Summary and Analysis
Book XI: Chapters 13–29
The Rostovs finally get set to leave Moscow one day before the French enter the city. As civilians stream out of town, the wounded soldiers are carted in and Natasha, in midst of packing, offers some disabled officers hospitality. Count Rostov comes home with the announcement that the police have left Moscow and the countess, terrified at the idea of uncontrolled violence, orders the servants to frenzied occupation. With a sudden burst of vigor, Natasha sets to work and organizes the packing. Late at night, while the housekeeper is still working, a wounded officer in a closed carriage is driven into the yard. Stifling a shriek, the housekeeper recognizes Prince Andrey.
In the morning, as their 30 carriages are being loaded, Vera's husband Berg drives up in his sleek carriage. He asks Count Rostov to send some servants to help him move some abandoned furniture to his new house. At this effrontery of his son-in-law's badly concealed looting, Count Rostov throws up his hands in confusion and leaves the room. The Rostovs' street is full of wounded soldiers, begging a ride out of Moscow. Natasha calls to her father to order some carriages unpacked so they can convey a few disabled men out of town. Her demand re-establishes the humane instincts lost when Berg arrived, and after much rearranging and unpacking of carts, only four carriages remain loaded with the Rostovs' possessions. At the last minute, Sonya learns the identity of the wounded officer in the closed carriage; she and the countess agree to keep the news secret from Natasha. Prince Andrey's conveyance leads their procession out of Moscow. As she drives along, Natasha recognizes Pierre walking on the street. They are able to exchange a few hasty words as they pass each other.
During the previous days, Pierre has been secretly living in Osip Bazdyev's house, sorting the papers of his dead benefactor. Besides Gerasim, the butler, and Osip's besotted half-mad elder brother, no one else lives there. In his solitude, Pierre conceived the fantastic idea of assassinating Napoleon upon his entrance to the city tomorrow. With this purpose in mind, accompanied by Gerasim, he is on his way to purchase a pistol when Pierre meets the Rostovs.
Napoleon poses on the hill and looks down at Moscow; the goal of his ambitions awaits him. He will convene the nobles, and in a stirring speech he has prepared, will convince them of his peaceful intentions and of his interest in the welfare of his new subjects. As Napoleon awaits the expected deputation, his adjutants are too ashamed to inform him that the city is empty, except for drunken mobs in the streets. Finally, Bonaparte enters Moscow. Tolstoy likens the great city to a deserted beehive that looks inhabited and healthy from the outside, but is totally defunct within.
Because Rastoptchin interfered with the tide of destiny, he caused great harm to his country's cause. Besides Moscow being the only city during the war where rioting occurred, valuable food stores, equipment, church relics, and other necessities helpful to the army were left behind because the governor, eager to exercise power, refused to abandon the city in time. An eager mob, convened at his earlier orders, forms outside his palace willing to fight a last stand against the French. But Rastoptchin has lost heart and realizes his mistake. Rather than admit his miscalculations to the people, he decides to throw them a victim and subdue their excitement. He pushes the prisoner, Vereshtchagin, into their midst and rouses the mob to beat this youth to death. Rastoptchin consoles his guilt feelings by convincing himself he acted in the public welfare. But the echo of the crime in his soul shames him forever.
Warily at first, because they expect resistance, the French troops march into Moscow. When they see it is safely deserted, they disperse, faster and faster, among the houses like water in a beach of dry sand. With so many strangers lighting cooking stoves and smoking pipes, fire is inevitable. Moscow was not burned out of hostility from the invaders or defenders, Tolstoy says, but because fire usually breaks out in a town of empty wooden buildings. The real reason for the burning of Moscow lies in the desertion of the city by its inhabitants.
As he broods in solitude over his wild idea to assassinate Napoleon, Pierre is not quick enough to catch Osip's mad brother as he enters the room and runs away with Pierre's pistol. While the old butler, Gerasim, struggles with the madman, some French officers arrive at the door. The madman aims his pistol at the officer. Pierre intercedes just in time and the gun goes off harmlessly."You have saved my life," declares the enemy captain, concluding with unique logic,"You are French." Pierre answers he is a Russian. The Frenchman, Ramballe, makes himself at home over a dinner and many glasses of wine, and he is so good-natured and full of gratitude that Pierre listens to his stories with interest. After Ramballe describes many adventures and amorous escapades, Pierre finds himself confessing to his unsuccessful marriage and his love for Natasha. Late that night the two new friends walk in the clear air. Though the glare of a distant fire is visible, Pierre only sees the lofty starlit sky and the bright comet. A tender joy stirs within him, but when he recalls that he must kill Napoleon tomorrow, he becomes dizzy and leans against a fence for support.
The various incidents in these chapters are variations on the basic theme of humaneness, a theme in harmony with Tolstoy's larger investigation of virtue and submission to destiny. The Rostovs giving up their possessions to free carts in order to convey disabled soldiers out of town and Pierre's saving the life of the enemy captain are natural and spontaneous acts of humanity. By comparison, Rastoptchin's vindication of personal failure by sacrificing Vereshtchagin and the parallel scapegoat idea of Pierre's intended assassination of Napoleon are examples of unspontaneous and unnatural acts that, by being egotistically generated, lead to dehumanization. In both situations, Pierre and Rastoptchin operate on the fallacious assumption that one man is responsible for historical acts: The governor tells the mob Vereshtchagin is a traitor to his nation, and Pierre wishes to destroy the man who caused the war. These incidents all resolve on a note of love, hope, life itself as Pierre's emotions focus on the starry peaceful night sky and the comet.
Tolstoy illustrates obvious truisms through these incidents: When one acts according to his natural instincts for goodness, his acts are humane; when one acts out of self-consciousness and quells his sense of conscience, his acts are destructive. Unselfish motives generate acts that follow the necessities of destiny, whereas selfishly motivated acts introduce a destructive chaos to the overall pattern of destiny.