Summary and Analysis
Book IX: Chapters 16–23
Having tried to swallow poison, Natasha lies gravely ill. She languishes all through the hot Moscow summer and improves gradually. Unable to sing or laugh without catching a sob, Natasha seems most revived when Pierre is with her. About this time, Natasha finds in religion her greatest solace and she prays daily for repentance,
With his love for Natasha filling each moment of his life, Pierre becomes increasingly restless as she recovers and has less need of his pity. When one of his acquaintances informs Pierre that the beast prophesied in the Apocalypse of St. John corresponds to an anagram of"l'empereur Napoleon,'' Pierre finds that"l'russe Besuhof" also qualifies. He believes there is a cosmic connection among the factors of his love, the prophecy in St. John, the comet, and Napoleon's invasion. He also believes a crisis will develop to lead him to some great achievement and great happiness. Although wishing to enter the army, he decides to await his ultimate mission.
Arriving one day for his usual Sunday dinner at the Rostovs, Pierre discovers Natasha singing her sol-fa exercises for the first time. The 15-year-old Petya jumps at him, begging Pierre to get him a place with the hussars, but his parents become angry and indignant. Meantime Pierre becomes uncomfortable in Natasha's blooming presence and feels forced to cut short his visit. She challenges him, asking why he must go. Mumbling something about business and that it is better not to come so often, Pierre looks her full in the eyes, almost speaking his love. Natasha blushes suddenly in dismayed understanding. As he departs, Pierre decides not to visit her again.
Petya resolves to see the tsar himself and ask for a commission. He is among a huge mob of people waiting for Alexander to arrive at the gates of the Kremlin. When he returns home, having been nearly trampled, he threatens to run away if his parents do not let him join the army. Count Rostov gives in and seeks a place where his son shall not be in any danger.
Pierre is among a group of noblemen thronging the halls of the palace where Alexander is to give audience. Many men stand up to make fiery speeches about sacrifice and conscripting peasants and fighting with every ounce for the cause. Pierre feels moved to speak and, in bookish Russian, urges that the group offer counsel to the tsar, that they should consider what is needed before acting. He is shouted down and a near riot ensues. A secretary then informs the gathering that the emperor asks the nobility to furnish and equip ten of every thousand men. When Alexander himself appears and thanks them all, everyone, including Pierre, sheds tears of emotion, feeling nothing except an intense desire to sacrifice everything for the sovereign and the nation.
The mass movement of the novel now accelerates as Tolstoy impels his characters to face the imminent national crisis. We see Petya, the coming generation, emerging into an early manhood and eager to participate in saving his nation. As Petya is caught up in the excited mob outside the Kremlin, Tolstoy conveys to us a sense of the tide of history that causes men to forget their immediate problems and unite in a common effort. By the same token, Pierre prevents himself from speaking to Natasha of his love as if postponing his personal life to a time in the future. When he decides to await his"ultimate mission" we realize he is directing his love energies toward a more cosmic goal involving the coming trials of history.
Pierre is again the transition figure as Tolstoy goes from the plane of the personal to the national. He is among the multitude thronging the palace halls, a group of nobles, merchants, and others of the"third estate" gathered together by the tsar to deliberate with the monarch. The mob scene here not only illustrates how men sublimate their personal needs to respond to national needs, but illustrates a subtle change in the ancient system of government.
The divine-right sovereign, in this moment of crisis, has convened even the third estate to advise him — to"deliberate" with him. In other words, the national emergency demands the response of its citizens as free men, not as servants of the king, in order to overcome the threat to their existence. Tolstoy shows how the old order gives way to the new through historical necessity, masses of men who must act as free individuals who define themselves through a mass goal.