Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 3 Chapters 12 23 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 3, Chapters 12–23 | Summary



The Rostovs are among the last aristocrats in the city because the countess is waiting to see Petya, who is being transferred to Pierre's Moscow regiment (Chapter 12). He finally arrives, and the family also gets a letter from Nikolai mentioning Princess Marya. On August 31, as the Rostovs are packing, the wounded begin arriving in Moscow. The Rostovs and other wealthy families invite them to stay in their houses (Chapter 13). The servants learn that one of the wounded officers is Prince Andrei, and they quietly bring him in (Chapter 14). People realize that Moscow is being abandoned, and carts are at a premium (Chapter 15). The Rostovs have brought about 30 carts from their estates, and now the wounded are asking for carts but the countess objects. When Natasha finds out that the men need carts, she shames her mother into giving up most of them (Chapter 16). The Rostovs end up leaving town with many fewer possessions and with the wounded Prince Andrei in a covered carriage, once the countess and Sonya are told he is in the house (Chapter 17). On the way out of town, the Rostovs meet Pierre walking in a coachman's kaftan, and they say goodbye to him.

In Chapter 18 the narrator relates that Pierre has been holed up in Bazdeev's house for two days. After his meeting with Rastopchin, the death of Andrei, and the letter from his wife, Pierre begins to crack. When he gets word that his mentor's wife wants him to take Bazdeev's books, he has a good reason to leave home. Pierre finds only the servant and Bazdeev's mad brother at the house, and he decides to stay. He asks the servant to help him get a kaftan and a pistol, since he plans to stay in town and help defend the city. When he met the Rostovs, he is on his way to get the pistol.

Chapter 19 returns to the war, with the Russian troops retreating through Moscow while Napoleon gets ready to descend on the city. It is September 2. The emperor is prepared to be merciful and is waiting for a committee of officials to greet him. But his generals have learned that Moscow has been abandoned. When Napoleon arrives, only a small percentage of the population is left, and the narrator compares the empty city to a queenless beehive (Chapter 20).

Chapter 21 describes the retreating Russian troops, passing through just before the French arrive and taking with them most of the remaining Muscovites and the wounded. A few servants are still at the Rostovs, and the housekeeper gives money to a young officer and relative who comes to the door (Chapter 22). Riots are beginning to break out among the remaining populace, and one mob is growing and demanding to see the governor general (Chapter 23).


The love in the Rostov family is exemplified by the family's willingness to remain in danger until everyone can see Petya one more time. The countess is now beside herself because she has two sons in the service. Petya is her youngest, and it is especially painful for her to cope with the idea that he may be put in harm's way. The count is hoping he will be relatively safe in Pierre's regiment. The Rostovs' generosity toward Andrei as well as the soldiers is also exemplary. The servants immediately take Andrei in, knowing that's what the family would want. When the countess and Sonya realize he is in the house, they don't hesitate to add him to their caravan, despite his estrangement from the family. They initially don't tell Natasha because they are afraid of how she will receive the news and wish to protect her.

This is a family on the verge of bankruptcy, and now that a war is on and people want to get out of town, they can earn a small fortune for their carts. Instead they freely give almost all of them to the wounded soldiers. Of course Natasha is the impetus for this generosity, but she simply brings the countess back to herself and her values in this time of crisis, when the countess cannot help but think first about her family.

Pierre's deteriorating mental state is evidenced by his behavior, as he has Bazdeev's servant help him procure what is essentially a disguise—a coachman's outfit—and a gun. First, he knows better than anybody that the city cannot be defended. Second, why does he need a disguise? Because he has a plan brewing in his brain, which comes to fruition in Chapter 27. But the disguise is also symbolic of his wish to turn his back on his former life and enter into a new way of being as a different person. He finds comfort in staying in the home of Bazdeev and reading his books, which take him back to the days when he was still enamored with Masonic ideas and thought they could help him lead a better life. These were the days in which he still had hope of transformation.

Tolstoy somewhat gleefully imagines Napoleon as he waits to descend on the city, thinking that he will show the Russians how it is done—i.e., act the part of the generous and benevolent conqueror. Moscow, the original capital of Russia before it was moved to Petersburg, is a great prize. As has happened before, he expects the city fathers to welcome him with open arms. Instead he finds an empty shell of a city—not much to lord over after all. Tolstoy uses one of his magnificent epic similes at the beginning of Chapter 20 to compare empty Moscow to a beehive that has been abandoned: "The entrance does not give out, as before, a spiritous fragrant smell of honey and venom, no feeling of the warmth of fullness comes from it, but the smell of honey is mingled with a smell of emptiness and rot."

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