The Countess Rostova tells Natasha that, despite the mutual affection Natasha and Boris share, there is no hope of her marrying Boris, as he is poor and a relation. The countess also feels Natasha does not truly love Boris. Natasha is not too distraught at the news. The countess informs Boris of her decision, and Boris no longer frequents the Rostovs’ home. On New Year’s Eve, a grand ball is held, which the tsar attends and to which the Rostovs are invited. It is Natasha’s first society ball, and she and the other women attend to their toilettes with care. Accompanied by the Rostovs’ friend Peronskaya, the young women enter the ballroom, the splendor of which dazzles Natasha. She sees Andrew, Pierre, Helene, Anatole, and others. The tsar makes his appearance, and the music and dancing begin.
Natasha is worried that no one will ask her to dance, but at Pierre’s instigation, Andrew takes her to the dance floor, where her innocent young beauty contrasts with Helene’s hardened attractiveness. Many men then ask Natasha to dance, and she is overjoyed. Andrew finds himself toying with the idea of marrying her. Natasha greets Pierre, who is gloomy and wonders why he does not enjoy himself more. Andrew goes to a party at Speranski’s home, but is bored by the guests’ superficial laughter. Andrew goes home distressed by the useless labor he has performed working for the cause of social reform in Russia. The next day, he visits the Rostov home, stays for dinner, and hears Natasha sing. Impressed by Natasha as ever, he resolves to start living more deeply.
Berg and Vera, installed in their new residence, host a party to which Pierre, the Rostovs, and Boris are invited. Berg and Vera are delighted to see that they have imitated the style of similar parties exactly. Pierre notices that Natasha appears less radiantly beautiful than usual, until Andrew addresses a few words to her and her spirit lights up. Pierre wonders what is developing between Andrew and Natasha, with confusion in his own heart. Andrew asks about Boris’s childhood promise to marry Natasha. The next day, Andrew dines at the Rostovs’ home, and everyone knows he is there for Natasha’s sake. Marriage seems a possibility. Natasha confesses to her mother her love for Andrew, while Andrew confesses to Pierre his love for Natasha. Pierre counsels Andrew to marry her, though he feels gloomy at the thought of Andrew’s happiness. Andrew tells his father of his plan to marry Natasha, and the old man advises taking time to think it over. Andrew stays away from St. Petersburg for a time, causing Natasha great anxiety. Ultimately, however, Natasha controls her feelings and tells herself she is self-contented, needing no one else to be happy.
Andrew reappears at the Rostovs, informing them of his desire to marry their daughter. They agree. Andrew asks Natasha for her hand, telling her that unfortunately they must wait a year. Natasha is distraught at the delay, but tearfully accepts his offer. Andrew refuses to limit Natasha’s freedom by announcing their engagement, telling her that she may call it off at any moment in the coming year. He tells her he must go away for a long time. She suffers for two weeks after his departure, then recovers.
At Bald Hills, the old Prince Bolkonski becomes grumpy after Andrew’s departure. He treats his daughter Mary with extreme harshness, though she finds it easy to forgive him. She counsels religion in letters to her friend Julie Karagina in St. Petersburg, who is mourning her brother killed in action. Mary says that faith is the only consolation to the ravages of destiny, which can kill off an angel like Lise. She reports that Andrew has become more sickly and nervous since his return from St. Petersburg, and that he shares her belief that he will not marry Natasha. Mary thinks that Andrew is too devoted to his first wife to ever accept a replacement. The old prince continues to take out his anger at his son’s wish to marry Natasha by treating Mary badly, and by threatening to marry Mademoiselle Bourienne. Mary takes solace in the pilgrims who visit her in secret, especially an old woman named Theodosia who goes around in chains. Mary wishes to emulate Theodosia, and is ashamed that she loves her family more than God.
On the front, Nicholas enjoys an idle military life with his comrades until he receives troubling letters from home about the Rostovs’ financial problems. One especially imploring letter from his mother persuades Nicholas to seek leave and return to Otradnoe, the family estate. He congratulates his sister Natasha on her engagement to Andrew, but privately wonders why Andrew is staying away for so long, concluding that his health must be the reason.