Anatole Kuragin is living in Moscow because, back in Petersburg, Prince Vassily kicked him out. He’s spent over 20,000 a year in cash and accumulated the same in debts. Prince Vassily agrees to pay off these debts, but in return, Anatole must go to Moscow—Prince Vassily has gotten him a job as the commander in chief’s adjutant—and try to find a good match. Anatole agrees and stays with Pierre, who grows to like him.
Anatole is still up to his dissipated ways. He has a gift for winning over people more innocent than he is, like Pierre.
Though nobody but his close friends know it, Anatole is already married. Two years ago, a Polish landowner had forced Anatole to marry his daughter while Anatole was stationed nearby with his regiment. Naturally unreflective, Anatole doesn’t believe he’s ever done anything wrong in his life, and he feels entitled to a high position in society. He never thinks about the consequences of his actions for other people, and because of this, he enjoys a clear conscience.
Anatole’s situation is even worse than Natasha suspects. He is dangerous especially because, unlike Pierre or Andrei, he has no conscience and believes that society owes him. Tolstoy argues that aristocratic society encourages manipulation of others; Anatole takes this behavior to an extreme.
Anatole likes Dolokhov, while Dolokhov, who habitually manipulates others, befriends and uses Anatole for his connections. After the opera, Anatole analyzes Natasha’s beauty to Dolokhov and decides he’s going to toy with her for a while. Dolokhov warns him it’s not a good idea, because he’s gotten in trouble over a young girl before. Anatole just laughs and says it’s not as if such a thing could happen twice.
Dolokhov’s attitude suggests that there’s no end to the depths of manipulation that can occur in society; unlike Anatole, Dolokhov has a sense of right and wrong and simply doesn’t care.
The day after the opera, Natasha waits uneasily for Prince Andrei. She feels apprehensive and doesn’t know why. Her thoughts of Andrei are mixed up with thoughts of Princess Marya, old Prince Nikolai, the opera, and her guilty, flustered feelings about Anatole Kuragin.
Natasha is confused and disoriented by what’s happened with the Bolkonskys and at the opera. Inexperienced, she doesn’t know how to distinguish between what she feels for the two men.
After church on Sunday, Marya Dmitrievna announces resolutely that she’s going to visit Prince Nikolai and have a talk with him regarding Natasha. While she’s gone, Countess Bezukhov stops in to invite the Rostovs to a soirée that night. Natasha feels special with such an important lady praising her. Before Hélène leaves, she tells Natasha that her brother Anatole is quite in love with her and that she’s sure Natasha’s fiancé doesn’t want her to be secluded and bored. Knowing Hélène is married to a moral fellow like Pierre, Natasha figures everything must be all right. When Marya Dmitrievna gets home, she discourages the outing, but she’s so weary from her encounter with Prince Nikolai that she doesn’t fight it.
Natasha’s innocence is clearly on display here. Trusting Pierre’s goodness, she doesn’t know how he could be married to someone immoral, and Helene offers Natasha a questionable pretext for welcoming Anatole’s attentions. It’s a good example of the layered hypocrisies and manipulations in aristocratic society.
That night Count Rostov takes Natasha and Sonya to the Bezukhovs’ and is unhappy to find a frivolous crowd there. He keeps a close eye on Natasha and, when everyone sits down for the actress’s performance, grabs the chair next to her before Anatole can get it. Mlle George emerges in costume and recites French verses about a woman’s illicit love for her son. Natasha doesn’t understand the performance, but again feels she’s in an “insane world” where it’s impossible to know what’s good or bad. After the recitation, Anatole comes over and praises Natasha’s beauty, but the Count ushers her away.
Mlle George is reciting lines from the play Phèdre, by Jean Racine, her most famous role. Tolstoy bases this character on the historical actress Marguerite-Josephine Weymer, who performed in Moscow around this time. The performance gives Natasha a sense of moral disorientation that compounds what happened at the opera. The influences of society offer manifold corruptions, and Natasha is too innocent to resist their pull.
Anatole dances with Natasha and tells her he loves her. She’s astonished and struggles to speak, then finally tells him that he mustn’t say such things because she’s engaged. He says he doesn’t care about that. Later, Natasha finds herself alone with Anatole in a sitting room. He blocks her from leaving the room and squeezes her hands painfully, and she can find nothing to say. Just before Hélène returns to the room, he presses his lips to Natasha’s. That night, she’s unable to sleep, wondering which man she loves. She concludes that she loves both, and that if she loves Anatole, it must mean that he’s kind and good.
Natasha is disturbingly manipulated by the Kuragins; they appear to be working together to ensnare her. She’s so innocent that she assumes that such attentions cannot be ill-intended and that any object of her love must be worthy of it.