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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
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
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.
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