Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 1 Chapters 16 23 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 1, Chapters 16–23 | Summary



In Moscow Natasha continues to be ill. The countess arrives with the rest of the family, and the Rostovs move to their own house and stay through the summer (Chapter 16). Natasha finds comfort in Pierre's visits and the tenderness he shows her (Chapter 17). She also finds comfort in religion and begins going to church. Rumors of war spread through Moscow, and in Natasha's new state of spiritual openness she can pray for forgiveness, peace, and happiness for herself and others but cannot pray for the destruction of Russia's enemies (Chapter 18).

In Chapter 19 Pierre attempts to apply the esoteric side of Masonry to an understanding of Napoleon and the impending war, using numerology to connect his name and Napoleon's, although he cannot do so except by distorting his real name to make the numbers work. Secretly he thinks he has some important role to play in defeating Napoleon. For this reason, and also because Masons are pacifists, he doesn't sign up for service. In Chapter 20 Sonya reads a proclamation from the tsar that calls for unity and solidarity in the upcoming fight against the invader. The youngest Rostov, Petya, is now 15 and at university but wants to join the hussars. Pierre is visiting with the Rostovs and disappoints Natasha by getting up to leave. He is having difficulty containing his feelings for her; hence, he decides to stop visiting the house.

In Chapter 21 Petya broods because his parents will not give him permission to join the army. The tsar comes to town, further fueling people's patriotic ardor, and the count thinks about how he could arrange to allow Petya to serve in the army away from danger. Chapters 22–23 describe a meeting of Moscow's aristocracy and merchants who gather to discuss the war effort. When the emperor arrives, many pledge both money and soldiers (serfs), and Count Rostov agrees to allow Petya to sign up.


Natasha, who before Anatole was an embodiment of human vitality, shows signs of physical illness because she is psychologically and spiritually ill. She feels worthless because of what she has done, and Pierre's continued acceptance and affection is instrumental in the return of her confidence. Thus she begins to recover. Pierre never brings up what he said to her earlier on—that he would marry her if he were a different person in different circumstances—and he is the soul of discretion in his treatment of Natasha. Nonetheless his proximity to her fuels his feelings, and he can no longer suppress his love. That is why he finds it necessary to physically put some distance between them. The romantic love between a man and a woman in Tolstoy's fiction always has a strong sexual component, and he was not shy about portraying sexual love as something that is grounded in the body, even when it has spiritual and intellectual components.

Tolstoy uses Natasha's embrace of religion as a way to show the difference between true spirituality and religious hypocrisy. Since Natasha is spending a lot of time in church, she hears the denunciation of Russia's enemies and prayers to God to crush them. The priest references similar calls for help that can be found in the Bible. But Natasha is in a heightened spiritual state and cannot bring herself to pray for such destruction, which is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

Moscow is in a patriotic fervor, and the Rostovs, meant to exemplify the best kind of Russian family, are swept up in the tsar's call for help to defend the fatherland. While both parents fear for the safety of their youngest child, who is still a boy, the count goes from forbidding him to serve, to thinking he might serve safely, to allowing him to sign up for the hussars. Tolstoy attributes the Russian soul (bravery, tenacity, endurance, sacrifice), love of homeland, and ability to withstand hardship as key factors in the defeat of Napoleon, and those traits are evident in the Rostov response to the war.

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