War and Peace

War and Peace

by

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace: Volume 3, Part 1: Chapters 19–23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ever since Pierre left the Rostovs’ house and saw the comet in the sky, his old tormenting questions seem to have left him. His despair about earthly vanity has been replaced by the image of Natasha’s face. Pierre is still drawn into his wasteful, idle social life, and as Natasha’s health improves, and he hears rumors of war, he begins to feel anxious again. He fears some impending catastrophe.
In Natasha, Pierre senses an answer to his ongoing questions about life’s meaning, but that doesn’t fix everything. His old vices continue to attract him, and he’s unsettled.
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A fellow Mason shows Pierre a verse in the Book of Revelation, explaining that it’s a prophecy of Napoleon. He derives this prophecy by assigning numerical values to the French letters of this verse. When one writes “l’empereur Napoléon” in the numerical alphabet and adds up the values of the letters, the result is 666, showing that Napoleon is the prophesied beast. The same code, applied to an earlier verse, suggests that Napoleon will reach the height of his power in 1812.
Pierre tends to be swept up in questionable beliefs when he’s feeling vulnerable in his life. Pierre is so desperate for settled meaning that he’s persuaded it can be found in strained apocalyptic interpretations of the Bible.
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By experimenting with this alphanumeric code and variant spellings of his name, Pierre figures out that “L’russe Besuhof” adds up to 666, suggesting to him that, in some mysterious way, he’s bound up in the events surrounding Napoleon. He feels that all these events—his love for Natasha, the comet, the war—will somehow connect in such a way that he’ll be liberated from his worthless Moscow life.
Pierre goes to great lengths to wrest meaning from his Bible code, finding a way that “Bezukhov the Russian” allegedly connects with Napoleon. He’s so hungry for concrete direction in his life that he basically orchestrates what he wants to see, even if it’s the most unlikely possibility.
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Pierre has promised to visit the Rostovs with war news. When he stops at Count Rastopchin’s to pick up the relevant documents, an army courier gives him a letter from Nikolai to pass along. Pierre feels excited by all the war news and wishes he could join the military himself. However, the Masons are bound by oath to peace. More than that, however, his numerological study convinces him that, somehow, he’s predestined to interfere in Napoleon’s invasion. He just has to wait for events to unfold.
Though Pierre’s Masonic convictions are supposed to preclude him from fighting, he longs to be involved in this major national event, and his study of Revelation has given him a reason to believe he will be. He’s right that he’ll be destined to be involved in some way, though the nature of that involvement isn’t at all what he thinks.
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When Pierre arrives at the Rostovs’ that evening, he finds Natasha practicing her scales, the first time she’s sung since her illness. She seems happier than before, but she stops Pierre and asks him if it’s wrong for her to sing—she trusts him implicitly and doesn’t want to do anything he wouldn’t approve of. Pierre blushes, so moved that he almost declares his love to her again, but then 15-year-old Petya runs into the room. He secretly wants to join the hussars and hopes Pierre can help him.
Pierre continues to have feelings for Natasha, who looks up to him as a trustworthy man. Natasha continues to emerge from her grief and, in contrast to her childhood impulsiveness, is concerned about acting appropriately, showing that she’s learned something from the fiasco with Anatole.
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The rest of the family comes in and wants to see the manifesto Pierre has brought—a war appeal from the Emperor. The manifesto tells of the threat to Russia, the sovereign’s faith in the people of Moscow, and his commitment to stand among them. Afterward, Count Rostov is teary-eyed. Blushing, Petya goes up to his father and says he wants to join the military. Countess Rostov is horrified, and the Count says it's nonsense—Petya must go to university instead. Suddenly Natasha’s stare is too much for Pierre, and he makes an excuse to leave, deciding he must no longer visit the Rostovs.
At army headquarters, Emperor Alexander had to be persuaded to issue this manifesto; now, from the perspective of the ordinary public, the manifesto has its intended effect of moving people and inspiring them to enlist. For his part, Pierre is so unsettled by Natasha’s presence that he feels he must distance himself from a possibility of happiness that can never be his.
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After Pierre’s visit, Petya goes to his room and cries. The next day, he dresses carefully. The Emperor is due in town, and Petya plans to make a speech to one of Alexander’s gentlemen-in-waiting conveying his readiness to defend the fatherland. But when he reaches the Kremlin, he has to elbow through the crowd just like everybody else who’s gathered to see the sovereign’s arrival. Suddenly the crowd surges forward, cheering, and Petya is nearly crushed in the stampede; he briefly loses consciousness. A clergyman leads Petya away from the crowd, somebody unbuttons his coat, and he sits down to rest on a monument.
Petya, the youngest Rostov, is the most impressionable in his attitude about war. He’s grown up hearing about the drama of war, his brother has served, and now he’s just heard an emotive appeal from the Emperor. The crush of people at the Kremlin matches Petya’s mood. The masses are irrational, nearly killing those in their path. Tolstoy suggests this is what war, being irrational, stirs up in otherwise rational people.
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As Petya’s pain subsides, he relishes his favored vantage point. While the emperor attends a prayer service in the cathedral, hawkers sell snacks, and the crowd lapses into ordinary conversation. When the emperor’s entourage emerges from the cathedral, Petya tearfully shouts “Hurrah!,” not knowing which figure is the emperor but hardly caring—he just knows he must enlist in the military, whatever it takes.
The Emperor’s presence creates a holiday atmosphere that sweeps people, including Petya, into its irrational energy. Thus choosing to enlist isn’t really a rational choice, either. Petya responds to the emotion of the moment and the crowds.
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During the Emperor’s supper in the palace, the people remain gathered beneath his balcony. When he steps out to greet them, many people, including Petya, begin to cry. When the sovereign accidentally drops a piece of the biscuit he’s holding, it falls to the ground, and a cabby pounces on it. The crowd, in turn, rushes the cabby. Then the Emperor calls for a plate of biscuits and begins throwing these at the crowd. Heedless of the mob, Petya pushes forward to grab a biscuit, knocking a little old lady aside. When he gets home, he repeats his firm intention to join the army. Though he doesn’t say yes, Count Rostov starts searching for a way that Petya can be sent to a less dangerous area of the warfront.
The biscuit-throwing episode isn’t historically attested. In the Appendix, Tolstoy claims he can provide references for everything his historical characters do, but when challenged on this specific point, he was unable to give evidence that it happened. In any case, these events further support Tolstoy’s argument that people in mobs act irrationally, and that warfare especially stirs up such reactions in people.
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A few days later, carriages crowd outside the Slobodsky palace. The palace’s halls are filled with nobles and merchants, milling around and talking. Pierre is there, excited about the mix of classes and the fact that the sovereign said he was coming to Moscow “for consultations” with the people—it all makes him think of the French revolution. Various people make speeches in support of various roles for the nobility in the war, one man arguing that nobles should enlist to fight.
The Slobodsky palace was the seat of the Assembly of the Nobility. Upon the Emperor’s return to Moscow, the nobility are summoned to consult with the Emperor about the coming war. Unsurprisingly, Pierre has idealistic hopes for this consultation, hoping it means that a wide spectrum of perspectives will be offered.
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Pierre interrupts an elderly senator in overly correct Russian with French sprinkled in. He argues that the sovereign wants counsel, not just cannon fodder. Most people walk away, but several people jump in to argue with Pierre. One impassioned fellow declares that Russians must spill their last drop of blood in the tsar’s defense. Pierre wants to defend himself by saying that he’s happy to support the emperor, but that it’s important to understand the state of affairs first. However, he’s drowned out and pushed to the margins, as people want a clear rallying cry and a clear villain.
To this day, Pierre is rather ill at ease in aristocratic Russian crowds, his Russian not quite matching his passion for speaking.  Not naturally a fighter, Pierre tries to present a balanced perspective, but that isn’t what people want to hear—they want a call to action against the French. Pierre’s experience here echoes the mob weeping over Emperor Alexander a few days earlier—there’s no appetite for moderation or careful thought.
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Then Count Rastopchin comes in and says that the Emperor will arrive soon. He supposes there won’t be much to discuss, and that it’s the nobility’s job to raise a militia. There’s a quiet murmur of agreement. The secretary is ordered to write down what the Muscovite nobility will contribute to the war effort.
Ironically, as soon as the nobility are told by one of the Emperor’s ministers what’s going to happen, they drop the passionate outcry of moments earlier and quietly acquiesce, raising the question of how sincere they really were.
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Pierre now feels ashamed of the “constitutional tendency” he’s just shown, and to make up for it, he pledges a thousand men and their maintenance to the war effort. Count Rostov goes home and tearfully tells his wife about the affecting scene; he also signs Petya up for service, his misgivings vanished. After the sovereign leaves Moscow, the noblemen return to their normal routines, giving their stewards orders to deal with the militia.
Pierre, afraid of looking more like a citizen of a republic than a subject of a tsar, submits to the surrounding mood and makes a very generous donation. For all their vocal enthusiasm, the other nobles leave the whole matter in the hands of those who actually run their estates. Count Rostov is especially moved by the patriotism and fatefully allows his son to go to war.
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