Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 2 Part 5 Chapters 15 22 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 2, Part 5, Chapters 15–22 | Summary

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Summary

Sonya reads Anatole's letter—which Dolokhov has actually written—and confronts Natasha (Chapter 15), who says she is hopelessly in love with Anatole. Sonya tries to talk Natasha out of her feelings but realizes she is planning to elope and secretly vows to stop her. Anatole and Dolokhov plan the elopement (Chapters 16–17), but when they come to abduct Natasha, Anatole is met in the yard by an enormous footman. He escapes and they drive off. In Chapter 18 the reader learns that Sonya has confided in Marya Dmitrievna, who has foiled the elopement. She harshly chastises Natasha and tells her they must keep it from the count, but Natasha is angry rather than mortified.

Pierre has been out of town and comes home to a letter from Marya Dmitrievna asking him to call (Chapter 19). She tells him what has transpired, informing him that Natasha has broken her engagement with Andrei without telling her parents. Pierre, who knows of Anatole's marriage, shares the information, and Marya Dmitrievna asks him to order his brother-in-law to leave Moscow because she is afraid a duel will ensue. Natasha is given the news about Anatole. In Chapter 20 Pierre roughly confronts Anatole and tells him to get out of town. Then he goes back to Marya Dmitrievna's (Chapter 21) and learns that Natasha has taken some arsenic but told Sonya in time. While Natasha recovers, Pierre does damage control with regard to Natasha's reputation around town.

Prince Andrei has returned and received the bad news from his family. When Pierre sees his friend in private, Andrei covers up his pain with sarcasm and spite, saying that he cannot forgive a "fallen woman" but that he wishes his ex-fiancée well. Pierre delivers Natasha's letters and portrait from Andrei to the Rostovs (Chapter 22). Natasha is very ill, but she sees Pierre and tells him to ask Prince Andrei to forgive her. Natasha is ashamed and in despair, saying her life is over. He responds that "If I were not I, but the handsomest, brightest, and best man in the world, and I was free, I would go on my knees this minute and ask for your hand and your love." When Pierre leaves, he feels happy recalling Natasha's tears of gratitude and tenderness after he made that declaration, and, looking up, he sees a large, bright comet.

Analysis

Sonya proves her loyalty to the Rostov family by preventing Natasha from ruining herself. Marya Dmitrievna is also a true friend. She knows Natasha well, since she was a child, and understands that she has let her passions run away with her. She hopes to cover up the worst of Natasha's disgrace, and once she finds out that Anatole is married, to prevent the very real possibility of a duel—with Andrei challenging Anatole. Pierre naturally steps up to help. He loves Andrei dearly, and he also loves Natasha, although he mostly has been hiding that fact—mostly from himself. Natasha's aborted suicide attempt shows how much she is suffering, and Pierre arrives like a chivalrous knight. He confesses his love for her in a roundabout way for one purpose only—to restore her self-esteem and to give her hope that she is still worthy of love and that her bad feelings will pass.

Prince Andrei's family is only too happy to deliver the bad news to him. Their response highlights the dysfunction in the Bolkonsky clan and the way the three of them are enmeshed—a term referring to the way family members violate each other's psychological boundaries. While members of a Russian family of the era would not expect to have the autonomy of modern people, Prince Nikolai's possessiveness and control of his children are extreme when compared to other families in the novel, and the degree of negativity that the prince and Marya feel about Andrei's marriage to Natasha is based in their need to maintain the status quo. Clearly they don't want an outsider to come in to change the family dynamics, especially with regard to Andrei's son, who currently lives with Marya and the prince. Neither of them want Andrei to leave the family system and start another family, which is why they are practically gleeful about his broken engagement. Of course this does not mean they don't love one another, because they do. Marya tells Pierre her brother is not taking the news too badly, which likely means that she either doesn't know her brother very well or simply wants to believe he is OK because it is too painful to contemplate his suffering.

When Pierre speaks to Andrei alone, he is angered by his friend's compassion, no doubt thinking about how the last time he saw Pierre he had poured out his heart about his love for Natasha. "I deeply regret her illness," he tells Pierre. "He grinned coldly, spitefully, unpleasantly, like his father," the narrator comments. When Pierre returns to the Rostovs, he understands how humiliated and debased Natasha feels. She still thinks she is in love with Anatole. Beyond feeling betrayed and disgraced by him, she feels genuine remorse for what she has done to Andrei. Pierre's soothing words of love to Natasha help her, but they also help him because, although he doesn't frame them as a declaration of love, they still make him feel more free. He has kept these thoughts to himself for a long time.

Andrei has, until now, been more enlightened and wiser about the world than Pierre, but in this instance he is blinded by his hurt and his conventional regard for the world's opinion. Pierre, who is less worldly but more forgiving and purer of heart, is able to look past Natasha's mistake and see her for the fundamentally worthy person she is. Of course she hasn't broken his heart—so it is natural for Andrei to be less forgiving.

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