—such attention could establish young Boris in society for life, while also shoring up Anna Pavlovna’s social status.
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By now, Boris has matured and has put himself in a respectable position in his military service. He enjoys the system of subordination he learned to recognize at Olmütz—in which courage or perseverance aren’t primary, but rather skill in dealing with those who are in a position to reward their service. He doesn’t understand why more people do not strive for the same. He spends all his money on dressing well and only associates with those who can be of some benefit to him. When he’s invited to Anna Pavlovna’s, he believes he’s moving up in the world. After the party, Hélène Bezukhov frequently invites Boris to her house.
Boris shows that he takes after his mother, Anna Mikhailovna Drubetskoy. Unlike his friend Rostov, he doesn’t see military service as honorable in its own right, but as a system of social advancement to be mastered. In this system, people aren’t valuable in themselves but as resources for one’s own progress. Though she’s been presenting herself as a victim, Hélène doesn’t hesitate to pursue questionable relationships with young men like Boris.
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Meanwhile, the war is drawing closer to the Russian borders. Recruits are gathered from the villages, and conflicting rumors fly. Since 1805, the Bolkonskys’ lives have changed a lot. In 1806, Prince Nikolai is made one of Russia’s eight militia commanders in chief. Though the prince is old, the new responsibility revives him. He spends his time traveling around the three provinces assigned to him, fulfilling his duties with obsessive exactness. Princess Marya spends most of her time mothering little Prince Nikolai, Prince Andrei’s son, as best she can.
The war is no longer a distant, abstract matter for the family at Bald Hills. Despite his skepticism of modern warfare, Prince Nikolai thrives in public service, and Princess Marya, characteristically, pours herself into caring for someone else’s needs in his absence.
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Prince Nikolai has given Andrei an estate called Bogucharovo, 30 miles away, and Andrei begins spending most of his time there. After the Battle of Austerlitz, Andrei takes a post raising militia for his father so that he can avoid active service. While his father is exhilarated by the war, Prince Andrei no longer sees any good in it.
Prince Andrei’s experience at Austerlitz was a turning point for him. At the beginning of the novel, he hoped war would provide a meaningful alternative to marriage. Since his near-death spiritual awakening, he no longer finds meaning in the war, and his marriage is no more.
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At the end of February, 1807, Prince Andrei stays at Bald Hills while his father is traveling on duty. Baby Nikolushka is sick. When letters arrive for Prince Andrei, the maid finds him in the nursery, sitting in a child’s chair and unsteadily pouring drops of medicine into a glass while arguing with Princess Marya in a whisper. Neither Prince nor Princess has slept for two days as they’ve tried various remedies on the baby’s persistent fever. Prince Andrei’s opinion prevails, and they wake the baby to administer medicine. The baby cries and wheezes.
The scene in the Bald Hills nursery is a big change for Andrei; he’s never taken such an interest in domestic matters before. His sleepless efforts and firm opinions on childrearing contrast sharply with his life as Kutuzov’s adjutant, suggesting that he’s now looking for meaning in personal relationships instead of abstract ideals.
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Prince Andrei retreats to the next room to read the letter that’s come from his father. Prince Nikolai joyfully reports a victory over Napoleon at Preussisch-Eylau. He orders Prince Andrei to hasten to Korchevo to make sure the army there is fully provisioned. Prince Andrei refuses to do this until the baby is well. What’s more, he feels his father is mocking him with the news of a Russian victory while Andrei himself is out of the action. He decides to read his other letter, from Bilibin, for distraction.
The battle of Preussisch-Eylau was fought on February 8, 1807. Both the Russian and French sides claimed victory. Though once prompt in military duties, Andrei won’t even respond to his father’s request while his baby is sick, showing how much his priorities have shifted. At the same time, he still feels self-conscious about the fact that he’s not fulfilling his expected role.
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Bilibin is now a diplomat attached to the army headquarters, and his letter, though written in French, has a “Russian fearlessness” and self-deprecating tone. The letter is dated before the battle of Preussisch-Eylau, and Bilibin pours out his heart to Prince Andrei. He writes of how Bonaparte has “[beaten] the stuffing” out of their Prussian allies. As a result, the Russians are now at war on their very frontiers. He also mentions the selection of an older commander in chief, Kamensky, the lack of food, and General Bennigsen’s ambition. Instead of focusing on the enemy, Bennigsen spends his energy trying to thwart a rival for promotion, Buxhöwden. Meanwhile, the hungry soldiers starts roaming the countryside and looting the people, causing widespread famine.
The “Russian” tone of Bilibin’s letter suggests that the cultured use of French doesn’t drown out a deeper, more passionate Russian sensibility. Bilibin maintains a cynical outlook on the war, conveying that it isn’t going well, in part because generals are caught up in irrelevant dramas, leading suffering inferiors to fend for themselves. This supports Tolstoy’s argument that the morale of the rank-and-file is often more consequential in war than the commands of their superiors.
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Finishing the letter, Prince Andrei crumples it and tosses it aside in anger. He’s disgusted that army life can still sound interesting and attractive. He goes back to the nursery and, at first afraid that the baby is dead, soon rejoices to see that the fever has broken. He and Princess Marya join hands and watch the calmly sleeping baby in relief and wonder. At last, Prince Andrei tears himself away from the baby’s bedside, reflecting that his son is all that’s left to him now.
Despite his retreat from active service, Prince Andrei still cares about the war and, on some level, wishes he were there. For the time being, he continues to occupy himself—genuinely, it seems—in family concerns, refusing to seek meaning in the disillusioning outer world.
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