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War and Peace

War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace Volume 1, Part 3, Chapter 2 Summary

  • Now Pierre is at the make it or break it point. Is he going to marry Helene or not?
  • Shmoop knows how crazy it sounds that two weeks after meeting a woman you’d have to decide whether to marry her. But back in the day, marriages weren’t really about soul mates and love and long walks on the beach – they were (at least among the upper classes) much more about uniting powerful families together, connecting big estates, or using money to buy into high social position. Add to that the whole no-sex-before-marriage thing and you’ve got a recipe for a super quick engagement.
  • Righty-o.  Pierre and the big question.
  • Pierre is dragging his feet still, so Prince Vassily decides this: Helene’s name day is coming up (that’s the birthday-ish thing celebrating the saint with the same name), and if Pierre doesn’t propose by the end of the party, then Vassily is just going to settle it himself.
  • And now Tolstoy does something really pretty interesting.  He shows us the couple, first from Pierre’s point of view, and then from the point of view of everyone at the party.  And – spoiler – the two views don’t match up. We never know what to make of the difference, and the narrator doesn’t clue us in on who's right and who's wrong. What do you think?
  • Here’s how Pierre sees things.
  • He’s been getting to know Helene. She doesn’t seem dumb to him anymore, just super-dignified and chill. Also, she’s got a bad case of pretty-girl syndrome – she knows that she's beautiful and that everyone thinks so, and that gives her a feeling of superiority and entitlement.
  • Still, Pierre likes her more and more. But he’s terrified of taking the next step.
  • The name-day party comes. All the guests seem like they are being normal guests, but in reality every single one of them is just watching Pierre and Helene.
  • Now we get the guests' point of view.
  • The consensus? Aw, look, it’s a sweet couple in love.  Individually though, their reactions say a lot about them as people.
  • Anna Pavlovna makes it an occasion to schmooze, hinting to Prince Vassily that soon congratulations will be in order.
  • Helene’s mom is kind of nasty and jealous of how happy Helene and Pierre seem to be. She is furious and full of self-pity.
  • Some old guy is angry that his wife is old and realizes that Helene will still be beautiful even in middle and old age.
  • Finally, everyone leaves.
  • Prince Vassily has a weird moment trying to act all dad-like to Helene, when, really, he hasn’t been anything like a father to her ever in his life. Think about it – if anything, he’s more like her pimp or something, trying to foist her off on the first rich bachelor who comes along.
  • Speaking of the rich bachelor, Prince Vassily is getting ticked off that Pierre still hasn’t proposed, but he decides to give him one more chance. With a wink-wink nudge-nudge, he and his wife leave Helene and Pierre alone together.
  • After some time, Vassily sends the wife off to check on what the young people are doing. Hopefully, making out.  In reality, still awkwardly chitchatting.
  • Oh, man! Vassily hustles over to the room, walks in, and basically just starts acting as if the proposal had already happened. He's all, “oh, I’m so happy for you two” and so on and so forth. Pierre just rolls with it.
  • Then we quickly fast forward a month and find them married and living together in Pierre’s giant inherited mansion in Petersburg.

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