Summary and Analysis
Book XII: Chapters 14–16
Princess Marya makes the two-week journey to see her brother for the last time. Her love for Nikolay provides her with the spiritual strength she needs to encounter the dying Andrey. Greeted tenderly by the Rostovs, pitying Count Ilya Andreitch, who now seems aged and bewildered, Princess Marya feels warmth for Natasha. As she sees Natasha's face expressing boundless love for Prince Andrey, Marya embraces her and the two women weep together. Natasha describes"a sudden change" in Prince Andrey and says he has lost his hold on life.
Andrey's manner to Marya is cold, his impersonal conversation shows he is absorbed by inner thoughts that a living person cannot conceive, and he seems to blame his sister for being healthy and alive. He barely shows interest in his son, now a serious-eyed 7-year-old.
The"sudden change" Natasha speaks of is the result of Andrey's rejecting love and life and choosing death. It occurred two days before when, falling asleep, he suddenly recognized that love is God, that dying is a particle of love, a way of returning to the universal and eternal sources of love. He dreams that death has stolen into the room and he could not prevent it and he has died. Then he awakens. Yes, death is an awakening, he tells himself, and suddenly feels delivered of a heavy bondage. This moral change has left him softened and gentle and Natasha realizes he will die. Remaining at his beside to the last, Natasha and Marya see him slip away into death. It is too soon for them to weep at the loss; rather they weep at the emotion and awe that fills their souls before"the solemn and simple mystery of death accomplished before their eyes."
Prince Andrey has always sought for death as the ultimate resolution of the problems of his life. Tolstoy shows how his hero has always suffered his moments of truth when facing death: at the battlefield of Austerlitz, at the death of his wife Liza, in the hospital tent with Anatole, and even during his life-affirming conversation with Pierre when he regards the peaceful sky. On the other hand, Tolstoy shows how Andrey has always suffered disillusion whenever he followed life's beckoning: his dream of being a hero, his work with Speransky and his committee positions, and finally, his despair at Natasha's"fall." In his death scene, where Andrey believes very much like Platon Karataev in the cosmic unity of life and love and death and God, he arrives at an ultimate understanding of himself. At that moment he chooses death, welcoming its deliverance from all his problems of self-definition and resolving his life's futile activities. Andrey's ultimate expression is nihilistic, and this nihilism is the only solution his civilized, intellectual, egotistical nature can provide him.
In working out Andrey's nature to its ultimate conclusion, Tolstoy has neatly provided the end of one thread of his narrative and a point of beginning for two others. Nikolay and Marya are now free to marry, and Natasha, enriched by her awareness of love by the death of her fiancé, will be mature when it is time for her to accept Pierre.