By the evening of September 2nd, the French reach Pierre’s neighborhood. Pierre has been alone for two days, and he’s nearly gone mad. He’d left his home and gone to Iosif Alexeevich’s house for refuge and peace. While sitting in his dead mentor’s study, reflecting on the battle of Borodino, he became convinced that he would somehow be involved in the people’s defense of Moscow. He vaguely remembers his dabbling in numerology and the discovery that “l’Russe Besuhof” was destined to limit the “beast’s” power. In his mind, the brief encounter with Natasha had confirmed that he was doing the right thing by staying in the city.
Pierre’s rather unhinged reflections suggest that the events of recent days—the battle and the evacuation of Moscow—have driven him further from a settled sense of his role in the world instead of solidifying it. He’s even resorting to dubious mystical interpretations of the Bible to justify his lingering in the city.
When an attempted people’s defense at the Three Hills doesn’t amount to anything, Pierre decides it is his job to kill Napoleon, even if he dies in the attempt. Two feelings motivate him—a desire for sacrifice, despite the comforts to which he’s accustomed, and that “vague, exclusively Russian feeling of disdain” for the conventional. Besides, he’s left behind his home, he’s wearing a kaftan, and carrying a pistol. He feels he’s taken irrevocable steps, and abandoning Moscow would make him feel ridiculous—something Pierre hates.
Pierre continues to become more and more deluded about his role in the war. Throughout the novel, he’s been desperate to surrender himself to something, though he’s never figured out what. Tolstoy also suggests that there’s something distinctively Russian about seeking out the dramatic. In any case, Pierre is clearly grasping for justifications—as if wearing a peasant’s outfit and carrying a gun mean that he can’t choose another path.
As the French enter Moscow, Pierre pictures his heroism in killing Napoleon and images what he’ll say as he strikes the fatal blow. Then Makar Alexeevich comes into the study drunk, and he suddenly steals Pierre’s pistol. Gerasim and the porter wrestle it from him. At that moment, the cook screams, seeing French soldiers riding into the courtyard. The soldiers knock at the door.
At this point in Pierre’s musings, an actual madman somewhat ironically interrupts, and the invasion itself comes to Pierre’s very door. Tolstoy would consider this to be an example of how a cascade of events can affect history; most things aren’t attributable to a singular cause.
A tall, handsome, limping officer enters the house and looks around, apparently satisfied with what he sees. He greets the household cheerfully in French. Pierre doesn’t respond, not wanting to reveal that he knows French. Then Makar Alexeevich bursts out of the kitchen and aims at the officer with his pistol. Pierre tackles him, and Makar Alexeevich shoots into the wall instead. Pierre then speaks to the officer in French, making sure he’s all right and speaking up in the madman’s defense. The officer smiles at Pierre, assuming he’s French because only a Frenchman would have saved his life. Pierre corrects him, but the officer refuses to hear it. For Pierre’s sake, he agrees to let Makar Alexeevich go unpunished. He calls for dinner and wine.
Pierre saves the life of the French officer who’s chosen Bazdeev’s house for his Moscow quarters—sparing himself from doing anything rash and also garnering the officer’s approval, at least for the moment. While Pierre’s knowledge of French could probably get him into trouble, in this case it’s all to his advantage—for once, it helps that he’s hard to categorize.
The French officer continues to regard Pierre as an honorary Frenchman, and Pierre can’t resist the man’s friendly nature. He introduces himself as Captain Ramballe, and though he tries to withhold his identity at first, Pierre gives in and offers his first name, too. The two share a hearty dinner and some Bordeaux. Ramballe tells Pierre about his past battle wounds. They both reminisce about Paris, and Pierre, under the influence of the wine and gloomy days of solitude, enjoys the merry conversation.
Pierre enjoys a friendly evening with someone who should be his enemy. The meal highlights Pierre’s odd position in Russian society—in some ways, he is more comfortable socializing with a foreign invader than an actual countryman.
After dinner, Pierre feels tormented. It’s not because Moscow has fallen to the French, but because he’s aware of his own weakness. After one meal with Ramballe, Pierre’s resolve to kill Napoleon has faded. He now feels disgust toward the French officer, though he softens as Ramballe opens another bottle of wine, drinks to their friendship, and begins telling Pierre his life story, including his many adventures with women.
Despite the cheerful meal, Pierre is conflicted. Ramballe’s interruption has thrown him off his intended course just when he’d resolved to follow something through. The fact that Pierre is more upset about this suggests that he’s still confused about what his goals actually are.
As Pierre listens to the Frenchman’s stories, he thinks of Natasha and their farewell a few days ago. He finds himself telling Ramballe the whole story—that Natasha is the only woman he’s ever loved, that he never acted on it because of her youth and his illegitimacy, and his best friend Prince Andrei’s love for her. He’s so drunk he even reveals his real name, his wealth, and his social rank. Outside, he sees the first Moscow fire glowing at a distance. He also sees the comet of 1812 in the sky—a sight he’s always associated with Natasha. He feels a deep sense of wellbeing. But just as suddenly, he remembers his earlier intention to kill Napoleon and feels sick. He falls dizzily into bed.
Everything in Pierre’s life seems to be converging in a way that’s hard to decipher. Lulled by alcohol and the freedom from normal social conventions, he feels free to confide his dearest secret to an enemy soldier. Even as his city ominously begins to burn, he also sees the hopeful sign of the comet that first cheered him after initially professing his love for Natasha. But that symbol has gotten mixed up with his desire to assassinate Napoleon. Pierre is still confused about his role in life.