What an exquisitely awkward chapter this one is. Here we’ve got Pierre, with a crush on Natasha on one hand and a friendship with Andrei on the other – not to mention a thorough working knowledge of the Kuragin family from his unhappy marriage – and he’s got to be dragged into this mess.
If it feels a little heavy-going, then that’s probably because Tolstoy has successfully destroyed the last bastion of happiness in the novel. Despite all the misery going on at Pierre’s place, all of Andrei’s pessimism and the numerous battles that were going on – there was always joy and light at the Rostovs home.
And that’s all dried up in the space of a few chapters. The old Count Rostov, Natasha’s father, is a terrifyingly accurate picture of a man whose kids have turned into teenagers, gone off the rails, and he’s powerless to stop it. And he’s haunted by the fact that, with his erratic use of money, who is he to talk about being mature and sensible? He can’t stand up and say, “Hey, grow up, kids!” because he knows that he’s never really said it to himself.
Which is what makes the character of Marya Dmitryevna so interesting – she’s like the strong parent that neither of the Rostov parents ever were. She’s severe, but it’s only the fact that she’s in control of the situation at the moment that gives us any hope.
Oh, and of course, the last throwaway moment – as Pierre passes Anatole on the street – we observe that Anatole, far from being overly distraught at losing out on his new elopment partner, seems to have bounced back fairly well – showing how shallow his interest was in the first place.