Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 2 Part 3 Chapters 20 26 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 2, Part 3, Chapters 20–26 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 20 Berg and Vera have their first dinner party to which they invite Boris, the Rostovs, and Andrei, along with some other friends. When Prince Andrei arrives, Pierre notices the electricity between his friend and Natasha, feeling joy and bitterness at the same time. As Pierre approaches Andrei and Vera, he overhears Vera, trying to sound worldly and sophisticated, tell the prince about Natasha's childhood love for Boris—implying that Natasha does not have the virtue of loyalty (Chapter 21). In Chapter 22 Andrei returns to the Rostovs, and Natasha is both thrilled and frightened by his courtship. When he leaves for the evening, he goes to Pierre's house to tell his friend he is in love. Meanwhile Pierre has been thinking about his own miserable life, in which he is more and more burdened by social obligations as his wife moves into higher circles of influence. He also compares his unhappy relationship with his wife to his best friend's relationship with Natasha. But when Andrei arrives and unburdens himself, Pierre encourages him not to think twice about marrying and reassures his friend that Natasha loves him.

Prince Andrei feels he needs his father's consent to marry, and although Prince Nikolai doesn't make a fuss, he is not happy (Chapter 23). He raises the objection of their age difference and then requests that Andrei go abroad for a year to improve his health before marrying. Three weeks later Andrei returns to Petersburg and asks for Natasha's hand. The Rostov parents accept, and Andrei explains his father's conditions, which they also agree to, as does Natasha. The engagement is kept a secret (Chapter 24), and Andrei says that although he considers himself bound to his promise, he does not bind Natasha during their period of separation. Andrei has told Pierre about the engagement and advises Natasha to go to him for advice or help if she is in need while Andrei is gone. Natasha is stricken when her fiancé leaves, but after two weeks recovers and resumes her life.

Back at Bald Hills, Prince Nikolai's health deteriorates after his son leaves (Chapter 25). He abuses his daughter even more than usual, attacking her where it hurts the most—in her rearing of her nephew and her religious beliefs. Marya is also unhappy about the prospect of a second marriage for Andrei, and she writes to her friend Julie that Natasha is an unsuitable match. By the summer Prince Andrei writes to his sister from Switzerland to inform her about the engagement and share with her how much he is in love (Chapter 26). When Prince Nikolai reads the letter, he becomes infuriated and says that he might want to marry Mlle Bourienne, and he begins paying more attention to her. Marya secretly dreams of becoming a wanderer, like the holy men and women who visit her. She even has an outfit prepared for when she leaves, but she finds that she loves her family more than she loves God.

Analysis

At Boris and Vera's dinner party, the artificial Vera, hosting her first dinner party as a married woman, wants to be sure she does everything right—which includes bringing feelings into the conversation. As it turns out, she puts her sister in a bad light in the eyes of her fiancé. Vera's unacknowledged dislike of Natasha may be partially responsible for the comment, or she may be jealous of the sister everyone loves. She asks Prince Andrei, "Can she, like other women (Vera means herself) fall in love with a man once and remain faithful to him forever?" Vera's remark foreshadows what happens later when Natasha breaks Andrei's heart. Vera may be pretentious and clumsy, but she is right in highlighting that there is an aspect of disloyalty in Natasha's nature, which is connected to her ability to live in the moment and allow herself to run away with her passions. She will learn how to direct her prodigious energies, but not before she does some damage.

Andrei's need to get his father's permission to marry highlights the dysfunctional aspect of the Bolkonsky family. The prince is 31; he has his own estate, is himself a father, and has been to war. Yet Prince Nikolai still has a powerful influence on his son. The older prince does not want his son to remarry because it will upset the family dynamics, and his grandson will likely live with Andrei's new wife. Further the Rostovs have no money, so the match is not financially advantageous. Andrei's sister has a similar view. But rather than confront his son directly, Prince Nikolai asks him to wait a year. No doubt he is hoping that the engagement will fizzle out, since it was usual for an engagement to be followed quickly (within a month or two) by a marriage. Prince Nikolai begins flirting with his daughter's lady's companion to get even with his son, which is not exactly logical. Prince Nikolai was always eccentric, but now he is showing signs of dementia.

Pierre is in the odd position of having introduced his best friend to the woman Pierre actually loves (something that has been implied throughout the novel). Of course Pierre is married, which puts any idea of Natasha entirely off limits, but the newfound happiness of his previously jaded friend makes him feel gloomy and depressed. He loves both of them and wishes for their happiness, and he is made uncomfortable by the fact that their happiness increases his unhappiness. Pierre and Andrei have been friends since childhood, and he tells Sonya and Natasha that he "has a heart of gold," and indeed he does. Despite his feelings of envy, Pierre encourages Andrei to marry and insists Natasha is in love with him.

Natasha is heartbroken to lose Andrei for a year. The last thing she says to him is, "Don't leave!" and he wonders "whether he ought indeed to stay ... which he remembered long afterwards." There is something about Andrei that frightens Natasha. She tells herself she has loved him since she first saw him at her family's country estate and that their coupling was ordained by fate. Yet she seems to have a presentiment of danger. Natasha and Andrei are not well matched in the sense that their natures are so different. He is already tired of life, given his natural tendency to brood and the damage that has been done to his spirit by the war. He feels in one part of his soul that ordinary life is meaningless, but he doesn't have the spiritual capacity for wise detachment, so he often feels simply disengaged and empty. She, on the other hand, is young, fresh, and completely engaged with life, and she finds every moment meaningful without having to look further afield for a larger pattern or purpose. Natasha has the capacity to heal Andrei, but the passion that has been inspired between them needs to be stoked, and a year of separation will not help keep the flame alive.

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