Summary and Analysis
Book I: Chapters 7–21
After Prince Vassily gets Boris Drubetskoy his commission in the Guards, Anna Mihalovna returns triumphant to Moscow, where she lives with the Rostovs, her rich relatives who have supported Boris and educated him with their children. Countess Rostov and her daughter — who both have the name Natalya — are celebrating their name-day at this time. The guests: are busy gossiping about Pierre Bezuhov's scandalous conduct during the drinking party in Petersburg even while his poor old father lies on his deathbed. They also wonder whether Prince Vassily, the old man's nearest legal relative, or Pierre will inherit the immense fortune.
Suddenly the children invade the drawing room, led by the irrepressible 13-year-old Natasha. Boris Drubetskoy and Nikolay Rostov follow her, with 16-year-old Sonya (the Rostov's niece who lives with them) and Petya Rostov, the youngest child. The children's gaiety and high spirits are in vivid contrast with the small talk of the adults.
The dark-haired Sonya, with the shyness and softness of a half-grown kitten, loves Nikolay and is jealous when he flirts with Julie Karagin. Nikolay swears he loves only Sonya. Natasha and Boris are also in love, and they promise to marry each other when she is older.
Dinner is held up until Marya Dmitryevna Ahrosimov arrives. Known for her frankness as le terrible dragon, the old lady has won the respect and fear of Moscow and Petersburg society. She congratulates her goddaughter and the countess and turns to scold Pierre for his behavior with the police officer.
The men talk about war and the emperor's proclamation that he will defend Russia and her allies against Napoleon. Excited by the discussion, Nikolay cries out that the Russians"must die or conquer" and everyone applauds his youthful patriotism. From the children's end of the table, Natasha's voice rings out as she impudently asks what dessert shall be. Everyone pretends to be horrified at her interruption, although her pertness amuses the guests. After dinner the men play cards, then there is dancing. Feeling very grown up, Natasha asks Pierre to dance, and Count Rostov and Marya Dmitryevna perform a complex écossaise.
While the Rostovs blithely celebrate, Count Bezuhov suffers another stroke. Doctors and undertakers arrive at the immense house. A priest administers extreme unction. A deeply moved Pierre hastens to his father's side, shadowed by Anna Mihalovna, who has last-minute hopes for part of the inheritance. To Pierre, the old man seems unchanged; he has the same leonine head and strong healthy features. But a shudder passes through the body to show the nearness of death. Perhaps at the horror-struck expression on his son's face, perhaps as comment on his own helplessness, the old man suddenly smiles. Then he lapses into a coma.
Everyone prepares for the vigil. Prince Vassily, Anna Mihalovna, the count's eldest niece Katish, and Pierre are together in the next room. Katish and Anna Mihalovna have a vulgar argument about the inheritance portfolio. During the brief scuffle they learn that the old count has just passed on.
As a counterbalance to the first scenes, Tolstoy takes us to a family party in Moscow with Marya Dmitryevna's frankness and warmth as counterpoise to Anna Pavlovna's superficiality and coldness. Joy, affection, youth, generosity, and spontaneity characterize the name-day celebration, with Natasha as the radiant focus for these qualities. We recognize her potential intensity and intuitive force immediately. Her emotional freedom and readiness to love identify her as the female protagonist, and we see, as they dance, the first connection between Pierre and his future bride. With Nikolay's patriotism stirred, with Natasha's singing,and with her father and godmother dancing, Tolstoy provides a sense of the fullness of life as the party is in full swing.
Now we are ready to learn of death. Without irony, Tolstoy tells us that as the Rostovs dance the"sixth anglaise" Count Bezuhov suffers his sixth stroke. This is but one of many ways that the author devises to emphasize a favorite idea: We cannot know life without knowing death. At this early juncture, however, the statement merely prefaces what Tolstoy considers a basic investigation in the novel. The youthful characters of War and Peace have yet to discover the awesomeness of life before this death can deeply touch them. Here, the loss of the old count shows the symbolic passing of the old order while the new generation blooms on this name-day. We have yet to see the intensifying throes of maturation and the actual tension between generations to come later.