At the Rostovs’, the Countess weeps about her friend Anna Mikhailovna’s plight. Finally she asks the Count for money, and he gives her 700 roubles, fondly calling her a spendthrift. When Anna Mikhailovna comes back from Count Bezukhov’s, the Countess gives her the stack of money for Boris’s uniform, and the friends both weep.
Even though the Rostovs don’t have much money, they give generously to friends who are in need (or at least claim to be). This openhanded attitude partly explains the Rostovs’ financial woes and inability to keep up with the rest of the nobility.
Later, the Countess sits with her daughters and guests in the drawing room. One guest, Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimov, a rudely frank society lady whom everyone respects and fears, scolds the late arriving Pierre about his escapade with the bear. In his study, the Count smokes pipes and listens to his guests argue about the wisdom of going to war with Napoleon. Later, at the dinner table, Nikolai defends the war with awkward warmth, earning praise from Julie Karagin (which makes Sonya blush). Natasha, dared by her little brother Petya, speaks out of turn, demanding to know what they’re having for dessert. When the countess and Marya Dmitrievna laugh at the girl’s boldness, everyone else does, too.
In mid-August, 1805, Kutuzov had led the Russian army from Petersburg to join the Austrian army, and on September 1, Emperor Alexander I issued a manifesto about the war. These events are already known, or rumored as imminent, among the nobility in late August and are subject to rigorous debate. For his part, Nikolai supports the war out of simple, earnest patriotism. Meanwhile, Natasha is clearly everyone’s favorite, indulged even when she fails to observe social proprieties.
After dinner, the adults divide into groups to play cards, and the young people gather around the clavichord and harp. Natasha is asked to sing, but she runs to find Sonya first and discovers her friend weeping in a corridor. Natasha cries in sympathy. Sonya explains that she’s upset that Nikolai’s going into the army, and they can’t hope to marry, because they’re cousins and will therefore need permission from a bishop. Natasha realizes that Vera had been tormenting Sonya earlier, telling her that the Countess would never consent to the marriage and that Nikolai will marry Julie instead. Natasha comforts and reassures her friend, and they run back to the drawing room to sing with the others.
Cousins could marry in the Orthodox Church only with the metropolitan’s (regional bishop’s) permission. Though Sonya worries about this obstacle, the Countess’s opposition is due to Sonya’s poverty—the Rostovs need Nikolai to marry a wealthier girl, like Julie Karagin, if they hope to improve their financial status. In the aristocracy, a couple without financial resources didn’t have the luxury of marrying for love. Though Natasha can be childishly self-indulgent, she also shows warm-hearted sympathy with others.
Later, during the dancing, Natasha claims Pierre as her dance partner, and the countess marvels at the poised, grown-up way Natasha chats with the young man. Count Rostov dances with Marya Dmitrievna, and his exuberance delights the onlookers, who burst into applause when the performance is over.
Pierre is several years older than Natasha and they don’t have much in common, but Natasha already has a self-confidence beyond her years when it comes to men. The Count’s dancing exemplifies the Rostovs’ un-stuffy, characteristically “Russian” joy in life.