During his last days home before returning to the front, Nicholas feels the typical atmosphere of love within the Rostov family disturbed by tensions between his cousin Sonya and his friend Dolokhov. Nicholas discovers that Dolokhov has asked for Sonya’s hand in marriage, but Sonya has refused him, clinging to her love for Nicholas. Nicholas begs Sonya to reconsider Dolokhov’s offer, but she insists that she loves Nicholas like a brother, and that such love is enough for her.
Meanwhile, Denisov develops an interest in Natasha, with whom he dances splendidly at a ball. Dolokhov invites Nicholas to a card game at his hotel, and Nicholas loses all the money his father has given him and more—the final sum Nicholas owes Dolokhov is forty-three thousand rubles. Nicholas despairs, promising to pay the sum the next day, and he returns home in a gloomy mood. Hearing Natasha sing, however, makes Nicholas forget his woes momentarily. He asks his father for the money to pay Dolokhov, but it takes the old Count two weeks to raise the requested amount. Denisov proposes to Natasha, but is rejected. Both Denisov and Nicholas leave Moscow in disappointment.
Pierre began to feel a sense of uneasiness, and the need, even the inevitability, of entering into conversation with this stranger.See Important Quotations Explained
Pierre is at the Torzhok railway station, en route to St. Petersburg after leaving his wife. He is miserable and lost, meditating on the absurdity of human life. Pierre watches a strange, old traveler wearing a Masonic ring. The man fascinates Pierre and unsettles him by gazing steadily at him. The stranger knows Pierre and addresses him, and the two launch into a deep philosophical conversation about human failings, divine perfection, and the possibility of reforming one’s life. Pierre recognizes how awful his behavior has been, and he asks for guidance. The traveler—who Pierre later finds out is a Freemason named Bazdeev—tells Pierre to contact a Count Willarski in St. Petersburg.
After arriving in St. Petersburg, Pierre continues his spiritual search. Willarski visits him and proposes to sponsor him as an initiate into the Masonic brotherhood. At the initiation ritual, Pierre renounces his atheism, affirms his faith in God, and vows to love death as a deliverance from the woes of life. He gives up his valuables and confesses that his chief sin has been his passion for women. After this confession, Pierre feels bliss.
The following day, Vasili Kuragin visits Pierre and urges him to reconcile with Helene. In a new show of boldness, Pierre asks Vasili to leave, renouncing his earlier mistakes. Pierre then sets out for his southern estates. Meanwhile, Anna Pavlovna continues to give her customary parties, and takes a new interest in Boris, who has found great recent success as a military officer and diplomatic assistant. Anna Pavlovna introduces Boris to Helene, who asks him to come visit her. During his stay, Boris becomes a regular guest at Helene’s.
As the war recommences late in 1806, old Prince Bolkonski is appointed a military commander despite his age. His son, Andrew, having renounced active warfare, takes a desk job under his father’s command and stays home with his son and sister. While his baby son suffers from a high fever, Andrew receives a letter from his father with news of a Russian victory and orders to leave on a military errand. He refuses to leave until his son is better. Andrew reads letters from his friend Bilibin about the confusions and injustices of war, until he panics and fears his son is dead. As the baby’s fever breaks, Andrew realizes that his son is the one good thing in his life.