Summary and Analysis
Book V: Chapters 1–14
At a way station where he awaits fresh horses to take him the rest of the journey to Petersburg, Pierre sits in meditation on what life is for, what one must love or hate, and what is right and wrong. The old man who joins him and recognizes him begins to talk on these very problems. Pierre must seek God, the stranger says, and like Adam, strive to comprehend Him. The way is not through wisdom and reason but through the experience of the"inner man." Pierre must give up his parasitic way of life, purify his soul through solitude and self-contemplation, and then devote himself to serving his neighbor. The old man is Osip Alexyevitch Bazdyev, one of the best known Martinists and freemasons in Russia, and he invites the receptive Pierre to become a member of the order. Pierre feels elated and believes freemasonry will provide him with the answers he seeks.
After a week of solitude in Petersburg, Pierre is conducted to his initiation in the brotherhood. Blindfolded, awed, and reverential, he hears the rhetor unfold the mysteries of the order. The object of freemasonry is"to combat the evil paramount in the world" by offering an example of piety and virtue. Despite the unreality of the ceremony, Pierre feels restored and blissful; he is prepared for a life of goodness. When the blindfold is removed, Bezuhov is welcomed into the brotherhood by many acquaintances of his social set.
He now feels as changed and refreshed as if returning home from a long journey. Pierre spends the next few days studying books on masonry and dreams how he will begin a career of"good works" by improving the lot of his peasants. Prince Vassily interrupts his meditations one day, breezily dictating a letter of reconciliation Pierre must write to Ellen. He is shown the door without any explanation.
Meantime Petersburg society speaks contemptuously of the crackbrained Bezuhov, regarding poor Ellen as the victim of an eccentric spouse. At one of Anna Pavlovna's soirees, Boris Drubetskoy, now an adjutant in the suite of a high-ranking official and just returned from an important commission in Prussia, becomes friends with Ellen Bezuhov and often visits her.
With war approaching Russia's borders in the early part of 1807, life at Bleak Hills undergoes changes. The old prince, grown stronger since Andrey's return, is one of the commanders-in-chief appointed to equip the militia and, thus, he is often away touring the three provinces under his command. This frees Princess Marya from her lessons and she devotes most of her time to the baby, little Prince Nikolay. Prince Andrey lives in retirement at his estate in Bogutcharovo, about 30 miles from Bleak Hills. He receives his news through letters from his father and Bilibin. Reporting of Bermigsen's victory over Napoleon at Eylau, his father writes, If a German can beat him, then we will find it easy to do the same if people don't meddle who've no business to meddle. He is referring to the political intrigue that cuts down the efficiency of the military; describing this area is Bilibin's forte. With characteristic irony, the diplomat writes that the whole joke of the war is that nothing is accomplished other than the pillaging of the Prussian countryside as the poorly equipped troops freeload off the inhabitants. But Andrey has little interest in military crises. At this time he is entirely absorbed awaiting his sick child to pass safely through a fever crisis.
Pierre, meanwhile, makes his"good works" tour through the Kiev province where most of his peasants live. He orders hospitals and churches and schools to be built, but has no idea that these"benefits" only add to the already oppressive burdens of the peasants. Moreover, his lack of business sense allows his crafty steward to cheat him at every turn and to misrepresent the actual conditions on his estates. Pierre believes he has done wonders to improve his serfs' lives and in this happy frame of mind, pays Prince Andrey a visit.
They have not met for two years and Pierre is struck by Andrey's lusterless gaze, which belies the smile and words of welcome. They exchange news and then discuss personal matters, Pierre talking of his marriage and his guilt feelings about the duel. Andrey shrugs at this."Men are for ever in error," he says,". . . and in nothing more than in what they regard as right and wrong." But doing good for others is the only source of happiness, Pierre insists, and Andrey differs because his war experience has taught him the emptiness of"glory.""My only aim is to live for myself"; he says,"living for others is a source of evil and error." For this reason he refuses to enter active service again.
As they drive to Bleak Hills that evening, Pierre tells his friend about freemasonry, that the"dominion of good and truth" is the universal expression of God. Even though mankind still exists in a state of darkness and deception, each man shares in the vast harmony of the universe. All forms of life, from inanimate to animate, occupy rungs of an endless ladder that continues further and further, into afterlife where nature is a unity with the free spirits of the air. All of life, of truth, is a manifestation of God. Yes, that's the theory of it, says Andrey, but it is life and death that has convinced me, especially, he bitterly adds, the death of a creature bound to me, to whom one has done wrong, and who suddenly ceases to be. What for? I believe there must be an answer! You feel the answer, Pierre says, there is a future life and God! We must live, we must love, we must believe"that we are not living only today on this clod of earth, but have lived and will live forever there (pointing at the sky) in everything." As he looks up, Andrey suddenly recalls, with the same joyful quickening, the lofty eternal sky he gazed at from the battlefield at Austerlitz. Though this feeling vanishes in his daily life after that, Prince Andrey has it within him, awaiting the moment of growth. Pierre's visit marks a new inner life for Bolkonsky.
Princess Marya is taking tea with her"God's folk" when Pierre and her brother arrive. She regularly receives these excessively devout pilgrims who tell her of fantastic visions and miracles, but Marya is now embarrassed because her brother always mocks these saints. Pierre remains at Bleak Hills for two days and they all remember his visit warmly.
An outstanding feature of Tolstoy's writing is that his characters are always"becoming" and not just"being," Even in these static chapters, where there is little external action, the characters are changing.
The function of this section, then, is to provide a stock-taking of Pierre's and Andrey's development up to now, to allow the friends to compare their thoughts and ideas, and to act upon each other. By turning this static part of his narrative into a low-keyed turning point in the lives of his heroes, Tolstoy makes unusual dramatic material out of essentially undramatic stuff.
Using the long conversations to chronicle the inward change in Prince Andrey is another device whereby Tolstoy underscores Bolkonsky's basically intellectual and passive nature. From a point of static action, a chain of inner reactions is sparked within Prince Andrey which prepares him to emerge into active life once again.
Mere thoughts and arguments, however, are insufficient to mark inner changes for the more ebullient and sensual Pierre. Bezuhov's"conversion" to freemasonry, therefore, takes place in the more active setting of a journey, a symbolic mode whose image contains Tolstoy's implicit judgment that this is just a passing stage in his hero's life.
From their discussion of life and death, we have another opportunity to contrast Pierre's nature with that of Andrey. Where Pierre is eager to believe the ready answers of the masonic system he has newly embraced, Prince Andrey maintains, with the rigidity reminiscent of his father, the conclusions of his personal experiences. Faithful to his own logic, Andrey has concluded that retirement and"living for oneself" is the only way to avoid disillusion with ideals in life and to avoid the pains of futile death. We see clearly that Andrey does not embrace life with the exuberance and unreservedness of Pierre; that he is too intellectual and aristocratic indicates lack of the intensity with which Tolstoy endows Pierre.
Andrey's future is foretold here with Tolstoy invoking his double-edged symbol of the indifferent sky. To Pierre, the sky is analogous to the limitless power of life and the spiritual infinity of God. Although the same life-affirming vision quickens Andrey's listless spirits and gives him the first glimmer of an inner renewal, the sky echoes the death-wish image of Andrey at Austerlitz. Andrey will rediscover meaning in life, but will eventually succumb to the promise of peace death offers.
Tolstoy thus chronicles the subtle changes wrought in the inner selves of his protagonists. By way of contrast, he provides us with sketches of outward change in the static sphere of Ellen Bezuhov and Boris Drubetskoy as they maneuver within the social hierarchy of Petersburg.
Princess Marya's"holy fools" provide another point of contrast. These zealous half-wits, entirely self-forgetful in their submission to God, are delivered equally from the flux of life and the terrors of death. Between the extremes of the primitive humility of the"God's folk," and the primitive self-indulgence of Ellen Bezuhov are the struggles of Prince Andrey to extend himself and of Pierre to contain himself.
These stock-taking episodes, mainly philosophical, depict the theories of Tolstoy regarding an individual's quest for meaning. These theories — man's need for self-forgetfulness, man's struggles to be self-perfecting, man's relationship in the chain of being emanating from God — are eventually illustrated by the characters' actions and by their final destinies.