Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 4 Part 1 Chapters 5 8 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 4, Part 1, Chapters 5–8 | Summary



At the governor's party, Princess Marya's wealthy aunt, Mrs. Malvintsev, asks to see Nikolai (Chapter 5). She lives in Voronezh and invites Nikolai to call at her house, where Marya is currently staying. The governor's wife then asks Nikolai if he would like her to arrange a match with Marya, and he agrees but explains to her his predicament with Sonya. She immediately tells him it is impossible for him to marry a penniless girl, and Nikolai is relieved.

The older women arrange a visit for Nikolai and Marya (Chapter 6). Since Marya is still in mourning for her father, there are no immediate expectations. Marya is nervous about the visit, but when she sees Nikolai she is natural and charming. Although Marya is plain, she has "shining eyes," and her feelings for Nikolai bring out an unexpected, striking beauty in her. Nikolai sees her inner, spiritual beauty as well and is struck by it, and he has the sense that she is "an utterly special and extraordinary being."

Voronezh gets the news about Borodino in mid-September, and Marya also learns her brother is wounded and prepares to go look for him (Chapter 7). Before leaving Voronezh, Nikolai gets two letters from home. Sonya writes that the Rostovs have lost most of their wealth and for that reason—together with his mother's wish that he marry Marya and his own recent silence—she is releasing him from his promise. The countess writes to him about the flight from Moscow and that Natasha and Sonya are caring for Andrei. Nikolai immediately shares the news with Marya, which brings them closer together.

Sonya's letter was the result of troubles at home (Chapter 8). The countess had been making Sonya's life difficult but finally appealed to her conscience, asking her to give up Nikolai in repayment for all the family had done for her. While Sonya is used to sacrificing for the family, this is one sacrifice too many. The family and Andrei are staying at a monastery, and Andrei seems to be getting better. Sonya then realizes that if Natasha and Andrei marry, it will be impossible for Nikolai to marry Marya, since the Orthodox Russian church forbids marrying one's in-law. For that reason she agrees to the countess's request.


Nikolai has an opportunity to seriously pursue a match with Marya Bolkonsky when he comes to Voronezh. He confides in the governor general's wife that he is not entirely free to woo, and she confirms what his mother has been saying all along—that it is impossible for him to marry Sonya and both of them should be mature enough to understand that. Nikolai is not a dishonorable man, but he has not been entirely honest with Sonya, probably because he has also been lying to himself.

He has been reluctant to marry Sonya since the beginning of the novel. Even going back to the first chapters, he flirts with Julie Karagin at Natasha's name-day party and forgets about Sonya. Although she genuinely loves him—and not like a brother, as she once claimed—he doesn't love her romantically. Rather he loves her more like a sister than anything else. Marya is a good match for him, not only because she is wealthy, but also because her intense inner life compliments his externally oriented personality. His awe of her spiritual gifts can serve to rein in his impulsivity and violence, and the fact that he recognizes her merits shows that he has grown over the course of the novel, becoming more thoughtful and aware. Nikolai's reluctance to marry Sonya is clearly evident in his happiness when she releases him.

For her part Sonya believes that she will be able to marry Nikolai in the end because he will not be allowed to marry Marya. Thus she feels generous enough to take a gamble and release him from his promise. But it is a poor bet to make if Nikolai does not want to marry her in the first place, which seems to be the case. Sonya is deluding herself, and her love is destined to remain unrequited.

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