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Prince Bolkonsky, Andrei's dad, is out of favor with the current government and has been banished to his estate in the countryside. This is fine with him. He runs a tight ship, with every day scheduled to the minute. He is gruff and doesn’t do politeness. Also, he believes in constant activity, so he is always reading, writing, woodworking, gardening, construction, etc., etc.
His daughter, Marya, is a weak, sad, unattractive girl whose life is spent in a homeschooling program devised by her father. She is terrorized by him and generally doesn't have it all that great.
Andrei and his wife, Liza, are supposed to coming that day.
Meanwhile, Marya meets her dad for her daily geometry lesson. He stops working on his lathe (no, seriously) and gives her a letter from her BFF, Julie Karagin, (which she can’t wait to read) and a book about Christian mysticism that Julie has sent her (which is not going to even be opened).
She’s totally distracted by her fear of her dad and can’t think straight. He yells at her and calls her an idiot.
Finally, the lesson is over. He gives up and tells her that he just doesn’t want her to end up a dummy like other women. Oh, very nice – thanks, dad.
She escapes to her room and reads the letter.
Julie recaps some stuff we already know:
1. Everyone is talking only about the war, and all the boys are shipping out, including Nikolai Rostov, who Julie is totally crushing on.
2. Pierre is the new Count Bezukhov and Prince Vassily has run back to Petersburg because of all the rumors about him.
3. Here is this crazy book on Russian mysticism from a Masonic perspective – it’s all the rage in Moscow.
Then Julie thickens the plot: apparently there’s some talk of marriage between her (Julie) and Pierre. And she also tells Marya that there is a plan to marry Marya off to Anatole Kuragin, the handsome and wastoid son of Prince Vassily.
Marya immediately writes back. Her letter is way more religious in tone. Another difference is that Julie sounds like a city girl who’s been around a bit, while Marya sounds like the shut-in that she is.
Marya responds to Julie’s news.
About the war: Marya writes about seeing the peasant conscripts shipping off to become cannon fodder, and their suffering families. (Which is a nice comeback to Julie's selfish whining about all the officer boys leaving her with no one to flirt with.)
About the Bezukhovs: It’s old news. Marya’s dad was tight with Count Bezukhov and knows all about it. He's feeling old and like he’s about to die next.
About the book: Thanks, but no thanks.
About the potential marriage: We should probably quote this word for word. “For me marriage is a divine institution to which one must conform oneself. However painful it may be for me, if the Almighty imposes upon me the duties of a wife and mother, I shall try to fulfill them as faithfully as I can, without troubling myself with the examination of my feelings regarding him whom he will give me for a husband” (1.22.38). Yikes. That’s one beaten-down woman.
Marya goes to mail the letter, and her governess, Mlle. Bourienne, gives her another one to send too. Marya looks at her watch and realizes that she’s five minutes late to play the clavichord (an old-timey piano). She becomes terrified and runs off to go practice.
Marya looks at herself in the mirror and can’t tell that, despite being homely, she has amazingly soulful, captivating eyes.