Call it coincidence, but Tolstoy is really playing God here – that’s his point, too: there are no coincidences, just a massive jumble of events outside of our control that lead from one opportunity to another and we can either chose to take advantage of them or not, but will always be effected by them. This interplay of war, of failed love, leads Nicholas to Maria. It’s so simple, yet so complex, too.
While Tolstoy has gone to great pains to show us what is in the heart and mind of of another person, here he shows us how there is always that distance between people. Maria did not go into her father’s room even though she was just on the other side of the door, Andrei ran off to the war) – we always distance ourselves for selfish reasons – but what if we didn’t? How that could actually change the world!
So the key sentence here is “Follow her into slavery! Pull down your houses and go into bondage!” They think she’s trying to turn them into bonded serfs. It’s funny and sad because of anyone in the novel she’s the most sure to actually want to help them and yet they distrust even her and she can’t make them understand. And this condemns the Russian system that turned the peasants so distrustful of the rich.
The peasants must think that Maira is trying to kick them off the land and so they won’t go. They think it’s a trick to deprive them of their land.
Maybe what Tolstoy is doing here with Dron and Maria is that we’re not supposed to know why the peasants won’t help or leave. Maybe he’s showing us the divide between rich and poor and also how even as good as Maria is, she has no idea how the people really suffer. And maybe Dron has been stealing from the commune this whole time and just wants to escape. Maybe Tolstoy really can’t write peasants very well.
And to think Andrei is not that far away – he was at Bald Hills while Maria and her father were just at Bogucharovo. All that happened he missed by just a few miles.
I read an entire book on the Russian peasantry in hopes of gaining some insight into this chapter (and the next) were the peasants (Dron especially) refuse to help the Princess get away. But I still don’t understand why Dron wants to be freed from his responsibility, why they won’t leave Bogucharovo, or any of it. Is Tolstoy trying to say the right thing to do is to stay? Is he saying the peasants are dumb?
The death of the old prince is the second greatest chapter in the novel. I literally cry when I read this because of how sad it is, how difficult and complicated the emotions are for Maria (and myself), and how straightforward the language is. This is not a ‘beautiful’ chapter, it’s a ‘real’ chapter. This is how we die and this is how those we love feel when we die, even if our relationships were strained.