For 12/23/2021, to p.1249
Book 4, Part 4 Continued
Scene: Moscow and St. Petersburg (Pierre, Natasha & Marya)
Pierre wakes up the next morning focused completely on Natasha and the possibility of marrying her, even as he is not sure it is possible. He is happy with everyone and everything. He goes to dinner at Marya’s house again, and again the next day. He is supposed to go to Petersburg but cannot make himself–until Marya nudges him. She agrees that he cannot speak to her at this point, but tells him to go to Petersburg, to write to her parents for permission to marry her, and to leave the rest to Marya. As he leaves the house, he still gets to say goodbye to Natasha and is made deliriously happy when she says she is looking forward to his return.
Everything Pierre is experiencing and his impressions of everyone he encounters in the following two months in Petersburg is suffused with his delirious love for Natasha, a “blissful insanity” that makes him very well disposed towards everyone, because “his heart was now overflowing with love, and by loving people without cause he discovered indubitable causes for loving them” (1210).
For her part, Natasha in Moscow is reawakening to life and love, although at first she feels guilty about setting Andrei aside in this way. When Marya speaks to her about Pierre’s love, she tells her she is “afraid of being bad” (1212) but admits she loves Pierre, and Marya approves. Natasha is upset Pierre has to go to Petersburg, but also sees the necessity. There is no proposal scene.
Epilogue, Part 1
Scene: 7 Years Later – General reflections
General reflections on the retrospective look at the war, including the historians’ “reaction” to Napoleon (positive in spite of his failures) and Tsar Alexander (mostly critical). The narrator is critical of the hindsight reproaches of the historians and again returns to the idea that it is not “reason” and not “greatness” that causes the great ocean of European history (cf. 1215 for that metaphor) to sway back and forth.
More reflection: Let’s forget about greatness and genius and even chance admit that we do not understand the larger “purpose of the European convulsions” and the movements from west to east and back (1218) in the history of the war.
A critical summative view of Napoleon and his ascent that dismisses the idea of his glory and grandeur that somehow justify the crimes. “A man without convictions, without habits, without traditions, without a name, and not even a Frenchman” (1219) who rises to prominence partly by chance and partly because his rivals and opponents are weak and stupid. And in Russia, the “inverse chances” from earlier occur, he fails and loses, “stupidity and immeasurable baseness becomes evident” (1222). But he ends up on Elba, still not really disempowered (1223).
The narrator briefly and generally sums up Napoleon’s return and his “last act” (presumably Waterloo, not mentioned by name) and “last role,” and the “pitiful comedy” of the exile on St. Helena, not mentioned by name (1223), without mentioning his death (May 5, 1821). Then contrasts this with Alexander I, who at first engages with Napoleon in the larger European theater as “the pacifier of Europe” (1224, really?), but after Waterloo in 1815 retreats into private life and lets others, “contemptible men whom he despises” (1224) rule. Again, a bee analogy is used to emphasize that we may look at the “purpose” of the bee’s activity from many perspective but we won’t understand it with our human minds (1224-1225).
Scene: Moscow with the Bezukhovs and Rostovs, 1813
Back to 1813: Pierre and Natasha get married, the Count dies and leaves a financial mess behind, and “the family group broke up” (1226). Nikolai accepts the inheritance of the mountain of debt, gets a civilian post, and lives with his mother and Sonya in a small house in Moscow. Pierre and Natasha don’t really know how bad the financial situation is, although Pierre has of course be generous and helps pay some debts. Sonya helps Nikolai to hide their poverty from the Countess, but it makes him like her less rather than more. “She had all that people are valued for, but little that could have made him love her” (1227, OUCH). But he also doesn’t want to marry a wealthy heiress and is in a constantly “gloomy mood” he seems to cherish (1227).
Marya comes to Moscow and feels hurt when Nikolai is aloof and grumpy when she visits, even as his mother urges him to pay her another visit (obviously hoping that they will still get hitched, just as Sonya is secretly rejoicing that he disliked Marya so much). When he goes to see Marya, they stiffly talk back and forth, until she understands that it is hard for him to overcome his pride and marry her, the rich woman, as a poor man; she tries to bid him goodbye in tears and they finally look into each other’s eyes and “suddenly became very close, possible, and inevitable” (1231).
Scene: Bald Hills (now Rostov possession), 1813-1820
So in late 1813 Marya and Nikolai also marry, and the Countess AND SONYA move to Bald Hills (rebuilt but simpler in style) with them. He pays off all his debt with her money, inherits some himself and pays Pierre back, and is now on his way to becoming a successfull farmer / country gentleman who appreciates his farm laborers (although he hates domestic servants). Marya sometimes feels neglected because he is so passionate about his work and feels estranged from him. The serfs love him and “serfs from neighbouring estates came to beg him to buy them” because in their minds, he is “a real master” (Blergh, 1234).
But Marya is still in the business of civilizing Nikolai. He has a sharp temper and clearly beats as well as yell at his serfs, and she reprimands him in tears. He is contrite and improves over time but still occasionally lapses (“once or twice in a twelvemonth,” 1235). Her spirituality impresses and helps him, and marital harmony increases, although tensions remain between her and Sonya. Natasha and Marya discuss this–Natasha somewhat irreverently says that Sonya is like the man in the Gospels “from him that hath not shall be taken away,” and although Marya corrects Natasha’s theology, it does make sense to her–Sonya seems to be content to help everyone out and not be thanked, having attached herself “like a cat… not to the people but to the home” (1236-37), Bald Hills, where on big feast days the Rostovs and Bolkonskys gather.
One the eve of St. Nicolas Day, Dec 5, 1820, everyone is gathering at Bald Hills for a big feast. Natasha and her four kids are already there, as well as Denisov (now a retired general), Nikolushka with his tutor, etc. but Nikolai is grumpy because tomorrow will be a feast day and he can’t do his usual work, so Marya is upset because of this moment of estrangement, which is rare, and which she thinks has to do with his pregnancy. She tries and fails to keep her kids, Andrushka and little Natasha, from waking up Nikolai as he dozes off after dinner, but it leads to a talk that leads them to clear the air; Nikolai tells her he hopes Pierre and his family will stay until spring. Pierre arrives; all are delighted because now Natasha will also “come to life” (1242).
We switch to Natasha, nursing her son, and we get a retrospective of the Bezukhov’s 7 years of marriage. Natasha is centered on her family, and some society people say that she has let herself go–doesn’t go out into society, has gotten “stouter and broader” (1242) and doesn’t care about elegant gowns and bewitching people (including no more singing) because she has “given herself up entirely” to her husband (1243). Clearly, the narrator approves of her lack of interested in “women’s rights” (1244) and her focus on the family, including Marya and Nikolai. Pierre is both “suprised” but also “flattered” (1245) that she seems to assume that family life should also be at the center of his life. But he accepts this and is a happy man because he sees what is “good in him… reflected in his wife” (1246)
FUN sideline (still in the vein of “women are MOTHERS and mothers only” but still): Natasha unfashionably decides to breastfeed her own children against all customs and objections after the first-born does not thrive, “and after that nursed all her babies herself” (1246), thanks to a remark by Pierre about Rousseau’s objection to wetnurses. That would obviously have been very much ahead of her time, especially for the aristocracy.
Now, back on December 5, 1820: Pierre had been with his family at Bald Hills when he was called away to Petersburg. He was only supposed to stay four weeks and it’s now been six, so Natasha is always miserable, to Denisov’s great surprise. But when Pierre walks in, she is “transfigured” with delight (1247), and he lets himself be whisked away to see the children. Nikolai and Marya find them in the nursery, happily holding the baby.