Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceEpilogue Part 1 Chapters 5 16 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Epilogue, Part 1, Chapters 5–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapters 5–16 trace the fortunes of the main characters of the story, seven years later. Natasha and Pierre get married in 1813, and the elder count Rostov dies in the same year. Nikolai is advised to renounce the Rostov inheritance, but instead he takes on his father's debt. He borrows from Pierre and goes into the civil service to pay down the debt, living with Sonya and his mother in a small apartment. Natasha and Pierre are living in Petersburg and don't know the extent of his ruin.

In the winter of 1813, Marya comes to Moscow and visits the Rostovs, and Nikolai is haughty with her because he doesn't want to appear like a fortune hunter. She finally breaks through his reserve, and they marry in the fall of 1814 and move with his mother and Sonya to Bald Hills. Nikolai pays his debt and even buys back his father's estate in the country. He takes to farming and deals fairly with the peasants, even while keeping his thumb on the pulse of day-to-day affairs. Thus his estates make money.

Natasha and her children are on an extended visit at Bald Hills in December of 1820. Pierre is away longer than expected on business in Petersburg. Marya has three children, and Natasha has four. Natasha is entirely devoted to her family. She expects Pierre to give all of his time to her and the children, and in return she is "her husband's slave," attentive to his every need. Young Nikolai, Andrei's son, is now 15, and he is especially fond of his uncle Bezukhov. The countess is past 60, and Sonya has never married.

When Pierre comes home from Petersburg, he speaks about what's going on in the capital. Alexander is now absorbed in mysticism, and the government is falling apart. Pierre is proposing a circle of independent thinkers of his class to form a society of government "helpers" for the common good. Nikolai accuses Pierre of wanting to set up a secret society opposing the government, telling him that if the government orders him to take a squadron against him, he would have to do that.

After everyone goes to bed, Nikolai finds his wife writing in her diary, and she shares it with him—a careful record of how she is raising her children. Nikolai is impressed with her intelligence and goodness, rejoicing that she is a part of him. Meanwhile Pierre and Natasha speak some more about his political concerns, and Natasha declares how much she loves her husband. Young Nikolai downstairs awakens from a dream based on the political conversation he heard earlier. He dreams of doing some important thing that will please both Pierre and his father.

Analysis

After seven years, the main characters have settled into family life and are thriving. For Tolstoy nothing is more important than family, and he considers the family unit the basis for a civilized society. That is why it is important for families to be as healthy as possible. Both couples are compatible and sustain a good marriage. Marya is able to rein in Nikolai's violence. He has also learned from his father's mistakes: Nikolai takes on the management of his own estates and is able to prosper, even after terrible financial misfortune. Nikolai gives to Marya the one thing she has dreamed of, even as she tried to suppress her longing for it—the love of a man and the chance to have her own family. Andrei's son seems to have much of his father's idealistic and sensitive nature. He is the next generation, and he dreams of making both his father and his Uncle Pierre proud. Sonya has been put in the background, and the reader can only assume that she has made peace with her fate.

Natasha fulfills her destiny in her marriage to Pierre. Although the feminists among readers might be disappointed in how she ends up, for Tolstoy she is a fully realized Russian earth mother who nurses her own children, serves her husband like a faithful slave, and adores him like a god. But she has a contract with him: he is also a slave of sorts, bound to the family body and soul. She expects him to spend all his time with the family except when he is away on business and be a full participant. The two of them have become one as the wedding vows say, and the narrator says they know each other so well they can speak in shorthand. Their love seems destined to last and weather all storms.

Some readers might feel that Natasha has lost some essential part of her nature in her "taming," through marriage and motherhood. Laura Olson points out that Natasha's story follows the romantic myth of the "fortunate fall." Natasha's instinctiveness is tempered through suffering and redirected into rational, civilized pursuits. Natasha's original self is too full of life, and it is only through a reduction in self that she can enter into a partnership with Pierre and fulfill her role as a woman. No doubt Tolstoy loved his wild heroine and expects his readers to love her, too, but ultimately the author fits her with the yoke of marriage—which for both men and women, in Tolstoy's view—provides fulfillment and purpose, even as it circumscribes freedom.

At the end of the novel, Pierre represents a Russian liberal, while Nikolai symbolizes the conservative faction. The seed of War and Peace was in Tolstoy's idea to write about the December uprising of 1825 (see Context), and readers can imagine that Pierre may go on to get involved with an organization that seeks to move the country in a more liberal direction. The Decembrists did not come to a good end, so there is a sense of menace in the final pages of the novel, with a threat hanging over the idyllic family life of the main protagonists. In that sense War and Peace is realistic until its last pages; real stories don't end "happily ever after."
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