The outward life of Petersburg salons never changes. The people in Anna Pavlovna’s salon watch Napoleon nervously, believing that European sovereigns indulge him in order to cause anxiety in the court circle. In contrast, Hélène’s salon admires Napoleon and hopes for peace with France. In Anna Pavlovna’s circle, members refrain from attending the French theater and spread hopeful rumors about the Russian army. Hélène’s circle refutes rumors of French cruelty and views the war as mostly an empty exhibition, which its instigators can end when they choose. Bilibin is among this circle.
Petersburg aristocrats are divided in their attitudes about the war. Anna Pavlovna’s circle is pro-Russian and decries once-prized elements of French culture; Hélène’s circle is pro-French and takes the war less seriously. One’s social position signals one’s political alignment and vice versa.
Prince Vassily is a mediating figure between the two circles, alternating between his friend Anna Pavlovna’s and his daughter Hélène’s salons. As a result, sometimes he gets confused and says things in one circle that he should have said in the other. One day at Anna Pavlovna’s, Prince Vassily denounces Barclay de Tolly and gets into an argument about who should replace him as commander in chief. When somebody suggests Kutuzov, Vassily objects, saying Kutuzov is old and blind. Nevertheless, a couple of weeks later, Kutuzov is appointed to the position with power over all Russia’s armies. Even though the Emperor doesn’t like Kutuzov, the existence of multiple commanders in chief is regarded as a problem which Kutuzov’s leadership is meant to fix.
Unsurprisingly, Prince Vassily drifts between circles according to what’s advantageous for him at the moment. After the French invasion, Russian leadership remains in flux. Commander-in-chief Barclay de Tolly kept retreating before the French instead of fighting, and after the French victory at Smolensk, Kutuzov replaced him, though his avoidance of direct battle will also prove controversial.
After hearing this news, Prince Vassily shows up at Anna Pavlovna’s salon. When he praises the appointment, a distinguished gentleman reminds Vassily of his former position that Kutuzov is blind, but Vassily brushes this off with a delicate cough. In fact, he can’t praise Kutuzov too highly, citing his good character.
The distinguished gentleman in this chapter is probably the philosopher Joseph de Maistre, who served as an ambassador in Russia at this time; Tolstoy consulted de Maistre’s correspondence for details of Petersburg soirées. Either way, the man sees through Prince Vassily’s shallow posturing.
The next battle takes place at Borodino, a mere 75 miles from Moscow. On the march, Napoleon’s chief of staff interrogates a Russian prisoner and tells Napoleon what he’s learned—that Platov’s corps is on its way to join the main army, and Kutuzov is now commander in chief. It turns out that this prisoner is Lavrushka, Denisov’s serf. Napoleon wants to speak to him personally, so the drunken Cossack soon rides up, unintimidated by Napoleon (though he pretends not to recognize him). Lavrushka was taken prisoner while stealing chickens from a village.
The French are getting closer and closer to Moscow. In a humorous juxtaposition, Napoleon’s questioning of Lavrushka brings together a minor, lower-class Russian character with the French emperor. As Tolstoy likes to point out, sometimes a thieving serf plays as consequential a role in war as an emperor.
Napoleon questions Lavrushka about the Russian army’s status and morale. When the interpreter translates Lavrushka’s words for Napoleon, he says that if there’s battle within three days, the French will win, but if battles comes later, then God only knows what will happen. Napoleon reveals his identity, and Lavrushka pretends to be shocked. A later French historian recounts this meeting by saying that Lavrushka fell silent with naïve amazement before being sent away. In reality, Lavrushka gallops in search of his master Nikolai Rostov, exaggerating the whole story in his mind.
Lavrushka believes that if the French strike relatively soon, they’ll be at an advantage, but the longer they wait, the more that advantage will be ceded to the Russians fighting on home soil. The French historian’s account of the meeting is a humorous acknowledgment of the fact that each side will try to interpret things in the most flattering light.
Though Prince Andrei thinks Princess Marya is safe, that’s not true. After Alpatych returns from Smolensk, Prince Nikolai springs into action. He calls up the village militia, deciding to stay and defend Bald Hills. He orders that Princess Marya and Nikolushka be taken to Bogucharovo and from there to Moscow. However, Princess Marya is worried about her father and refuses to leave, disobeying him for the first time. Though Prince Nikolai storms at her, Marya knows he’s secretly relieved that she’s staying.
The focus shifts back to Bald Hills after the battle of Smolensk. Finally believing the urgency of what’s happening, Prince Nikolai nevertheless stands his ground, refusing to let his beloved estate fall to the French.
The morning after Nikolushka leaves for Bogucharovo, Prince Nikolai puts on his decorated uniform and goes out to review the village militia. But soon after, a frightened crowd runs back to the house, dragging her suddenly withered and timid-looking father. He cannot speak. A doctor says the Prince has suffered a stroke. The Prince is transported to Bogucharovo the next day, where he spends the next three weeks paralyzed and unconscious, muttering something that nobody can understand. His agitation worsens whenever Princess Marya is near.
His attempt to defend Bald Hills, and likely the overall shock of the invasion, proves too much for Prince Nikolai. The family is forced to leave Bald Hills after all.
Princess Marya, watching over her father day and night, is disturbed to find that, deep down, she hopes he will die soon. She’s even more troubled when thoughts of a new life—of earthly love and even a family of her own—cross her mind once again. She thinks these are temptations from the devil, yet she finds it impossible to pray.
Again Tolstoy shows the complexity of Marya’s character. For all her self-sacrificing loyalty, she knows that her father’s death will be a liberation for her, and her longings for a more normal life clash with her religious convictions.
French looters have struck within 10 miles of Bogucharovo. Princess Marya prepares the household to move again. The morning of departure, the doctor says Prince Nikolai is a little better and trying to communicate. Marya goes to her father, who looks pitifully shriveled. He presses her hand and struggles to speak; Marya looks away, pained by the strain in his face. After many guesses, she figures out that he’s saying, “My soul aches.” He repeats, “Thank you…forgive me!” to Marya as his tears fall.
Princess Marya and her father share a touching reconciliation. On one hand, it’s a tragic moment—Prince Nikolai has been unable to show affection to his daughter until his deathbed. On the other hand, he is able to profess his gratitude and love and ask forgiveness for his oppressive behavior. Death often reveals characters’ truest selves and lets people see one another as they really are.
After this exchange, Prince Nikolai becomes more agitated, talking about his son, the Emperor, and the war. Then he has another stroke. Princess Marya flees outside, overwhelmed with love for her father. She no longer thinks about her future; she can’t imagine life without him. The marshal of the district nobility comes to Bogucharovo to persuade Princess Marya to leave as quickly as possible for everyone’s safety, but his pleas don’t sink in. The next time Marya is called to her father’s room, sunshine is spilling through the window, and women are bustling around. She sees the stern, immobile look on Prince Nikolai’s face and, filled with horror, collapses into the doctor’s arms.
Unburdened after reconciling with his daughter, the Prince lapses into incoherence again and ultimately dies. Despite her genuine desire for a different life, Princess Marya begins to grieve the loss of her father in earnest, and grief drowns out all thoughts of the future, both immediate and longer term. The sunshine and bustle—the persistence of life in the presence of death—contrast with Marya’s abject distress.
The peasants at Bogucharovo are called “steppe folk.” They are hardworking but wilder than the peasants of Bald Hills. News of Napoleon’s war is all mixed up in their minds with rumors of the Antichrist and the end of the world. Lately there’s been unrest among the peasants, with much talk of forming a caravan and migrating somewhere warmer. Alpatych has been staying at Bogucharovo, and he’s learned that the peasants plan to stay put. He also sees French leaflets informing villagers that they won’t be harmed by the invaders, and that they’ll be paid for anything that’s taken from them.
Tolstoy highlights the variety of peasant experience. Though they’re also serfs, the peasants at the Bolkonskys’ country estate are used to greater independence. For them, the French invasion has an apocalyptic resonance. Napoleon’s armies often distributed counterfeit rubles to the peasantry, so unlike the nobility, the peasants are also convinced that there’s a financial benefit for them in accepting French rule.
The headman of Bogucharovo is a sturdy old muzhik named Dron, who’s trusted and respected by the Bolkonskys and peasants alike. On the day of Prince Nikolai’s funeral, Alpatych orders Dron to prepare horses for the carriages and carts that will soon be leaving Bogucharovo. Feeling caught between the peasants and his masters, Dron hedges, then begs to be released from his role as headman. Alpatych refuses to listen and, not telling Princess Marya what’s going on, goes to speak to the local authorities.
Muzhik is a Russian word for “peasant.” There’s hierarchy among peasants, with a mediating figure like Dron experiencing conflicted loyalties. Dron knows the peasants don’t want to leave Bogucharovo and that their stubbornness could be an obstacle for the Bolkonskys’ escape.
Meanwhile, Mlle Bourienne checks on her grieving friend, and Princess Marya, unable to resent or judge her anymore, extends a hand to her. When Mlle Bourienne shows her a French leaflet, explaining they must flee the estate, Marya becomes anxious. More than anything, she feels insulted on her father’s and Prince Andrei’s behalf. Glad to be distracted from her grief, Marya talks with Dron and orders that the estate’s grain be distributed to the suffering muzhiks in her brother’s name.
Though she has a strong sense of pride, Princess Marya doesn’t hold a grudge, and she readily forgives Mlle Bourienne’s divisive role in the household. The prospect of French invasion of the family estates affronts her, and she tries to confront the balking peasants, but the complexity of the situation doesn’t quite sink in—charity doesn’t persuade them.
An hour later, the muzhiks are still refusing to leave. Princess Marya goes outside to negotiate with them, drawing strength from the sense that she’s representing her father and brother. She promises the crowd of muzhiks all the grain they need and begs them to move to the Bolkonsky estate outside Moscow. They simply stare back at her with unreadable expressions. Gradually they begin to grumble, refusing to leave Bogucharovo and preferring to be despoiled by the invading French. Princess Marya sadly retreats to the house. She sits up late that night, remembering her father’s last words— “dear heart”—and grieving that nobody will ever know all that was in him. Eventually she runs to her former nanny for comfort.
Princess Marya shows she’s well capable of rising to the occasion under pressure, especially when she feels family honor is at stake. However, she doesn’t count on these peasants’ independent streak and doesn’t get far in persuading them. Grief finally overwhelms her strength, and she finds childlike solace in her old nanny.