After Prince Andrei meets with Pierre in Moscow, he travels to Petersburg to meet with Prince Anatole Kuragin. Having been tipped off by his brother-in-law Pierre, Kuragin flees Petersburg, taking an army post in Moldavia. While in Petersburg, Prince Andrei meets his old general, Kutuzov, who’s been appointed commander in chief in Moldavia. Prince Andrei secures an army appointment in Turkey and leaves Russia with the intention of following Kutuzov to Moldavia.
After Natasha’s transgression, Prince Andrei acted as though he wasn’t bothered. However, this clearly isn’t the case, as he chooses his military postings with the object of pursuing Anatole across Europe.
Prince Andrei hopes to meet with Anatole in order to find a pretext for a duel. However, their paths don’t cross in Turkey. But Prince Andrei comes to find life in Turkey easier. He’s no longer burdened with thoughts of eternity, like those he first had on the field at Austerlitz. He’s only concerned about the practical details of the present moment. Yet his anger at Anatole’s insult continues to burn beneath the surface.
Coming to grips with life’s meaning isn’t a linear process. After Andrei’s breakthrough, he was just as suddenly disillusioned by his wife’s death. Now he’s disillusioned anew by Natasha’s betrayal and distracts himself from his anger by immersing himself once again in military life.
When he’s transferred to the Western Army, Prince Andrei stops at Bald Hills on the way. After so much upheaval and travel, he’s struck by the sameness of Bald Hills. The place and inhabitants haven’t changed, except that little Nikolushka has grown. He laughs just like the little princess used to laugh. Prince Andrei doesn’t realize, though, that Bald Hills has actually divided into two camps, with Prince Nikolai and Mlle Bourienne on one side, and Princess Marya, Nikolushka, and Nikolushka’s tutor and caregivers on the other. When Prince Nikolai complains about Princess Marya for disliking Mlle Bourienne, trying to get Andrei on his side, Andrei argues with his father for the first time. Prince Nikolai angrily orders him away.
To Prince Andrei, peacetime life appears to stand still. In reality, though, life away from the warfront is riven by its own factions and conflicts that can be just as difficult to navigate. Prince Andrei can see that Mlle Bourienne is a cause of the family rift, but his argument is unheeded.
Before leaving Bald Hills, Prince Andrei tries to summon up his former tenderness for Nikolushka, but he can’t find it. He’s likewise disturbed to find that he feels no remorse for arguing with Prince Nikolai for the first time in his life. He wants to flee the painful memories of this place. He complains of those “nonentities” who cause so much unhappiness. Princess Marya knows he’s referring to Anatole. Marya tries to comfort him, saying that all grief is ultimately sent by God, not the people who are merely its instruments. Therefore Andrei must forgive. Andrei angrily retorts that forgiveness is a female virtue. As Prince Andrei leaves Bald Hills, he feels that life is just a series of meaningless, unconnected phenomena.
Life feels meaningless to Prince Andrei. He finds no joy in fatherhood or family life. Princess Marya sees suffering as part of a bigger picture that’s inscrutable, but must be trusted as coming from God’s hand. Prince Andrei refuses to hear this, believing there is no bigger picture; the succession of failures and losses in his life have led him to believe otherwise. As Prince Andrei heads back to the army, he seems to be at a loss. Since he’d already been disillusioned with war at Austerlitz, his return suggests he doesn’t know what else to do with himself.
Prince Andrei arrives at army headquarters on the Drissa, where he’s assigned to Barclay de Tolly, at the end of June. At this point, nobody suspects that there could be an invasion of the Russian provinces; everyone assumes that the war will stop short in western Poland. Prince Andrei spends a few days taking stock of the military situation. Many people, such as Arakcheev and Count Bennigsen, are with Emperor Alexander at headquarters; they have no official military function, yet they exert much influence. It’s often unclear whether such people’s advice originates with them or from the Emperor himself, and thus whether it’s necessary to follow it.
The Drissa camp was located on the Dvina River in what’s now Belarus. The camp was designed as a base for resisting Napoleon’s invasion, but it proved impractical for this purpose. Barclay de Tolly was a commander in chief of the Russian army at the beginning of the 1812 campaign. Other leaders with no definite status loiter at headquarters, too, creating confusion.
During his time at headquarters, Prince Andrei observes several tendencies and parties. The first party, made up predominantly of German princes, surrounds the military theoretician Pfuel, who believes firmly in the science of war. The second party is the opposite—it calls for the abandonment of former plans and a bold advance into Poland. These include Russians like Bagration and the up-and-coming Ermolov.
Prince Andrei’s observations about factions at headquarters highlight Tolstoy’s argument about European versus Russian approaches to warfare. Germans like Pfuel favor strategy, while Russian generals resist plans that don’t fit their instincts.
Other groups include one which is passionately devoted to the person of the Emperor, much as Rostov used to be; they want Alexander himself to take command of the army. Another, by far the largest, doesn’t care about war or peace: they only want what’s most beneficial to themselves, whether it be money, honors, or rank. All these factions stir up confusion wherever they go, drowning out sincere exchanges of views.
The range of views includes those who, like Nikolai Rostov, idealize the Emperor and those who, like Boris Drubetskoy, couldn’t care less—they just want to use the situation to their advantage. With these divergent factions, Tolstoy alludes to his argument that many competing factors shape history, not unified voices.
About the time that Prince Andrei joins headquarters, another group of seasoned statesmen also emerges. These people believe that the sovereign’s presence with the army is harmful and destabilizing, that the Emperor should rule and not command, and that an independent commander in chief is needed. The leading representative of this group is secretary of state Shishkov. Along with Arakcheev and Balashov, Shishkov writes a letter to the Emperor suggesting that the Emperor can serve Russia best by departing for the capital and inspiring the people for war. Alexander accepts this reasoning and leaves the army.
There are so many factions in war that the generals and statesmen can’t even agree on how they can best be led—whether the Emperor is better as a military commander or as a symbolic figurehead. In other words, the warfront is chaotic, reflecting Tolstoy’s view of war’s overall character.
Before this happens, Barclay tells Prince Andrei that the Emperor wishes to see him. Andrei finds an informal council of war gathered at headquarters—people whose opinions the sovereign wants but who don’t occupy official posts. Prince Andrei spots Pfuel there and thinks that he looks like a stereotypical German theoretician. Pfuel is in a bad mood because the Emperor is inspecting and criticizing the Drissa camp he designed without consulting him. Like all Germans, Pfuel believes that science is absolute truth and that anything less is barbarism.
At army headquarters, the chaotic atmosphere of war persists. Pfuel is characterized in a stereotypical way in order to contrast him with less codified, more instinctive Russian approaches to war. Pfuel believes that strict adherence to strategy is the key to victory in war.
Emperor Alexander arrives and greets Bolkonsky, inviting him into the room where the informal war council is gathered. Animated and sarcastic, Pfuel insists that his plan has foreseen every contingency. As opinions fly in French, German, and Russian, Prince Andrei silently listens.
As he did just before Austerlitz, Prince Andrei gets an inside look behind the scenes of the war. What he witnesses just confirms his sense that war is chaos.
There’s also a big difference from 1805. Now, every voice contains a hint of panic about Napoleon’s military genius. For his part, Prince Andrei finds it increasingly obvious that there can be no such thing as military science—there are too many variables, and nobody can predict the future. He thinks the only reason military men are called “geniuses” is because they’re powerful and surrounded by flatterers.
Prince Andrei’s growing convictions reflect Tolstoy’s own views about war and history—namely, that war is too unpredictable and unwieldy a phenomenon to be reduced to a science, and that so-called military genius is a matter of reputation more than reality.
Andrei thinks the best generals are, like Bagration, absent-minded. In fact, the highest human qualities are a disadvantage for a commander. A good commander must simply be convinced that what he’s doing is important, because that’s what makes him brave. And this is found in the ranks, not among the powerful. The next day, therefore, Prince Andrei asks the sovereign’s permission to serve with the army instead of with headquarters—a decision which forever locks him out of court favor.
Prince Andrei recalls Prince Bagration’s ability to simply instill confidence in his men instead of focusing on his own orders. Unfortunately, most generals aren’t like that. As Prince Andrei realizes this, he sees that the rank-and-file soldiers are much more important than their superiors, because it’s their conviction and spirit that win battles. Based on this belief, Prince Andrei makes the fateful decision to leave behind the prospect of a high-ranking military career.