Prince Vassily does as he’d promised and speaks on behalf of Princess Drubetskoy’s son, Boris, securing him a spot in the Semyonovksy guards. In August, Princess Drubetskoy returns to Moscow to visit her relatives, the Rostovs. On the 10th, the two Natalyas in the Rostov family, mother and daughter, are celebrating their name day. Guests have been coming and going all day. Princess Drubetskoy sits with Countess Rostov in the drawing room. Meanwhile, Count Rostov, cheerful and self-satisfied, drifts between the drawing room and the hall, where a grand dinner is being set up.
A name day, celebrated much like a birthday, honors the patron saint after whom a person is named. While Petersburg was regarded as having a more aristocratic, European society, Moscow was considered to be more Russian and provincial. The setting suits the Rostovs, whose social position is shakier due to the Count’s poor financial decisions. Despite his circumstances, the Count loves to lavishly entertain.
In the drawing room, conversation focuses on the current gossip: Count Bezukhov’s illness, and his son Pierre’s improper behavior at Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s soirée. And now Pierre has been banished to Moscow for his behavior at Anatole’s. With Dolokhov and Kuragin, he got in trouble for driving around with a bear in the carriage. The young men tied the bear to the policeman who stopped them, then threw the pair into the river. Amid their laughter, the group blames Pierre’s foreign upbringing for this behavior. Princess Drubetskoy adds the gossip that when Count Bezukhov dies, his fortune will go either to Pierre or to Prince Vassily, who’s related to the Count through his wife; the Count himself has no legitimate children.
Again, Pierre doesn’t fit in anywhere he goes. His misbehavior gets him kicked out of Petersburg, and his unruly conduct is attributed to the fact that he wasn’t raised in Russia. Despite his inability to fit in, Pierre’s position could change dramatically at any moment if he inherits his dying father’s fortune, making him a respectable count and an attractive marriage prospect overnight. In Russia’s aristocracy, money is more important than reputation or individual merit.
Suddenly 13-year-old Natasha runs in, carrying something in her skirt. She is neither a child nor yet a young lady, a lively girl with curly black hair and dark eyes. Even the prim guests can’t resist Natasha’s infectious laughter. Princess Drubetskoy’s son Boris, a lifelong friend of the Count’s eldest son Nikolai, comes in, too. At home among the company, Boris teases Natasha about her doll and then courteously offers to get his mother a carriage.
The Rostov family, with the Bolkonskys, Bezukhovs, Drubetskoys, and Kuragins, rounds out the novel’s aristocratic families. More than the other families, the Rostovs are represented as thoroughly Russian, with their warm, affectionate family life and generous spirit. They also show fewer “European” affectations than more “Westernized” noble families. This is especially true of irrepressible Natasha and loyal, honorable Nikolai.
Count Rostov’s 15-year-old cousin Sonya and Nikolai remain in the room. The count tells a guest that, out of friendship with Boris, Nikolai has decided to leave the university and join the army, too—though the count is sure that nothing will come of the rumors of war. Nikolai blushes and claims it’s not because of friendship; he feels a calling to join the military. Sonya keeps watching Nikolai flirtatiously. The count, for his part, obviously feels grief about his son’s imminent departure. He says that Bonaparte is turning all the young men’s heads.
Count Rostov, an affectionate father, struggles to accept Nikolai’s decision to join the army, attributing it to both youthful friendship and a naïve attitude about Napoleon, whom the Count himself doesn’t take seriously. At this early stage, war doesn’t seem like a foregone conclusion, certainly not one with major long-term consequences for Russia. Sonya, an orphaned cousin whom the Rostovs support, has a crush on Nikolai.
When Nikolai flirts with the guest Julie Karagin, Sonya storms out of the room, and Nikolai hurries after her. Countess Rostov says that children at this dangerous age cause their parents much anxiety. She is being less strict with young Natasha than she was with her elder daughter, Vera, so that Natasha will continue to confide in her. Vera agrees, making everyone feel awkward. The guests finally leave, promising to return for dinner.
Sonya is offended by Nikolai’s flirtation with another girl, showing that she takes her feelings for Nikolai seriously, probably more seriously than he does. Countess Rostov makes her favoritism for Natasha obvious and indulges her younger daughter. She justifies this favoritism on the grounds that children of marriageable age place special burdens on their parents.
Natasha runs to the conservatory and hides among the plants, waiting impatiently for Boris to find her. Soon after, Sonya comes in crying, followed closely by Nikolai. While Natasha watches, Nikolai takes Sonya’s hand and kisses her. After they leave the room, Natasha finds Boris and leads him to her hiding place in the conservatory. When Boris hesitates to kiss her, Natasha jumps onto one of the tubs of plants and kisses Boris. Boris tells Natasha he doesn’t want to do secretive things like this. He assures her that in four years’ time, when she’s sixteen, he will ask for her hand in marriage. Later, Vera scolds Natasha for running after Boris in front of company. Natasha says Vera has no heart. Vera has this unpleasant effect on everyone, but it doesn’t bother her.
Natasha has a passionate, playful nature and boldly takes the initiative to kiss Boris, whom she hopes to marry. However, her passions don’t last as long as her cousin Sonya’s, and at this point, she doesn’t have a realistic sense of marriage as a lasting commitment; she just goes after what she wants in the moment. Sonya’s devotion to Nikolai will be an enduring feature in the story. Vera is much more concerned about social proprieties than her younger sister.
Back in the drawing room, the women talk. The countess wonders how Anna Mikhailovna got Boris a place in the guards, while Nikolai will be a mere junker. Anna Mikhailovna proudly tells her how she solicited Prince Vassily, forgetting how humiliating it was. But she starts crying as she tells the countess that a lawsuit consumes all her money, and she doesn’t know how she’ll afford to equip Boris for the army. Her only hope is that Count Bezukhov will leave Boris, who’s his godson, an inheritance. She decides she’ll approach him before dinner. Hearing of her plans, Count Rostov encourages her to invite Pierre to dinner, too.
A “junker” is a young cadet. Nikolai’s position as a lowly cadet, while Boris will serve in the more prestigious Semyonovksy guards (one of Russia’s oldest regiments), highlights the social difference between the two families—the more provincial Rostovs don’t have the connections to secure such an appointment for Nikolai. Besides that, Anna Mikhailovna is a much more aggressive social climber than her friends.