“I warn you . . . if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist—I really believe he is Antichrist—I will have nothing more to do with you. . . .”
At a society party in St. Petersburg in 1805, Anna Pavlovna Scherer speaks to her old friend Prince Vasili Kuragin about the threat Napoleon presents to Russia. Anna, calling Napoleon the Antichrist, declares that Russia alone must save Europe. The prospect of war dominates the conversations at the party. But Anna also raises more personal issues, expressing esteem for Vasili’s children—especially the beautiful Helene—with the exception of Anatole, a rogue. Vasili asks Anna to arrange a meeting between his son Anatole and Mary Bolkonskaya, the lonely daughter of Prince Bolkonski, a rich, reclusive, retired military commander.
Meanwhile, Helene Kuragina arrives at the party, as does Lise, Bolkonski’s daughter-in-law, who is married to his military officer son, Andrew. Next to arrive is Pierre, the unpolished and ungainly son of Count Bezukhov, educated abroad and only recently returned to Russia. The ugly Hippolyte Kuragin, Helene’s brother, is also present.
Pierre . . . watched [Andrew] with glad, affectionate eyes. . . . Andrew frowned again, expressing his annoyance with whoever was touching his arm.
Andrew Bolkonski arrives at the party. Vasili Kuragin promises a promotion to Boris, the only son of a well-connected but impoverished old acquaintance, Princess Anna Mikhaylovna Drubetskaya. Pierre voices approval of the French Revolution. After the soiree, Pierre visits Andrew at his house, where they discuss the idea of perpetual peace advanced by one of Anna’s guests. Pierre believes in this possibility of peace, but he thinks that such peace must be spiritual rather than political. Andrew advises Pierre not to marry, saying that marriage wastes a man’s sense of purpose and resolve—the same resolve demonstrated by Napoleon.
Later, Pierre visits his friend Anatole at his house near the barracks, where the drunken officers are carousing with a trained bear, and Anatole’s friend Dolokhov is proving that he can drink a bottle of rum while precariously perched on the window ledge.
This black-eyed, wide-mouthed girl, not pretty but full of life . . . ran to hide her flushed face in the lace of her mother’s mantilla—not paying the least attention to her severe remark—and began to laugh.
Anna Mikhaylovna has gone to Moscow, to the home of her wealthy relatives, the Rostovs. Both the Rostov mother and youngest daughter are celebrating their name day (the feast day of the Christian saint after whom the women are named). The guests discuss Pierre’s uncouth lifestyle.
The thirteen-year-old Rostov daughter, Natasha, appears, carrying her doll. She is accompanied by other children, including her brother Nicholas; his friend Boris, Anna Mikhaylovna’s son; and Sonya, Count Rostov’s niece—all of whom live in the Rostov household. Nicholas states that he is joining the army out of a sense of vocation rather than a wish to accompany Boris, who has been made an officer. Natasha mischievously hides in order to watch a tearful exchange between Nicholas and Sonya, in which Nicholas begs forgiveness for flirting with Julie Karagina, one of the guests. When Boris appears, Natasha seeks a kiss from him and extracts a half-joking promise of marriage in four years. Countess Rostova makes her daughter Vera leave the room, so that she and Anna Mikhaylovna may discuss financial worries. Anna Mikhaylovna hopes that Boris’s godfather, the ailing Count Cyril Bezukhov, will help Boris.