Visiting his father’s manager, Mitenka, in an attempt to put his family’s finances in order, Nicholas explodes in anger, convinced that Mitenka has been embezzling. Nicholas’s father urges him to calm down, and Nicholas agrees not to get involved in financial matters again, turning his attention to the hunt instead. One bright fall day, Nicholas and his huntsman, Daniel, are preparing to depart when Natasha appears, expressing her resolve to go along. Despite Daniel’s dismay, Natasha joins the hunting party, which sets out with over a hundred dogs. She proves she can ride beautifully, while the count earns the censure of one of his serfs for letting a wolf get away.
At his hunting post, Nicholas hopes to earn the prestige of downing a wolf. Finally he sees a wolf ambling along and calls for his hounds to pursue it. Nicholas’s favorite dog, Karay, nearly kills the wolf, but it shakes itself free and continues on. Other huntsmen’s dogs catch it. Bound, the wolf glares wildly at its captors. Later, the huntsmen pursue a fox until a hound from another hunting party catches it. Nicholas is irate, knowing the hound belongs to their neighbor, Ilagin. To apologize, Ilagin invites the Rostovs to hunt hares on his own property. They do so, and they catch a hare. The party spends the night in a peasant village, where they are regaled with home-cooked food and balalaika music. The peasant huntsman sings so beautifully that Natasha decides to learn to play the guitar. As Nicholas and Natasha ride home in a buggy, she declares that she will never be so happy again.
The Rostovs’ financial problems become so acute that they consider selling their family home, Otradnoe. The only solution seems to be in marrying Nicholas off to a rich heiress like Julie Karagina, whom the countess selects carefully. Julie’s parents are willing, but Nicholas is unwilling, invoking his honor and arguing that love should be more important than money. Meanwhile, Andrew writes to Natasha, saying that his health has forced him to stay abroad a bit longer. Natasha is bored and restless waiting for Andrew. She, Sonya, and Nicholas philosophize about happiness, reminisce about childhood, and put on costumes to entertain the Rostov household.
Sonya, Natasha, and Nicholas drive out to neighbors to entertain them also. Nicholas is conscious of loving Sonya, disguised now as a man. At the neighbor’s home, he dares to take her in his arms and kiss her. Natasha congratulates Nicholas. Back at home, the girls gaze in mirrors to see their fortunes. Sonya pretends to see Andrew lying down and looking happy, and then something blue and red, evoking the way Natasha once described Pierre as a blue and red object. Nicholas’s parents criticize his decision to marry Sonya, saying that he is free to marry whom he wishes, but that they will never treat the gold-digger Sonya as a daughter. Nicholas is saddened, but he remains firm in his resolve to marry Sonya. He returns to the front.
The character of Natasha emerges gloriously in these chapters, and acquires deep symbolic significance. Natasha is more than a mere girl, though neither especially beautiful nor clever, and less morally serious than women like Princess Mary. Natasha’s great power lies not in specific attributes, but in her extraordinary vitality. When she runs in a yellow dress alongside Andrew’s carriage, or sings on the balcony, or swoons over a simple Russian folk song, she is doing no more than living. Yet she is alive with a force and an enthusiasm that no other character in the novel possesses. It is almost a mystical power, which explains why none of the men infatuated with her—including Andrew and Pierre—seem able to recognize that Natasha is the cause of the spiritual changes within themselves after they spend time with her. Andrew hears Natasha sing, but then falls asleep unsure of where the youthful confusions in his heart come from. Pierre is dejected after learning of Natasha’s engagement to Andrew, but fails to recognize his dejection as disappointment. Natasha works below the consciousness of these men, like a vital force beyond rational understanding.
The Rostovs’ financial problems are an important element in the novel, as they direct our attention to the changing social and economic climate in Russia. The Rostovs’ simple and old-fashioned charms—their hospitality, their love of the hunt, their largesse with gifts—are a liability in the modern world. Their grace and friendliness contrast sharply with the cool and calculating ways of Vasili Kuragin and his hardhearted children. Yet, sadly, the Kuragins’ fortunes are growing at an astonishing pace, as the children make brilliant matches with wealthy spouses due largely to their father’s maneuverings. By contrast, Berg very nearly rejects Vera Rostov as a consequence of Count Rostov’s mismanagement of money affairs. The decline in the Rostov fortunes is not due to overly luxurious living but to simple obliviousness. Nicholas’s loss at cards illustrates this obliviousness, as he squanders money not because of a weakness for women or horses, but because he does not understand that his opponent at cards is angry and jealous that Sonya prefers Nicholas. It is this naïve good faith and carefree lifestyle that is costing the Rostovs their wealth and standing.
The multiple marriages in War and Peace remind us of the variety of motives for choosing a particular mate. Spouses may be selected for reasons that are sentimental or practical, self-serving or altruistic, self-deceiving or wise; Tolstoy, who suffered in his own marriage, is aware of all of these possibilities. Pierre’s disastrous decision to marry Helene is only an extreme form of the blindness that frequently overtakes various individuals in the courtship rituals we see in the novel. In Book Eight, Julie Karagina’s foolish denial of Boris’s fortune hunting shows us how close Mary might have come to a similar fate with the same suitor, as Mary feels just as desperate for marriage as Julie. Andrew’s suitability as a husband for Natasha is in doubt, despite the evidence of love and affection on both sides. These doubts arise partly because we know that Andrew was dissatisfied even with his angelic first wife, Lise, whom all have described as a paragon of virtuous womanhood. The only real hope for marriage at this point in the novel is in Nicholas’s proposal to Sonya, which has arisen not out of a desire for money, but out of sincere feeling.