Summary and Analysis
Book I: Chapters 22–25
At Bleak Hills, the estate of Prince Nikolay Andreivitch Bolkonsky, everyone awaits the arrival of Prince Andrey and his wife Liza. Besides the old man, nicknamed the"Prussian king," the household includes Princess Marya, her orphaned companion Mlle. Bourienne, the prince's architect Mihail Ivanovitch (whom the old man admits to the table to show that all men are equal), and numerous servants. Once a commander-in-chief, the old man was banished from Moscow by Paul; although reinstated by Catherine, he still lives in exile, declaring that anyone who wishes to see him can travel the 150 versts from Moscow. Secluded in the country, the old prince has many occupations — mathematics, woodworking, gardening, writing his memoirs, managing the estate — each of which fills an apportioned place in his unwavering daily schedule, where even meals must be served at a precise moment. Human vices derive from idleness and superstition, proclaims the prince, and energy and intelligence are the only virtues. With this in mind, he educates his daughter in algebra and geometry and maps out her life in uninterrupted occupation.
Princess Marya suffers each day during her father's lessons, her misery and fear blocking her comprehension. Each day he dismisses her in anger and she goes to work out the problem in her room. Today she turns to her correspondence with her childhood friend, Julie Karagin. Julie's letter contains news of the name-day party and of the splendid Nikolay Rostov who is going to fight the"Corsican monster." Julie writes that Pierre Bezuhov inherited the immense fortune and title of his father and warns Marya that Prince Vassily intends to marry her to his son, Anatole. In answer, Princess Marya expresses her profound religiosity: Killing one's fellow man even in war is a crime, Pierre deserves pity for being exposed to new temptations from his sudden wealth, and if God ordains wifehood and motherhood for her destiny she will submit to His will. Stolid and plain-faced, the 28-year-old Marya becomes beautiful when her large, deep, luminous eyes express, as now, her soulful intensity.
Prince Andrey and Liza arrive later that day. Though they hardly know each other, the sisters-in-law tearfully embrace and Andrey feels uncomfortable at the unnecessary emotion. Quickly cheerful, Liza begins to chatter about society trivia. Marya asks about her pregnancy and the little princess bursts into tears; she is frightened of childbirth.
Andrey greets his father with eager and reverential eyes, and the old man hides his delight at the meeting by mocking the new military men of the time. Liza is awed by her father-in-law, especially as he rudely interrupts her patter of small talk to continue his favorite theme. The old man loves to censure the modern politicians who do not know how to stand up to that"scheming upstart" Bonaparte, as a"real Russian" would. But Napoleon is a splendid tactician, Andrey argues, and his father cites all the blunders the Frenchman committed. Despite his isolation, the old man accurately judges current affairs.
Getting ready to leave the following evening, Prince Andrey is packing in his room when his sister comes to talk with him. Marya begs him to lessen his"pride of intellect" and, above all, to show their father more respect. She also asks him to understand Liza's pitiable plight, being separated from the town social life she depends on. Marya now presents her atheist brother a silver talisman engraved with Christ's image and Andrey promises to wear it faithfully.
He goes to take farewell of his father, who gives his son a letter of commendation to his friend and commander-in-chief, Mihail Ilarionovitch Kutuzov. Only serve if the position does honor to you, counsels the proud father. The old prince promises to care for Liza during her confinement, even agreeing to send for an obstetrician from Moscow when the time comes. Andrey makes one more request: If he should die his father must raise his little son at Bleak Hills and not with Liza.
The scenes at Bleak Hills are excellent examples to show how Tolstoy works his materials on two levels. A bastion of the old order, the Bolkonsky estate seems a working model of the Russian aristocracy, with the old prince as tsar of an isolated Russia that will cease to exist after the coming war. Imperious and rigid though he is, the old man conveys to his children a pride of heritage, personal integrity, and love of the land which are among the Tolstoyan virtues. Princess Marya's religiosity and Prince Andrey's intellectual coldness equally derive from their father's character. Both children are representative types of the Russian temperament.
On the personal level, we see the interaction among the individual members of the Bolkonsky family. Princess Marya provides the sentiment and emotional content in the family relationship that her godless father and brother are too emotionally restrained to express. In this respect she fulfills the Tolstoyan function of the female: to hold the family together and provide it with emotional richness. In her talk with Prince Andrey, we see how her Christian fidelity and depth of feeling contribute to express her familial love. The childlike Liza clearly lacks Marya's emotional intensity.
Another outstanding feature of Tolstoy's technique is his smooth transition between scenes. Although the author brings us deep into the country, he maintains continuity with previous settings through Julie's letter, which contains news of Moscow previously withheld from us — Pierre's inheritance, for instance — and Liza's prattle about Petersburg soirées.
The description of the country routine at Bleak Hills provides us with an overall sense of continuity, for Tolstoy has now completed his introduction of domestic life in contemporary Russia. We have yet to witness the military scene. Although Tolstoy's categorization of the threefold environments of Petersburg, Moscow, and rural life is an important structural device in the novel, these settings provide the moral conditioning of the characters. Petersburg, for instance, is where socially powerful people have the least awareness of social and personal reality. Prince Vassily, Anna Pavlovna, and Liza are most at home here. Less prestigious a setting, Moscow allows for the spontaneity of Natasha and her family, while country life nurtures the"Russian-souled" Prince Bolkonsky and his children.
In all three settings we hear Tolstoy's characters discuss the imminent conflict between Alexander and Napoleon. Of these discussions, Prince Bolkonsky's are the most prophetic, with Tolstoy speaking through the old man, whose"natural" life in the country has made his vision the least clouded. Napoleon is a mere puppet of history, declares the old prince, and the generals in Russia who are cowed by his"military genius" do not understand their nation's destiny. Only a"real Russian" like Suvorov or Potemkin would know how to put down this upstart schemer. Indeed, Tolstoy depicts Napoleon as history's deluded tool and raises Kutuzov to become the hero who saves his nation.
Thus we are given the main themes, the basic setting, the characters, the problems they face, and a foreshadowing of their solutions by the end of Book 1. Not only do we see each individual being consecrated to his personal search, but we see how Russia herself must affirm her national destiny. Individuals relating to circumstance and nations to history are part of Tolstoy's investigation. Book I tells us that a huge philosophic treatise will become manifest through the powerful resources of the novelistic mode.