The Russians are demoralized and exhausted. Under Kutuzov, they retreat down the Danube, pursued by the French, uncertain about their allies, and short of supplies. Guided by modern strategy, the Russians had planned for an offensive war, but now Kutuzov’s best hope is to unite with the rest of the Russian army without facing a humiliating surrender, as Mack did at Ulm.
After being rebuffed by the French at Enns, the Russians undertake a discouraging retreat. While they had planned to fight offensively, modern strategy fails them in this instance, suggesting that “European” approaches aren’t foolproof. Now, they hurry to reinforce their strength before there’s a chance of encirclement by the enemy.
Finally, on October 30th, Kutuzov’s men gain a victory: they crush Mortier’s division of the French army on the Danube’s left bank, near Krems. It’s the Russians’ first triumph over the French after two weeks of retreat. Despite the sorry condition of the army and the crowds of untended sick and wounded, the Russians celebrate, and optimistic rumors fly. During the battle, Prince Andrei’s horse was shot out from under him, and a bullet grazed his arm. As a reward, the commander in chief sends him to the Austrian court, now located in Brünn, with the news of the victory. Prince Andrei’s carriage glides along the dark, snowy roads, and he’s filled with memories of the day’s battle and a hint of long-desired happiness.
The Russians finally have a small victory over a French division, raising their spirits. Prince Andrei also sees his first real fighting, and at this point, he feels that war is starting to live up to his ideals, bringing him happiness for the first time in the novel.
At the Austrian headquarters, Prince Andrei’s joy is slightly dashed when he’s taken in through a side entrance and led not to the emperor, but to the minister of war. When the minister finally looks up from his desk, he acknowledges Andrei with a fake smile. After reading Andrei’s dispatch, he tells Andrei that the emperor will probably want to see him tomorrow. As he leaves, Andrei feels deflated, the victory a distant memory.
Fresh from victory, Prince Andrei expects to be enthusiastically received by the Austrian emperor himself, but officials aren’t as excited about the small victory as he is. This reflects Tolstoy’s argument, developed throughout the novel, that while so-called great men might plan wars, it’s ordinary soldiers who fight them, and their perspectives are correspondingly different. The “great men” don’t always see what their inferiors do, and vice versa.
Prince Andrei stays with a friend, a promising Russian diplomat and bachelor named Bilibin. Over dinner, Prince Andrei relaxes into the cultured surroundings. Bilibin is known in Vienna for his elegant, witty turns of phrase. Tonight Bilibin speaks in French, except when he wants to contemptuously emphasize a Russian phrase. He, too, is unimpressed by the Russian victory, since the Russians failed to capture Mortier. Prince Andrei is baffled by this tepid reaction, especially after Mack’s defeat and Austrian inactivity. Bilibin argues that the allies abandoned Vienna and allowed a beloved general, Schmidt, to be killed in battle, then showed up expecting congratulations. Meanwhile, he adds, Bonaparte is living in Schönbrunn.
There’s an irony in Russian aristocrats’ attitude—though the French are their enemy, only French language is respectable in cultured circles, with Russian being somewhat derided. Regarding the battle, Bilibin’s reaction suggests, again, that officials who are at a distance from the action have a very different perception of the war than those who actually fought it. Schönbrunn was the beloved Hapsburg palace in Vienna, so it would be especially galling for Austrians and their allies to see Napoleon setting up his residence there.
Prince Andrei begins to realize the insignificance of the Russian victory in the greater scheme of things. Bilibin concludes that unless Prussia joins the alliance, it’s just a matter of time until the French win the war. What’s more, he thinks a secret, separate peace is already being negotiated between Austria and France. Prince Andrei goes to bed, and though troubled by the conversation, he dreams happily of the victory at Krems.
It’s historically accurate that, before the French took Vienna, Austrian Emperor Franz I sent Napoleon two different offers to negotiate a peace, both of which were rejected. In other words, Bilibin’s cynical instinct is correct, and even Prince Andrei begins to realize that his view of the war might be too idealistic—allies betray one another.
The next day, Prince Andrei’s audience with Emperor Franz is awkward. The Emperor asks Andrei simple questions and shows no interest in the answers. Immediately after this meeting, though, Prince Andrei is ambushed by courtiers congratulating him and extending various honors, including the Order of Maria Theresa. When he gets back to Bilibin’s house, Prince Andrei is surprised to find a servant hurriedly packing a carriage. Bilibin, flustered, tells Prince Andrei that the French have crossed the bridge of Tabor. The bridge was mined, but it didn’t blow up.
Prince Andrei’s report to the Austrian emperor is basically perfunctory. The Order of Maria Theresa is the Austrian Empire’s highest military honor; the prestige of the honor contrasts with the nonchalance of Andrei’s reception, suggesting that such honors were a superficial gesture that didn’t necessarily mean a great deal. In any case, Andrei’s pleasant intermission in society ends abruptly—the French are pursuing them again. French generals tricked an Austrian prince into believing that France and Austria had established a truce, thereby gaining access to the bridge.
Prince Andrei is saddened by the news, yet happy to think that this might be his opportunity for glory. He prepares to leave at once. Bilibin tries to persuade Andrei to save himself and flee along with him, but finding Andrei undeterred, Bilibin calls him a hero.
Prince Andrei continues to hold onto his hope of battlefield glory by refusing to flee the pursuing French when he has the chance. Despite his experiences among the indifferent Austrians and Bilibin’s cynicism, Andrei’s idealism remains intact for now.