In October 1805, the Russian army, led by General Kutuzov, is settled near Braunau in Austria, the home of their ally, the Archduke Ferdinand. The soldiers are clean and orderly despite holes in their boots. Pierre’s friend Dolokhov, demoted to the ranks, is criticized for inappropriate clothing, and he becomes resentful. The one-eyed General Kutuzov inspects the troops accompanied by his adjutant, Andrew Bolkonski. Kutuzov promises Dolokhov a promotion should he distinguish himself in battle. In conference with the Austrian commander, Kutuzov insincerely expresses regret that the tsar has not ordered the Russian troops to join the Austrian forces. Bolkonski rebukes a Russian who jokes about a recent major Austrian defeat.
At the Russian hussar (light cavalry) camp near Braunau, Nicholas Rostov and his commanding officer, Denisov, enjoy leisure time until a fellow officer, Telyanin, steals Denisov’s purse and Nicholas demands it back. Nicholas accuses Telyanin publicly, which earns Nicholas charges of insubordination from his superior. Nicholas refuses to apologize.
The Russian troops retreat over a river, pursued by the enemy. The military scene is chaotic. A Russian officer, Nesvitski, is nearly crushed on a bridge as the troops march over it, and he hears snatches of their various conversations. He does not recognize a cannonball when it splashes in the water. Orders are misunderstood. The Russian hussars, including Nicholas, succeed in burning the bridge under enemy fire, although three Russians are shot. The commanding officers somewhat selfishly weigh the lost lives against praise for the platoon.
Despite rumors of Napoleon’s retreat, the French troops are gaining ground against Kutuzov’s beleaguered Russian forces. Andrew Bolkonski is sent to the Austrian government-in-exile with news of a recent Russian victory. Along the way he gives money to wounded soldiers and dreams of the battle. Disappointed that the Austrian Minister of War seems more affected by the death of Schmidt, an Austrian general, than by the Russian victory, Andrew then chats with his friend Bilibin, a highly regarded diplomat. Andrew shares his astonishment that the blundering Austrians are not appreciating Kutuzov’s victories. Andrew reflects that the recent victory is not significant compared to the loss of Vienna to the French. Bilibin speculates darkly about the fact that Austria is considering a separate peace with the French, though Andrew refuses to believe this rumor. Andrew and Bilibin’s officer friends chat about women and Andrew’s upcoming meeting with the Austrian emperor. The officers advise Andrew to praise the emperor’s supply of provisions for the Russian army, even if he must lie in order to do so.
During the meeting, the emperor, pleased with Andrew’s news, confers state honors upon him. Returning from official visits, Andrew is surprised to find that Napoleon is again pursuing the Russian troops. Bilibin advises Andrew to stay with him rather than heroically join his own army on the move. Andrew, however, staunchly remains faithful to his army. But when he watches the Russian soldiers on the road, rudely refusing right of way to a helpless doctor’s wife, he muses that the army is a chaotic mob. Meeting with Kutuzov, Andrew expresses his wish to join the imperiled battalion commanded by Prince Bagration. Kutuzov warns that the battalion is doomed, but Andrew says that is exactly why his presence is needed there. Meanwhile, Kutuzov tricks the French commander Murat into believing a ploy, ultimately weakening the French and earning Murat a chastising letter from Napoleon.
A battle looms. Andrew witnesses Dolokhov chatting and laughing with the enemy across the battle lines. Drinking vodka, the troops muse upon life and death. The battle begins. Andrew rides beside Prince Bagration, noting that Bagration reacts to news of events on the field as though he had planned for them to happen, and that his manner improves the morale of all who speak to him. The two men encounter many wounded soldiers at a site where a Russian detachment has been overwhelmed. The commanding officer begs Bagration to turn back, but Bagration refuses.
Meanwhile, in the hussar lines, Nicholas Rostov is awaiting his first battle impatiently. Suddenly he is unsure who the enemy is, and whether he is wounded, as he feels blood and is pinned down by his fallen horse. Nicholas sees the enemy approach and cannot believe that they would want to kill him, a person whom everyone likes. He awaits aid and dreams of home.
Dolokhov is wounded while capturing an enemy officer, and wishes to be remembered for his heroism. Andrew wanders among the wounded soldiers. One soldier asks for water and wonders whether he is to die like a dog. Andrew saves a captain named Tushin from wrongful accusations of incompetence Bagration has levied, but he is soured by the experience.
Back in Moscow, Pierre finds his former critics suddenly friendly now that he has become the wealthy Count Bezukhov. He naïvely believes these sycophants to be sincere. Vasili Kuragin has taken Pierre in hand with the ulterior motive of marrying him to his daughter, Helene, and borrowing forty thousand rubles. Anna Pavlovna Scherer invites Pierre to a party and sings the praises of Helene, whose beauty overwhelms Pierre even though he is aware she is stupid. Over time, Pierre’s infatuation with Helene deepens until he is convinced that marriage is inevitable. At Helene’s name day party, Vasili convinces everyone, including the dazed Pierre himself, that Pierre and Helene are engaged. They are married shortly afterwards. Vasili sends Prince Nicholas Bolkonski word that he will soon visit with his son Anatole, his ulterior motive being to arrange a marriage with Mary, the prince’s daughter. The prince disapproves of Vasili’s character and becomes grumpy.
As the idea of courtship appears before her, Mary is plagued by religious concerns about her desires of the flesh. She is overwhelmed by Anatole’s beauty and self-possession. The prince, not wanting his daughter to get married and leave him, doubts that Anatole is good enough for Mary. Anatole does, however, charm the women—Mary, Lise, and especially Mademoiselle Bourienne. The prince ultimately decides to give his daughter total freedom in choosing her husband. Finally, Mary decides to remain with her father, rejecting Anatole.
The Rostovs receive a letter from Nicholas, telling of his injuries and of his promotion to officer rank. The count and countess both weep, as does Sonya. The countess muses on Nicholas’s growth from infancy to manhood.
Meanwhile, back at the front, Nicholas enjoys a free existence, falling into debt and going to restaurants. He is joined by his friend Boris and by the officer Berg. Nicholas is a bit contemptuous of Berg’s diplomatic tendencies, as he prefers more blatant acts of heroism. Andrew joins Nicholas and the others, and Nicholas throws some thinly veiled insults at Andrew about being a distant officer far from the fray of battle. Later, the Austrian and Russian emperors review their troops together, with Tsar Alexander winning cheers from his men. Nicholas feels a wish to die for the tsar, and the men are inspired to fight valiantly.
The next day, Boris acts on Berg’s advice and sets out to seek patronage from Andrew. Boris finally finds Andrew, who kindly agrees to talk to him about becoming an adjutant (a staff officer). It is announced that the Russian and Austrian strategists have decided to attack the French, and Boris feels elated that he is in such important company. Nicholas also is overjoyed at having been reviewed by the tsar, with whom he is so fascinated he almost seems to be in love. Talks with Napoleon are underway, and Andrew learns from the Russian emissary that Napoleon fears a large battle. The plan remains to attack the French at Austerlitz, though General Kutuzov fears defeat. At the council of war, the commanders disagree and hesitate. Nonetheless, Andrew relishes the glory that he feels will come. Riding on horseback that night, Nicholas dozes and thinks of Natasha, but he is awakened by shots nearby. It is clear that action will follow soon. The next morning, the Russian troops advance, blinded by a fog and unsure whether they are in the midst of the French.
Rostov’s detachment is frustrated to learn that they are late, due to a mix-up over misunderstood orders. Unbeknownst to the -Russians, the French forces are nearby—in fact, Napoleon himself expressionlessly watches the Russians take their position. The tsar reproaches Kutuzov for delaying the battle, but Kutuzov responds that a battle is more serious than an official parade, and that being late is not as important as being strong. Suddenly the French appear closer than expected, and Kutuzov is wounded in the cheek. Andrew is wounded by a French bludgeon, and he falls to the ground in an attitude of bliss and peace, thanking God that all falsehood is vanishing around him. Meanwhile, on the right flank, Bagration’s troops, including Nicholas, have not started fighting yet. The charge begins, with Rostov in it. All but eighteen of the officers die in the attack. Boris rides up, but Nicholas rides away, seeking the tsar with a message. Confusion reigns. The possibility of defeat is too horrible for Nicholas to contemplate.
Nicholas, still searching for Kutuzov or the tsar in the village of Pratzen, is told that the tsar has been transported away wounded. Nicholas cannot believe it, and he hears conflicting reports. Despairing, he sees the dead in the fields. He is surprised to find the tsar alone in a field, but he is too shy to address him, so he rides on. Later, Nicholas comes back to find the tsar gone. The cannon fire continues, and more men fall. Meanwhile, Andrew, lying in Pratzen, is unsure where he is and delirious after receiving his wound. Napoleon rides by and comments on Andrew, but even this hardly affects him. When Napoleon later speaks to the Russian prisoners of war, he is courteous and complimentary toward Andrew.
Perhaps the foremost idea in these chapters is the disillusionment of idealists. Tolstoy emphatically underlines the split between the grand, noble, or romantic ideas characters hold about concepts such as national unity, war, and leadership, and the disappointing reality these characters experience later.
Tolstoy opens Book Two by continuing to deflate the grand notion of the unity of the Russian nation, deepening his exploration of the internal divisions within Russia that he had implied in Book One. We see a microcosm of these internal rifts in the barracks, as our first glimpse of a military conflict is not between Russians and Frenchmen, but among Russians themselves: the officer Telyanin steals a purse and Nicholas accuses him of thievery. We wonder about the strength of national unity if the Russians fight among themselves even on the battlefield. Similarly, when the first two Russian casualties are reported, there is talk of how the detachment may be awarded a medal, with no mention of mourning the fellow Russians who have fallen. Even the scene in which the officer Nesvitski is stuck on the bridge—blocked not by the enemy but by the movement of his own troops—hints that Russians can be their own worst enemies, perhaps even as much as the French are.
Disillusionment also occurs on the level of individual characters. Andrew starts off with high-minded notions of heroism, giving money to wounded soldiers from his own pocket, and believing that the Austrian commanders would appreciate the import of a Russian victory. But during his mission to the Austrian general, Andrew discovers that the Austrians greet news of Kutuzov’s triumphs with little more than indifference, despite a series of Austrian blunders that should leave them very grateful for a Russian success. This sudden understanding that recognition and credit are not always given fairly marks the start of Andrew’s initiation into the realities of war, the beginning of a deadened attitude that he never truly shakes throughout the rest of the novel.
Tolstoy uses the battle scenes in this section primarily to explore leadership, especially the fact that men who are revered as super-human heroes have the same mundane, everyday aspects as common men. Both the French and the Russian sides of the battle make certain men into myths. Anna Pavlovna has already referred to Napoleon as the “Antichrist,” and here the French emperor exhibits a mythical aspect: our first image of Napoleon is of him standing immobile and expressionless, as if he were a statue rather than a living man. Tsar Alexander is revered in similarly transcendent ways, and Nicholas is amazed, when he finds the tsar standing alone in a field, that such a great figure could appear so ordinary. When the tsar hesitates in his review of the Russian troops, Nicholas is surprised, thinking that a great man never hesitates. This close proximity of high commanders to lowly infantrymen produces an environment in which great leadership appears especially valuable. Indeed, we see that a revered leader like Alexander can inspire his troops to acts of heroic self-sacrifice. However, that same proximity of the great and the lowly also has the potential to disillusion those in the rank and file, making them realize that their mythical heroes are, in many aspects, simply men just like themselves.
I am currently taking Russian Literature- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and I know for a fact that the chronology for War and Peace goes throughout 18th century! You should really consider changing the answer on the War and Peace quiz!