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.