The next time I read through War and Peace, I shall have to look more closely at locations. Having just read through Volume II, Parts Two through Four, the contrasts are striking.
The household and estate of Bald Hills fears and respects Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky. The only resident who has the standing to judge him is his daughter, and filial piety and religion prevent her from doing so. Moscow respects what it supposes Prince Nikolai stands for, and flatters him. Yet he does not show to advantage there; he shows signs of senility, which may be aggravated by the demands of society.
In fact, Moscow is only so good for the Bolkonskys. Prince Andrei has the happiness of falling in love with Natasha Rostov. A bit later, Princess Marya has twin distresses: seeing her father at a disadvantage; and discovering that her friend Julie Karagina is just not that interesting.
Pierre is slightly ridiculous in St. Petersburg. He fits into Moscow. This I think is because his want of discipline matches the Moscow temperament. He is another aging, retired gentleman-in-waiting, one of the many in Moscow. St. Petersburg must have plenty of those too, yet somehow they don’t set the tone there. It is also possible that we are to understand that Moscow has better, more homely qualities than St. Petersburg, and appreciates a good heart above clever conversation. It is in St. Petersburg that Dolokhov commences an affair with Elena Bezukhov. In Moscow he falls in love with the more wholesome Sonya.
Otradnoe is a paradise–the original meaning of the word is “hunting park”, isn’t it?–if something of a fool’s paradise. The happiness of the hunt and of the mummers’ visit is beautifully depicted and convincing. At the same time, there are the pressures of money and time. The Rostovs don’t have the money they should, and can’t figure out how to get it from the estate. The parents’ best notion of financial rescue is to marry off Nikolai to Julie Karagina; this is hard on Nikolai and on Sonya. Time weighs on Natasha both as simple boredom, and time spent with her family when (as an aging woman of sixteen) she might be married to Prince Andrei.