Here Tolstoy offers a contrast of Moscow’s ills to Petersburg’s relative insulation from the war. “But the calm, luxurious life of Petersburg, concerned only with phantoms, with reflections of life, went on as of old…” This pretty well sums up this portion of the narrative. Then Tolstoy reflects this as he turns to the lives of his royal characters – Rostov, Princess Marya (Andre’s sister), et. al.
To underline his agenda here, Tolstoy returns to Moscow, where Pierre is being held in prison with “people of the lowest estate.” And to underscore the point even more strongly, Pierre is taken from this company and held in solitary. This is the darkest moment of Pierre’s journey in search of meaning.
Tolstoy next pushes a new character into Pierre’s experience – Platon Karataev, an older man, who tells masterful stories. To the author, Platon is the ultimate Russian – anti-intellectual, completely attuned to the workings of nature about him. Tolstoy sees Karataev’s comfortable positivism and innate strength as Russia writ small. That the French kill Platon is to depict in miniature Napoleon’s attempt to destroy Russian culture, to replace it with an emerging European science and materialism – something that cannot be done.
Part Two has Tolstoy once again playing the philosopher, depicting hierarchical power – and by implication the “truth” that comes from such hierarchy – as clouded by chance, opportunity, and aggrandizement. The focus of this editorial, naturally, is Napoleon. And to make the point twice, Tolstoy begins to picture Alexander as dissatisfied with court life, with power, with wealth, and prestige. In other words, an annotated version of Pierre – looking for meaning.
By now, Pierre has been released to see Moscow ravaged, the French soldiers, drunk and pillaging, ravaging the “lower estate” Russians who had to remain in Moscow.
Part Three reprises Tolstoy as historian – or rather, anti-historian. He again debunks the credit given to various well-placed personages by historians. Instead, he begins to give credit where credit is due – to the masses, in the form of partisans. As in WWII and the Germans, partisan bands did more to weaken the now-retreating French than did Kutuzov or Bagration.
And here Tolstoy returns to the novel form. Denisov (remember him?) meets up with Rostov’s younger brother, Petya, and they join a band of partisans, continually spying on the French, toying with them, attacking them. Finally, in one encounter, Petya is killed.
Meanwhile Pierre’s captivity and other travails in Moscow have led him to a critical moment in his spiritual journey. “…Pierre has learned, not with his mind, but with his whole being, that happiness is within him, in the satisfying of natural human needs, and that all unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity…” Once again, Tolstoy cautions that the human urge to overreach its natural human condition, to add things of little meaning to it, defeats life. “Life is everything. Life is God.” Again, a pithy statement sums up what Tolstoy is trying to convey in1200 pages.
By the time we reach Part Four, Tolstoy has characters beginning to heal “the wounds in their souls,” as does the nation. Beautiful Natasha and not-so-pretty Princess Marya cautiously begin a friendship and Kutuzov’s troops run amok in chasing the French from Russia.
Pierre returns to the Rostov manor; he’s a changed person, as is Natasha, and their long-simmering love reaches fruition in marriage. Princess Marya marries Rostov, not Sofya.
From this point to the end, the story Tolstoy is bent on telling has the couples dealing with the minutiae of family life – a healing and ripening of life.
I'll belabor this critique one more week to give a few comments on Tolstoy's Epilogue.