In the afternoon Prince Andrei and his wife arrive at Bald Hills. Since Prince Nikolai is still napping, they surprise Princess Marya while she’s practicing the clavichord. When Marya greets Andrei, her warm eyes light up. Sadly, she asks Andrei if he’s really going to war, and he acknowledges that he is—tomorrow.
Nikolai and Marya have always been close friends. For Marya, the war isn’t about abstract ideals or national glory, but the very personal absence of the brother she loves.
In a special exception, Prince Nikolai allows Prince Andrei to visit his quarters before dinner. Cheerful after his nap, he greets his son with, “So you want to defeat Bonaparte?” Always critical of the modern military, he criticizes “this new science” called “strategy” that the Russians have learned from the Germans. Resistant at first, Andrei gives in and begins answering his father’s questions about the war with growing eagerness. He explains how an army of 500,000 will attack France from different sides, including an army of 90,000 which will threaten Prussia in order to draw it out of neutrality. His father doesn’t appear to listen, however, interjecting unrelated questions. Then Prince Nikolai sends Andrei to the dining room while singing a French war song off-key.
For Prince Nikolai, too, the war against Napoleon remains mostly an abstract idea, the subject of a spirited theoretical discussion with his son. Tolstoy also portrays a generational difference between father and son: Prince Nikolai sees military strategy as newfangled and suspect, while Andrei is exhilarated by the alliance’s lofty objectives. This suggests a difference between Nikolai’s old-fashioned Russian view of warfare and the European-inspired strategy Andrei favors.
At dinner, Prince Nikolai joins Prince Andrei, the little princess, Princess Marya, Mlle Bourienne, and the Prince’s architect Mikhail Ivanovich, whom he’s invited mainly to agree with his views on Bonaparte. Prince Nikolai is convinced that Bonaparte has gained power only because there’s no strong Russian opposition, and that there’s no real war happening, just a puppet show. Prince Andrei delightedly eggs his father on by continuing to argue that Bonaparte is in fact a great general. After dinner, the little princess takes Princess Marya aside and admits that Prince Nikolai frightens her. Princess Marya replies that her father is “so kind.”
For both Prince Nikolai and Prince Andrei, the war is so far mainly a subject for enjoyable dinner-table debate, not a matter of life and death. This time, much of their disagreement centers around Napoleon’s reputation—is he a worthy opponent or just an opportunist who will be subdued easily? Meanwhile, Andrei’s departure for war means that the little princess will be left alone in an unfamiliar place. Princess Marya is so used to accommodating her father that she’s blind to his faults.
After dinner, Prince Andrei prepares for his departure the following day. He ponders his future. Princess Marya rushes in to speak with him before he goes. She tells “Andryusha” he has changed, smiling as she uses his childhood nickname. When she speaks warmly of Andrei’s wife, she notices the mocking expression that comes over his face. She encourages Andrei to sympathize with Lise, who’s not used to being isolated in the country. Andrei doesn’t reply to this, but he suggests instead that Prince Nikolai is too hard on Marya. Shocked, she protests that she’s perfectly content with him.
The warm moment between brother and sister reveals how they view their respective weaknesses. Marya perceives that Andrei isn’t very sympathetic toward his wife and in fact doesn’t respect her much. Andrei clearly sees that Prince Nikolai doesn’t treat Marya well. Unlike Nikolai, Marya is oblivious to her situation.
Princess Marya begs Prince Andrei to fulfill a request for her. She takes out an icon of Christ, says a prayer of blessing, and, after Andrei crosses himself a bit mockingly, gives it to him. He promises to wear it for her. After that, she hesitantly admits that the little princess wept after dinner, unhappy with her life. Prince Andrei says that he’s never reproached Lise for anything, but that neither of them is really happy. Princess Marya tells him that if he prayed, God would grant him the love he’s unable to feel for his wife.
Princess Marya is the novel’s most conventionally religious character. Prince Andrei, at this point, makes no pretense of being a devout Russian Orthodox believer or of being much concerned about life’s ultimate meaning. Princess Marya nevertheless remains convinced that prayer would solve Andrei’s marital difficulties.
Prince Andrei’s coach stands outside in the autumn evening; the household gathers in the hall to bid him goodbye. Prince Nikolai continues scribbling a letter in his office when Prince Andrei comes to say farewell. Embarrassed, Andrei asks a favor—that Nikolai send to Moscow for a midwife, since Lise is fearful about giving birth. His father agrees and also gives Prince Andrei a letter to his friend, Kutuzov, urging his son’s quick promotion.
Prince Nikolai’s military background, particularly his personal friendship with General Kutuzov, allows him to advocate for the acceleration of his son’s career, showing how much social standing could shape one’s personal experience of war.
In a shrill voice, Prince Nikolai tells Prince Andrei that though he’ll grieve if his son dies, he’ll be most ashamed if he hears that Andrei did not behave like Nikolai Bolkonsky’s son. Prince Andrei asks that, if he dies and his wife bears a son, his father make sure to raise the boy himself. Then Prince Nikolai shoos his son away in an angry tone. When Prince Andrei says goodbye to his wife, Lise faints. After her brother goes, Princess Marya, supporting her sister-in-law, makes signs of the cross in the direction of the door. Prince Nikolai pokes his head out of his study, says, “Gone? Well, that’s good!” and slams the door.
Prince Andrei’s goodbye brings some of the Bolkonsky family’s faults to the forefront. Prince Nikolai clearly does have genuine feelings for his son, yet he masks his emotion with anger because he doesn’t want to appear weakly sentimental. The strain of Andrei’s departure overwhelms the little princess, but Andrei goes anyway, leaving Marya to (literally) bear the weight of everyone around her, as usual.