Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 1 Part 1 Chapters 18 21 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 1, Part 1, Chapters 18–21 | Summary



In Chapter 18 Count Bezukhov has a sixth stroke. Prince Vassily tells Catiche, the princess in attendance, that although they are direct heirs, the count has made a new will that leaves his property to Pierre. Moreover he has written a letter requesting that the sovereign grant Pierre legitimacy so he can inherit. Catiche tells Vassily that the documents he refers to are in a portfolio under the count's pillow.

Since the count has sent for Pierre, he arrives with Anna Mikhailovna in Chapter 19, who tells him she will guide him and look out for his interests. The two almost sneak into the house, since they come up the back stairs. In the next two chapters, Pierre and his self-appointed advocate visit the count, who may or may not recognize Pierre in these last moments. When his father smiles unexpectedly, Pierre begins to cry. When they come out of the sick room, it becomes apparent that the princess is hiding the portfolio, which she probably took when the count was transferred from the reception room to his bed. The two women struggle for possession of the portfolio, and the princess lets go when one of the other nieces comes out of the bedroom to say the count is dying. Anna Mikhailovna scoops it up and runs into the sickroom with the rest, except for Pierre. She then comes out and tells Pierre that his father is gone, but his inheritance is secured.


Pierre continues to be ignorant and clumsy, and he is not familiar with the unspoken rules of the aristocratic class. Neither does he feel he has rights as a son. In Chapter 13 he asks to see his father and is told "if you want to kill him ... outright," as if his cousins are the only ones who can comfort the count, while Pierre is merely a nuisance. Pierre accepts this answer instead of standing up for his rights. When he goes to the Rostovs in Chapter 15, he sits "awkwardly in the middle of the drawing room ... getting in everyone's way."

Pierre hardly seems to know that he has any financial interests in the event of his father's death. He relies on his benefactress as she signals him to go up to his father, kiss his hand, and then sit down at the bedside, because he doesn't know how he is expected to act. Although clumsy and clueless, of all the participants in the deathbed drama, he is the only one to express genuine emotion.

Anna Mikhailovna once again shows her mettle by getting Pierre into the house without having to go past the sentries, Bezhukov's nieces. Clearly she has more fortitude than either Catiche or Vassily; neither have the will nor the stomach to fight her for the documents, although both are selfish and manipulative people. She ensures that Pierre is not cheated out of his fortune because she trades in influence, and Pierre may prove useful in the future. She says, "I know you well enough to know that this will not turn your head, but it does impose duties on you, and one must be a man." No doubt a large fortune in the hands of the innocent Pierre is preferable to having Bezhukov's money go to his unpleasant nieces or to greedy Prince Vassily.

Pierre's illegitimacy and ignorance make him an outsider, but he is not untainted by Western corruption. Still he will show himself to have a Russian soul as the novel progresses, although it will be brought forth by Natasha and Platon Karataev, a peasant Pierre is imprisoned with at the end of the novel.

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