Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 2 Part 1 Chapters 11 16 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 2, Part 1, Chapters 11–16 | Summary



Back in Moscow Dolokhov is recovering from the duel, and Rostov's father is able to hush up his son's part in the affair, since dueling was illegal and Nikolai acted as Dolokhov's second (Chapter 11). The family goes to the country in the summer of 1806 without Nikolai, and when they return, Denisov comes to stay with them. Nikolai has become good friends with Dolokhov, who begins frequenting his home because he has fallen in love with Sonya. In Chapter 11 Nikolai and Denisov are preparing to go back to their regiment after the Christmas season. The war is still on with Napoleon. Nikolai has not interfered between Sonya and his friend because he would be a good match, given that Sonya has no dowry. When Dolokhov proposes she turns him down, saying she loves another. Nikolai has a frank talk with her, telling her he thinks he loves her but can promise her nothing. Besides his mother is against their marrying. Sonya claims she loves him like a brother and that is enough for her.

In Chapter 12 Natasha and Sonya participate in a ball held by their dancing school, and Denisov, who is an exceptional dancer, partners with Natasha, with whom he is in love. In Chapter 13 Dolokhov is giving a farewell party before going back to the army, and he invites Nikolai. When he arrives, Dolokhov, who has a reputation as a card sharp, is playing cards. Nikolai remembers that Dolokhov once said that only fools gamble on luck. Dolokhov entices his friend into the game, and soon Nikolai is losing money. As he continues playing, he realizes his friend is getting even with him because Sonya loves him (Chapter 14). By the time the game is over, Nikolai has lost 43,000 rubles (Dolokhov chooses this number because 43 is the sum of his and Sonya's ages). In Chapter 15 Nikolai is in despair, but then he hears his sister Natasha's untutored but exquisite singing and is revived, thinking, "One can kill, and steal, and still be happy." In the next chapter Denisov proposes to Natasha, who turns him down because she doesn't love him and is too young to marry anyway. Nikolai delivers the bad news about his loss to his father, at first defiantly but eventually begging forgiveness. He returns to the front (Poland) after his father raises the money to pay his debt.


Not surprisingly Nikolai and Dolokhov have become close; they are recently back from the same war, and Nikolai spends time with his friend while he is recovering. Dolokhov is something of an outlaw—passionate in love, brave in war, and vengeful when he is offended. He also has a cruel streak, as seen in the bear prank and in the way he scorns Pierre. Now he turns that cruelty on his friend because he is the obstacle in the way of his marrying Sonya.

Although Dolokhov would be a brilliant match for Sonya, she turns him down and continues to hope throughout the novel that she can somehow marry her first choice. Sonya has spent her life in service to the Rostovs because of the gratitude she feels toward them for taking her in. She is a Russian example of the plight of single women without means who must live on the charity of family members. Her life is narrow and circumscribed, and her choices are few, but her love for Nikolai holds her in place even as the chance of marrying him becomes more and more remote.

Nikolai has behaved honorably toward both Dolokhov and Sonya. But Dolokhov is not governed by any code of behavior and acts only on his strong emotions. Why does Nikolai allow himself to be enticed into a card game with Dolokhov? The narrator says that "[b]ehind his smile, Rostov saw in him that mood [he gets in] when, bored with everyday life, [he] felt the necessity of getting out of it by some strange, most often cruel, act." Perhaps Nikolai feels guilty that Sonya has refused his friend, and perhaps he knows that he will never marry Sonya and should have made a stronger case against himself. Or perhaps he is testing the limits of his friendship and needs to come to terms with Dolokhov's amorality. Whatever the reason, his reckless betting has consequences for his family, already in debt. Nikolai also feels the weight of that guilt, especially because his father does not scold him. Nikolai is the most down to earth of the three major male characters, but even he experiences moments of transcendence. In the depths of his despair, he realizes that there is something independent of all his petty cares, "higher than anything in the world," and that thing is what allows a person to feel happiness, even in the worst of circumstances.

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