Summary and Analysis
Book VI: Chapters 11–26
Despite having mortgaged the three estates that were to be his daughters' dowries, the financial troubles of Count Ilya Rostov increase.
Yet when Berg becomes engaged to Vera, the eldest daughter, Count Rostov promises 100,000 rubles to his future son-in-law for settlement.
Boris Drubetskoy now becomes attracted by Natasha and often visits the Rostovs. Her mother, however, says Boris is too poor for Natasha to marry and asks the young man to visit them less.
Natasha attends her first grand ball on New Year's Eve of 1810. Sparkling with excitement, aglow with feeling how pretty she is, Natasha seeks out Pierre and finds him conversing with a handsome young officer. This distinguished but conceited fellow, the chaperone tells her, is"hand in glove" with Speransky. When Prince Andrey leads Natasha through a waltz he feels spirited and youthful; her beauty intoxicates him. Watching her dance with other partners he delights anew in her freshness and charm. He surprises himself by wishing to marry her.
Prince Andrey finds work difficult the next morning. He recalls how fresh and original, how"unlike Petersburg" this charming"younger Rostov" was. When a fellow committeeman calls on him, Bolkonsky finds their talk tedious and petty. At Speransky's dinner party that night, he finds the great statesman suddenly unnatural and unattractive. Speranksy's forced staccato laugh rings unpleasantly in his ears. Prince Andrey marvels how unimportant and idle all his pursuits of these past four months now seem.
Calling on the Rostovs the following day, Andrey discovers that Natasha is even prettier in her everyday surroundings. Her singing brings tears to his eyes. In her company he is transported to a world where he forgets his dead Liza, where he can believe in happiness, strength, and freedom again.
Vera and Berg are having their first social evening and they invite Pierre. Their soirée is just as boring and as superficial as every other gathering and the newlyweds are delighted with their success. Pierre notices how dull Natasha seems, and how she becomes radiant when Prince Andrey arrives. Something serious is between them, he thinks to himself, and suddenly realizes his gladness is mixed with bitterness.
Old Bolkonsky is against his son's marrying Natasha. She lacks maturity as well as fortune, he thinks. Mainly he dislikes any change in the routine he has fixed for his old age. By way of compromise, Prince Andrey agrees to defer the marriage for one year. Meanwhile three weeks pass without Natasha having seen Andrey. Depressed and ambivalent, she prefers to remain a"girl-baby" one day, the next day she wishes to marry soon. In one of these childish moods, she confronts Prince Andrey at the door. Count Rostov accepts Bolkonsky's proposal, but Natasha is panic-stricken that she must wait a year for their marriage. Andrey does not wish a formal betrothal, for he leaves Natasha free to break her promise during the waiting period. He is afraid for her, thinking she is too young to know her own mind.
As Andrey visits the Rostovs each day, they come to accept him naturally. Natasha finds more to love and admire in him as they are together and their relationship is close and simple. When Bolkonsky is about to depart, he tells her to regard Pierre as a close friend and to confide in him if she has need. Deeply depressed after Andrey leaves, Natasha takes two weeks to become herself again.
Feebler and more irritable than ever while his son is absent, the old prince vents his anger against Princess Marya, jeering at her piousness and at her devotion to the baby. Only from her brother's letter from Switzerland does Marya learn of the betrothal. Andrey writes that he has never known love until now, that his life is full of value and meaning once more. He asks her to approach their father to cut the waiting period by three months. Dutifully Princess Marya tenders Andrey's request. Her father jeers: What a fine stepmother young Rostova will make for Nikolushka, and her family is so clever and rich besides. Let him marry, says the old man, then I can marry Bourienne and give Prince Andrey a suitable stepmother! He says nothing more on this subject, but among other mockeries against his daughter he adds allusions to a stepmother and offers gallantries to Mlle. Bourienne. In her misery, Princess Marya has a recurrent daydream: She would join her"God's folk" on a pilgrimage through the world where worldly troubles and deceptions have no meaning. But she would not leave home, she realizes, for she loves her father and her nephew better than she loves God.
Having previously identified Natasha with the springtime, Tolstoy uses her as the means for Prince Andrey's emotional renascence. Natasha's debut at the grand ball provides a fairytale atmosphere where the"princess" enkindles immediate love in the heart of a"prince charming." Tolstoy expands this romantic formula by forcing the heroine to undergo a test before she can prove herself worthy to marry the hero. This mythic beginning for the love relationship between Natasha and Prince Andrey strikes a note of unreality which foreshadows disaster for the newly conceived romance.
At the same time, his romantic passion provides Prince Andrey with a point of reality. Against his emotional fulfillment, he can measure the value of all his other activities. Suddenly love is Andrey's"real life" and his political business and committee services become mere reflections of life. Compared to Natasha's laughter, Speransky's laugh seems an echo of the deadness Andrey discovers among all the court officials.
Pierre's sense of reality receives a similar shock in these chapters as he begins to see the futility of finding emotional fulfillment through freemasonry. He realizes he has joined the organization to seek answers to his personal disorders, not those of the world. When Pierre discovers that the problems he symbolizes in his dreams — his sexual desires, for instance — are more substantial than the hollow virtues he seeks to achieve through freemasonry, he can already begin toward self-perfection.
Tolstoy has thus turned the concepts of worldly reality into unreality and dream-life and passion of an individual into substantial qualities."Real life," according to Tolstoy, are the struggles of the"inner man," and these struggles for self-knowledge provide the only means with which to understand the outer world.
Women, however, have fewer problems with a divided self, Tolstoy believes, and he personifies the unity of civilization and nature in Natasha. Responding only to her instincts for love, all her activities radiate from this central truth of her nature. Problems arise for Natasha only when this love-instinct is frustrated, and the threat of this frustration is implicit in the deferred marriage. Princess Marya's womanly instincts are already suffering through her father's enmity, although she somewhat compensates by her maternal attentions to Nikolushka. She realizes that escape into religion will not satisfy her emotional needs; only through worldly involvement with husband and children can she find fulfillment.
Tolstoy has thus set up the pattern for the maturation of his characters. Love provides the inner content of reality in the lives of Andrey, Pierre, Natasha, and Marya. How this quality becomes manifest in their respective lives involves all the future incidents in which each participates throughout the rest of the novel.