By 1809, France and Russia have become temporary allies—even against Austria, Russia’s former ally. Daily life in Russia continues as usual. Andrew has been leading a secluded life for two years, busy at his estate with reading, writing analyses of recent military campaigns, and farm management. His practical intelligence has served him well as a landowner, and he has carried out the noble plans that Pierre aimed for but could not effect on his own estates. Andrew has freed all his serfs and made them wage-earners, one of the first examples of this social advancement in all of Russia. However, he still feels that his heart is old and dead.
On a household errand, Andrew dwells on his joyless mood, focusing on a dead oak as a symbol of his emotional state. Later, he visits the old Count Rostov on business at the latter’s estate, Otradnoe. Andrew sees Natasha running in the fields and is struck by her cheerfulness. Annoyed because he is forced to stay at Otradnoe, he hears girls’ voices singing on a balcony late one night, and his heart is troubled by youthful emotions. He sees the oak again, now in bloom. Andrew decides to go to St. Petersburg, not fully understanding the new life blossoming within him.
Arriving in the capital, Andrew meets Tsar Alexander; his secretary of state, Speranski; and his minister of war, Arakcheev. The men are engaged in liberal reforms of the state. Andrew, who has drawn up a more liberal set of military laws, has submitted them to the tsar for consideration. Arakcheev criticizes Andrew’s proposal, but makes him a member of the military reform committee. Andrew, courted as a great liberal, also meets Speranski, though the two men disagree on the question of special privileges to noblemen. Andrew feels that honor is a positive principle by which to guide behavior, while Speranski believes it to be a spur to superficial rewards. Nevertheless, Speranski agrees to meet with Andrew again. Andrew feels awe at Speranski’s vast intellect and cool logic, and he treats the man as an equal. Andrew receives an invitation to join the committee in charge of drawing up a new civil code.
In St. Petersburg, Pierre continues his charitable work on behalf of the Masonic brotherhood, but he grows impatient of the brotherhood’s passivity and dissatisfied with its mysticism. Pierre goes to western Europe to seek illumination from other Masons and returns to St. Petersburg counseling action. Many of his fellow Masons accuse him of revolutionary sympathies, and Pierre becomes disgruntled. His estranged wife, Helene, returns from abroad and seeks reconciliation with him, as does his wife’s family. In a forgiving mood, Pierre returns to Helene and they live together once again. Helene had enjoyed great success during the meetings between the French and the Russians, and has achieved an international reputation for being intelligent as well as beautiful—a judgment that perplexes Pierre. Pierre, while playing his role as the crank husband of a distinguished wife, privately continues his spiritual self-investigation, recording in his diary his struggle with a jealous hatred of Boris. Pierre recounts his dreams of his spiritual master, Joseph Alexeevich, and seeks fortitude to withstand the temptations of debauchery and sloth.
Count Rostov, suffering from financial worries, decides to take his family to St. Petersburg and seek employment there. The Rostovs, however, are outsiders in St. Petersburg, and have trouble fitting in to the local society. As no one proposes marriage to Vera Rostova, she accepts an offer from Berg, who is candid about his need for Vera’s dowry to help set up a household with her. Count Rostov is embarrassed to say that he has little financial means to provide Vera with a dowry, but in the end he promises Berg twenty thousand rubles in cash, along with a promise of eighty thousand more later.
Meanwhile, Natasha, now sixteen, thinks often of Boris, wondering whether or not his earlier offer of marriage was a joke. Boris comes to visit the Rostovs in St. Petersburg and is struck by Natasha’s beauty. Although aware that marriage to a girl without a dowry would bring him failure, he cannot help visiting the Rostovs every day, despite Helene’s anger. Natasha, for her part, seems equally smitten with Boris.