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Even though Count Rostov cuts back a lot, money is still pretty tight at the Rostov house. When we say cut back, we mean cut back aristocrat-style: they’re still serving dinners for 30 people every night.
In any case, the Countess is worried about her kids’ future and decides that one solution would be to have Nikolai marry a rich girl, namely Julie Karagin. (So far we know Julie primarily as Marya Bolkonsky’s pen pal.)
Countess Rostov writes to Julie’s mother with a kind of pre-proposal, and Mrs. Karagin is all for it. That can be explained by the fact that her name is “Mrs. Karagin,” with no title to go with it. If Julie marries Nikolai, she’ll eventually become a Countess.
It’s a go, then, right? Well, no, they still have to actually get the kids together and see if they like each other.
The Countess first drops lots of hints about all this to Nikolai, and then finally just lays it out for him: they’re going to go bankrupt if he doesn’t marry well.
Then they have a passive-aggressive back-and-forth, with the upshot being that Nikolai agrees to sacrifice his happiness for the fam. His mom doesn’t want that at all, but she does want him and Julie to fall in love.
Mostly, though, all this does is make Nikolai renew his relationship with Sonya. He never goes to meet Julie, and the whole thing is over before it starts.
Meanwhile, Andrei writes Natasha a letter saying that his war wound suddenly reopened and he has to stay abroad until after the New Year to let it heal.