Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 2 Part 4 Chapters 1 7 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 2, Part 4, Chapters 1–7 | Summary

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Summary

Nikolai Rostov has been living the good life in the military since the peace with France and puts off a visit home for as long as possible because it means facing the "deep water of life again," with all of its chaos, difficulties, and unresolved issues (including Nikolai's unresolved promise to his cousin Sonya). This is typical of Nikolai, who is uncomfortable thinking too deeply and who prefers to live in the moment.

He finally goes on an extended leave in the spring of 1810, when his mother writes to him that the family will soon lose all its property if someone doesn't take things in hand (Chapter 1). People continue to take advantage of the count, and he is too trusting of their estate manager, Mitenka, she says. Nikolai returns to the family's country estate in Otradnoe, not far from Petersburg. He is unhappy about Natasha's long engagement and feels something is wrong, and he learns his mother is also worried about the projected marriage. In Chapter 2 Nikolai attempts to help by visiting the estate manager, Mitenka, abusing and firing him for cheating the family, but he doesn't know anything about accounting. Mitenka is hired back by the elder count, and things go back to normal.

Chapters 3–6 take place in September and describe a wolf hunt that several Rostov family members participate in: Nikolai, his father, Natasha, and Petya—the youngest child, although the latter two are only observers. The Rostovs join forces, first with a relative who lives nearby, and then with Ilagin, a local landowner. The narrator describes in great detail the excitement of the hunt and how the lead dogs take down their prey (including a wolf, fox, and rabbit). The hunters command the dogs, watch the combat, and root for their own animals. In Chapter 7 Nikolai, Natasha, and Petya are so far away from home that they accept the invitation of their uncle, Mikhail Nikanorytch. The Rostovs are served delicious country food by a barefoot housekeeper who seems to be on intimate terms with their uncle. After dinner the group listens to balalaika music played by the coachman. Soon the uncle joins in, playing a guitar, and Natasha joins him in a folk dance, which she knows how to do seemingly by instinct. When a droshky (an open carriage) comes for the Rostovs, they leave for home, with both Nikolai and Natasha thinking about how much they care about each other.

Analysis

Nikolai is finally pulled home by his mother's desperate call for help. The elder Count Rostov has been mismanaging his money and estates for years. Quite likely he is being cheated by Mitenka, but neither he nor his son understands enough about business or accounting to know for sure. For example, Nikolai berates the steward for not writing down 700 rubles when in fact he had—Nikolai just didn't understand how to read the balance sheet. The count and his wife have been overly generous to their friends and acquaintances for years, loaning money and hosting sumptuous dinners and parties, and now the consequences of their unchecked largesse is coming home to roost. The Rostovs are an example of many Russian aristocrats who were irresponsible in handling money and power. Rather than bother to learn enough about how their estates were managed or accounts kept, they left these important duties to estate managers who, more often than not, robbed them while they attended to their pleasures. Like Pierre the Rostovs are good people and occupy a prominent social position, but they are undisciplined and too used to a life of luxury. Nikolai is no better, but at least he is good at his job in the military, and he immediately admits to his father that he is not competent enough to straighten out the family's finances. Tolstoy, a member of the entitled class, understood the evils of the social class system, but he did not reject it wholesale until much later in his life.

Both Nikolai and his mother are concerned about the terms of Natasha's engagement and the imminent marriage. Nikolai feels his sister's fate has not yet been decided, and his intuition and his mother's doubts foreshadow the rupture of Natasha's relationship with Prince Andrei.

Tolstoy provides a short interlude from the major story in the hunting chapters, in which he vividly portrays how a dog pack of 50 or more animals chases down its prey in a gruesome spectacle. The hunt is another kind of war, in which the dogs are the soldiers and their handlers are the generals. The Russian aristocrats take their hunting very much to heart, and it is very important whose dog makes the kill. Although the violent hunting scenes may be uncomfortable for the modern reader, the hunt represents a joyful experience, an authentically Russian tradition that brings family and neighbors together.

The Rostovs' visit to their uncle's house is an opportunity to create a charming scene of the "real Russia," complete with lower-class participants—the housekeeper and the coachman—who represent the "salt of the earth." The balalaika is a traditional Russian stringed instrument. Natasha is enchanted with the music of the coachman and is able to dance in the folk manner. The narrator comments, "Where ... had this little countess, brought up by an émigré Frenchwoman, sucked this spirit in from the Russian air she breathed, where had she gotten these ways?" Clearly Natasha is nothing less than the embodiment of the Russian soul and the archetype of the Russian woman in this moment. Laura Olsen argues that Natasha is symbolic of an aesthetic value for the author, and she transmits a force that is "perceived and visualized" by male characters in the story. In this sense she is a muse, says Olson. Natasha balances the force of rationality with the exuberant instinct needed to create art. On a more mundane level, Natasha calls to the life instinct in the other, which is why she is so alluring.

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