War and Peace

War and Peace

by

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace: Volume 2, Part 3: Chapters 18–22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Prince Andrei struggles to settle down to his work, so he’s relieved when Bitsky, a fellow commissioner and society gossip, drops by. Bitsky rapturously recounts the Emperor’s speech at the State Council that morning—he’d made a strong stand for principled reform instead of arbitrary government power. Though Prince Andrei had looked forward to the Council’s opening, it no longer seems important to him. In fact, even legislative reforms and dining with Speransky no longer excite him.
Prince Andrei thought he’d found new meaning in public service and social reform, but even with big changes stirring in Russian politics, these developments no longer hold his interest. His evening with Natasha has caused him to reevaluate his priorities yet again.
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Nevertheless, Prince Andrei shows up for a small dinner at Speransky’s that evening. Listening to Speransky’s high-pitched laughter during the hors d’oeuvres, Prince Andrei feels disillusioned. Speransky seems to have been demystified in this setting, and the result is no longer attractive to Andrei. Speransky seems fake to him, and the guests seem to be currying his favor. They even lapse into ordinary conversation the moment he leaves the room. After this, Prince Andrei excuses himself. He compares the past few months in Petersburg with his former life at Bogucharovo; the latter now seems far more engaging and meaningful.
Next to Natasha’s freshness and free spirit, life in society seems intolerably stale, fake, and pointless to Prince Andrei; it’s like waking up to reality once again. If his brush with death at the battle of Austerlitz changed his view of war, meeting Natasha has changed his mind about the value of public service. Neither one offers a path to a meaningful life.
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Related Quotes
The next day Prince Andrei visits the Rostovs. He’d once judged the Rostovs harshly, but he’s now touched by their simplicity and sincerity. Natasha seems to represent a world filled with unknown joys. After supper, she plays the clavichord and sings for him. In the middle of her song, Prince Andrei’s eyes fill with tears. Such a thing has never happened to him before. He feels suddenly aware of the chasm between the infinite and the earthly. Unable to sleep that night, he makes plans for the future, deciding that Pierre was right: a person must believe in the possibility of happiness and enjoy it while one can.
Prince Andrei’s reactions to Natasha raise some interesting questions—like whether he truly sees Natasha as an individual, or whether her innocence and beauty get conflated in Andrei’s mind with his near-death experience and his yearning for happiness. In other words, she seems to represent happiness, but it’s not clear if she can truly make him happy.
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One morning Colonel Berg visits Pierre and invites him to a soirée he’s throwing with Vera; Hélène had turned him down. When Pierre arrives at the party, he finds Berg explaining to Vera that he’s worked his way up to the position of regimental commander by choosing his acquaintances well. Both Berg and Vera look down on one another and the opposite sex in general, but they share a passion for prominent guests. They interrupt one another as they try to entertain Pierre with competing conversations. As more guests arrive, including Boris and the Rostovs, the couple feels satisfied that their soirée is exactly like everyone else’s.
In a somewhat comical interlude, it appears that Berg and Vera are well suited for each other. They both have a high opinion of themselves and want to be highly regarded in society as well (though people of Hélène’s social status apparently scorn them). Their biggest desire in life is to conform to exactly what society expects of them.
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As one of the more honored guests, Pierre sits at a card game with Count Rostov. Natasha sits there, too, and Pierre notices that she seems uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn. But when Prince Andrei walks in and approaches her, she suddenly glows. Pierre notices that Prince Andrei seems lighter and younger, too, and as he observes the two throughout the evening, he feels glad but also bitter. Later, Pierre overhears Vera making wry comments about Natasha’s youthful flightiness and past romances; Andrei looks troubled by this.
Natasha is still fresh from the curtailed courtship with Boris; talking with Andrei lifts her out of that gloom. It’s not clear if Vera is specifically trying to undermine the budding romance or if she’s just offering gossip suitable for a soirée, but either way, she gives Prince Andrei second thoughts. Pierre, stuck in a loveless marriage, looks on wistfully—Pierre has a pattern of looking at others’ happiness from the outside.
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Prince Andrei spends the next day at the Rostovs’. Natasha is pale with nervous anticipation; Prince Andrei is surprisingly shy. Sonya won’t leave her friend’s side. Natasha later confides in the Countess that she’d first fallen in love with Andrei at Otradnoe and that their meeting again in Petersburg was fate. At the same time, Prince Andrei confides in Pierre that he loves Natasha and plans to propose.
Anticipation mounts in the Rostov household. Things have moved quickly—though Natasha barely knows Andrei, she projects her feelings for him into the past. (Tolstoy sometimes points out realistic moments like this where characters reinterpret their memories in light of new developments.) Having come to Petersburg to seek meaning in public service, Andrei now has a very different view of his personal happiness.
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Countess Bezukhov is having a party that night. Pierre wanders through the party with a sad, distracted look.  Ever since the Emperor’s ball, he’s been inclined to hypochondria. Recently granted the rank of gentleman of the chamber, he’s begun to feel pessimistic about worldly pursuits again. He tries to ward off his doubts by throwing himself into Masonic studies again. That’s when Prince Andrei comes in to talk about Natasha. He’s never known this kind of happiness before, he assures Pierre. Pierre encourages his friend, feeling the gloominess of his own life by comparison.
Though Pierre doesn’t acknowledge any feelings for Natasha herself, Andrei’s new romance reminds Pierre of the unresolved emptiness in his own life which nothing seems to adequately fill. His friend’s life is taking a new turn while his remains stagnant.
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