Summary and Analysis
In the seven years that have passed, Alexander passes from the liberalism of his early reign to a period of reaction, characterized by the Holy Alliance, the restoration of Poland, and the balance-of-power politics beginning in 1820. These, then, are the events, and the judgments we make about them are relative, according to what contemporary historians consider to be the good of humanity and what later historians consider good. Standards of good and bad are always changing in light of different viewpoints, says Tolstoy, and if we had an invariable standard of good and bad by which we could assess events as they take place, then the"bad" events could be prevented. If this were the case, no dynamics of human activity would exist."Once admit that human life can be guided by reason," asserts Tolstoy,"and all possibility of life is annihilated."
If we make limited assumptions about historical phenomena, as we do when we assert, for example, that great men lead humanity to certain ends like the aggrandizement of France or Russia, then we can only explain specific happenings as occurring by chance or through the acts of a genius. But if we admit that events occur for reasons beyond our ken, we will be presented with a unity and coherence among the facts of history. When we recognize that the events which convulsed Europe constitute the essence and end of a series of happenings, then we sense an integrity of individual occurrences, just as we can accept the integrity of the separate parts that contribute to the whole flower without having to explain the cause of each part.
Tolstoy sweepingly describes the career of Napoleon as built upon a series of millions of chances: his spectacular rise to power, his invasion of Africa, his invasion and retreat from Russia, his subsequent ruin and comeback ten years later. Because of the way events unfold among all these chance happenings, Napoleon considers himself great and confers the title of greatness to whatever he does or fails to do. Yet the final aims of historical persons or nations remain unfathomable, says Tolstoy, regardless of what may be described as their aims.
The marriage of Natasha and Pierre in 1813 provides the last happy event in Count Rostov's life and he dies an old, ineffectual man. Nikolay is forced to shoulder the burden of his father's debts and valiantly maintains the household on slender means. He feels guilty before the patient and self-sacrificing Sonya and does not love her.
Later in 1813 Nikolay marries Princess Marya and, with Sonya and the old countess, they move to Bleak Hills. Within a few years Nikolay repays all his debts, enlarges his estate, and has the means to repurchase his ancestral holdings. His excellent understanding of the peasants causes them to respect and revere him, and his lands bring in abundant harvests. Although Marya does not share his passion for the land, she sustains him in everything he does. They are very happy together and Nikolay thinks it his greatest fortune to marry a woman of such deep-souled nobility. Sonya lives with them like a cat attached to the household itself rather than to the people in it. She accepts her barren position and does small thankless favors for everyone in the family.
By 1820 Natasha has three daughters and an infant son she insists on nursing herself. In the robust-looking young mother one is hard put to discover the slim, mobile girl of former days. Natasha is positively devoted to Pierre and understands everything about him, and everything about him is lovely to her. She is boundlessly possessive toward her children and her husband and has no other interests. Pierre allows himself to be henpecked by her because he believes this is the way families operate. Denisov, who spends a week visiting the Bezuhovs, sees only a bad likeness of the Natasha who had once submitted to him, and her constant talk of the nursery bores him.
Nikolinka, Andrey's child, lives with the Rostovs but has no strong affection for Nikolay. He considers Pierre his hero and is delighted to stay up one night while the men talk politics. Pierre and Nikolay have a long argument about the duties of a citizen. Pierre says people should voice disagreement when their government is wrong and Rostov says he believes in loyalty to the state under any conditions."Would my father agree with you?" Nikolinka shyly asks Pierre, and he is answered, yes. The child gazes with luminous eyes at his idol.
Marya and Nikolay talk over the day's event as they usually do at bedtime. She shows him a diary in which she chronicles the day-to-day moral development of her children. Nikolay is filled with wonder at his wife, whose untiring, perpetual spiritual efforts enhance his life immeasurably. Marya assures her husband that his views on duty to the state are in exact agreement with her own.
Meantime the Bezuhovs talk in their rooms. Pierre remarks how little significance Nikolay finds in ideas, whereas he himself finds nothing serious except ideas. Natasha asks whether Platon Karataev would agree with his view, and Pierre says no. But he would approve of my home life, he tells her,"for he did so like to see seemliness, happiness, peace in everything."
Nikolinka lies dreaming of Pierre, whose image suddenly becomes that of his father, and the boy is dissolved in the weakness of love."I shall study hard," he tells himself, and become someone great and glorious so that even my father would be proud.
The life cycle of the personal novel within War and Peace is completed; the new generation awakens from a dream of the past and is eager to begin the future. To underscore the movements of the ebb and flow of generations that has occupied a great part of the novel, Tolstoy provides Nikolinka with a dream that seems an echo of Prince Andrey's youthful aspirations to glory and knowledge. Unlike his father, whose hero was Napoleon, however, Nikolinka admires Pierre, whose soul has a spiritual affinity with those of Kutuzov and Karataev. Tolstoy's conclusion sounds a note of youthful striving and optimism: It affirms the best parts of Pierre and Andrey as these qualities distill in the soul of the rising generation.
The staid, middle-aged domesticity of the Rostovs and the Bezuhovs reflects the peace and harmony of people who have matured through their experiences of life. They have passed through the trials of youth — the"war" as the title suggests — and have thus earned the spiritual and emotional peace of their adult lives.
These romantic youthful figures of War and Peace have become dull and complacent; after the hazards they have run, after the pain and anguish they have suffered, their quiescent emotions and uninteresting happiness is a disappointment to readers who have been caught up in the sweep and drama of their earlier lives. But Tolstoy's sense of realism forces us to face the dreary truth of adulthood: Youthful possibilities of an individual become narrowed by experiences that convey him to his appointed condition in life. The First Epilogue is not merely a brief statement of a lazy author's"and they lived happily ever after"; rather, it is a significant section of the work, which examines how the heroes live out their day-to-day lives once they have solved the burning problems of youth and once their time of adventure has passed.
We see how each character realizes his predestined aim. While Pierre is still fat and good-natured, still dabbles in"causes" and ideas, he has retained, at the same time, the inexpressible sense of God's love and universality. Nikolay has become a conservative but successful country gentleman, unintellectual as ever, but with the best parts of his nature enriched and deepened by his marriage to Princess Marya. Where she was unhappy before, Marya is now content and satisfied, with the same devotion and piety once directed toward her domineering father now directed toward her family. Natasha provides us with a disappointment in her development, for we are modern readers who prefer the bubbling, ever-seductive young girl to the henpecking, fussbudget housewife she has become. Yet Natasha's present nature is of one piece with her previous one, for Tolstoy, guilt-ridden by his own sensuality and sexually threatened by women, can only create heroines whose seductiveness and loving nature expresses itself in child-rearing and in sustaining their husbands. As a creature of nature, Natasha's final flowering is to follow her natural destiny of bearing children and providing happiness for her spouse.
Not content with merely summing up the personal histories of his characters, Tolstoy supplies the discussion between Pierre and Nikolay to suggest national events. Nikolay's conservatism reflects the attitudes of the landowning class in Russia, and Pierre's liberalism speaks for the dissenting intelligentsia. Each man represents the political thinking that contributes toward the dynamics of this new historical era.