Two months have passed since everyone at Bald Hills learned of Prince Andrei’s disappearance at Austerlitz. They’ve sent letters through the Russian embassy trying to locate him—he could still be a prisoner, or recovering in the care of locals and unable to communicate with them. A week after the initial news, they receive a letter from Kutuzov. He reports having seen Andrei fall on the battlefield with the standard in hand, but he doesn’t know whether the adjutant is alive or dead.
When Prince Andrei last appeared, he was injured on an Austrian battlefield, gazing at the sky and pondering eternity. As far as everyone is concerned, he died there—but given the difficulty of communications, and the chaos after the battle, nobody can know for certain.
When Prince Nikolai receives Kutuzov’s news, he doesn’t tell anyone at first. When Princess Marya reports for her lessons the next morning, her father greets her with unnatural brightness, yet his expression gives away the truth. Prince Nikolai shrilly tells his daughter that Andrei has been killed. Marya weeps as she embraces her father, wondering if Andrei repented of his unbelief in God before he died. She goes to tell Liza the news, but the little princess is so happy about her baby’s approaching birth that Marya decides the news must be kept from her for now. In the meantime, Prince Nikolai grows weaker, but Marya clings to hope and keeps praying for her brother’s return.
Prince Nikolai and Marya mourn Andrei’s apparent death. To both of them, war primarily meant the risk of Andrei’s death instead of abstract ideals, and that fear has now come true. But Marya’s deepest grief is spiritual—she fears her brother died in atheism. Even in her grief, she puts others’ feelings before her own. She also maintains a shred of hope, something her father lacks the capacity to do.
On the morning of March 19th, Princess Marya notices that the little princess looks very pale. She goes to fetch Marya Bogdanovna, the midwife who’s been staying at Bald Hills (a doctor from Moscow is expected at any moment). She retreats to her room to pray, but she remains agitated. Later, Marya’s old nanny, Praskovya Savishna, comes in with Prince Andrei’s old wedding candles, lights them before an icon, and prays. The whole house feels tense and watchful, but nobody talks about Liza’s labor. That night no one sleeps.
Special candles are held by a Russian Orthodox bride and groom, and these were kept after the wedding. When Savishna brings in the candles to pray, she is portrayed as a good Russian peasant, traditionally religious and fervent in prayer. Marya shares this old-fashioned Russian piety.
It’s a wintry March night. Suddenly a gust of wind blows the window open, bringing cold and snow into the room. As Savishna closes the window, the nanny sees the German doctor coming down the avenue, and Marya rushes to meet him. As she comes downstairs, though, she thinks she hears a familiar voice. Marya tells herself it can’t possibly be Prince Andrei’s—yet he suddenly appears around the corner, pale, thin, with a softened expression. “You didn’t get my letter?” he asks Marya. He embraces his sister, who’s unable to speak, then hurries off to his wife’s rooms, followed by the doctor, who arrived at the same time.
In a surreal passage, as Marya expects one person and is shocked to face the other, Prince Andrei unexpectedly returns as if from the dead, resolving the uncertainty surrounding his disappearance. Yet there’s no time for this to sink in, as he gets there at a critical point in his wife’s labor.
When Prince Andrei enters the little princess’s room, she doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of his arrival. She’s just gotten through a contraction and lies there, exhausted, looking a little reproachfully at everyone. Princess Marya and Andrei step out of the room as the contractions continue, listening helplessly to Liza’s groans. There’s one last, terrible cry, followed by the sound of a baby crying. Prince Andrei begins to weep uncontrollably, too. When Andrei returns to his wife’s room, he finds her dead, her face wearing the same sweet expression as moments before.
Prince Andrei’s own brush with death seems to have softened his attitude toward the wife he’d scorned before. In the novel, death often functions as a transforming moment in a character’s view of the meaning of life. Yet just as Andrei appears ready to embrace married life, Liza is taken away from him by her own death.
When Prince Andrei goes to his father’s study, Prince Nikolai already knows about his return and his daughter-in-law’s death. He clings to his son’s neck and weeps. Three days later, the little princess’s funeral is held. Liza’s still face seems to say, “What have you done to me?” It makes Andrei feel that something has broken in his soul. Five days later, the new baby, Nikolai Andreich, is baptized. Prince Nikolai, acting as godfather, is so afraid of dropping the baby that he shakes as he circles the font. After the baptism, the baby’s nanny gives Prince Andrei the good news that when the piece of wax with the baby’s hair was dropped into the font, it floated instead of sank.
Liza is portrayed as an innocent, transparent character even in death, lacking the strength to make sense of suffering and therefore unable to survive it. Though Andrei does have such strength, he is “broken” by his wife’s death, forced again to wrestle with the meaning of life. At a Russian Orthodox baptism, godparents would stand in for the baby’s parents. It was also traditional to drop a piece of wax with the baby’s hair attached into the water. If it floated, that was taken to mean that the baby would live. Baby Nikolai’s survival means that, sorrow notwithstanding, the Bolkonsky family will carry on.