The tsar writes Napoleon a polite note asking whether Napoleon’s crossing of the Niemen River is indeed intended as an act of invasion. The tsar sends General Balashev on a diplomatic mission to deliver the note. On his way, Balashev meets the French commander Murat, and during their discussion, each side claims that the other is the aggressor in the war. Upon reaching Napoleon’s camp, Balashev is surprised at the rude treatment he receives from the French soldiers and Napoleon’s chief of war, Davout. Napoleon summons Balashev for a meeting at which Napoleon talks incessantly, irrationally attempting to justify France’s invasion and trying to impress Balashev with the French army’s superiority. Napoleon is utterly convinced by the lies he utters. Later, Napoleon invites Balashev to dinner and is cordial toward him.

Andrew goes to St. Petersburg, receives an appointment on Kutuzov’s staff, and unsuccessfully attempts to challenge Anatole Kuragin to a duel for his plans to elope with Natasha. After some military service in Turkey, Andrew asks General Kutuzov for a transfer to the western front. On the way, Andrew stops at Bald Hills, where he finds everyone unchanged except for his young son, who is quickly growing up. Still aware of Prince Bolkonski’s mistreatment of Mary, Andrew speaks to his father and blames Mademoiselle Bourienne for stirring up discord between father and daughter. The old prince tells Andrew to leave, and Andrew does so without reconciling with his father. Mary urges Andrew to forgive their father, saying that men are never to blame and that evils come from heaven.

On the western front, Andrew encounters massive confusion, with hard-nosed strategists opposing proponents of bold action, and both groups opposing the majority that simply wants a situation beneficial to them. Andrew is summoned to meet with the tsar and his military advisors, who disagree in a hodgepodge of European languages. When Andrew’s opinion is requested, he responds that he does not know enough to offer one, which angers the advisors. When the tsar asks Andrew where he would like to serve, Andrew irrevocably loses favor by stating his preference to serve in the army instead of remaining with the tsar.

The Rostovs write letters to Nicholas on the front, imploring him to come home. He replies to these letters, and separately to Sonya as well, that honor must keep him serving in the army in wartime. Nicholas’s regiment moves into Poland with great excitement. A devoted young officer named Ilyin serves Nicholas, and invites him one rainy day to take shelter in a nearby tavern. At the tavern, Ilyin tempts Nicholas by telling him that a certain Mary Hendrikhovna—on whom Nicholas has a crush—is present.

Book Nine, Chapters 13–23

In the tavern, all the officers are in love with Mary Hendrikhovna, the beautiful wife of an army doctor. The men jokingly flirt with her even in the presence of her beleaguered husband. Early in the morning, on his way back to the regiment from the tavern, Nicholas is roused by the sound of gunfire. He knows that the battle has begun. Seeing an opportunity for attack, Nicholas speaks to his commander, but rushes into a charge on the French before an order has been given. He cuts the arm of a French soldier, who instantly surrenders in fear. Nicholas is recommended for military honors, but inwardly he is disappointed that his alleged heroism means only that someone else is more scared than he is.

In Moscow, the Rostovs are troubled by the fact that Natasha has been ill. Expensive doctors are called, and they have diverging medical opinions. Though family and patient alike are relieved by the show of medical attention, the real cause of Natasha’s malady is her hurt feelings, not any physical ailment. Gradually she begins to improve, though she is not happy and feels no urge to sing or laugh as before. Natasha takes solace only in Pierre’s visits and caring company, and in a new religious devotion she has developed under the influence of Agrafena, a visiting neighbor. As news of Russia’s dire military situation spreads through Moscow, with rumors that only a miracle can save the nation, the Rostovs go to church. Natasha is aware that people are talking about her. She prays and feels the joyful possibility of a new and better life for herself. The liturgy affects Natasha greatly, and she feels that God has heard her prayer.

Pierre, meanwhile, is deeply pleased by his visits to Natasha, feeling a new vitality within himself. Applying a secret code the Masons revealed to him, he prophetically predicts that Napoleon is the Antichrist and will be defeated by the tsar in 1812, under Pierre’s leadership. Pierre, visiting the Rostovs to inform them that Nicholas has received military honors, finds Natasha much improved in spirits. The tsar makes an appeal to Muscovites, asking for sacrifices to save the country. Sonya reads the tsar’s appeal out loud to the Rostovs. The count declares that no sacrifice is too great. Natasha’s younger brother, Petya, declares his wish to enter the army. When his father resists, Petya cries. Meanwhile, the developing love between Natasha and Pierre is becoming increasingly clear to both of them. The next morning, Petya sets off for the Kremlin to join the hussars. Amid the crushing crowds, Petya is overjoyed to glimpse the tsar and becomes even more determined to join the army.

Pierre attends a conference of noblemen that has gathered to reply to the tsar’s appeal for aid. Against loud avowals of patriotism, Pierre speaks out in favor of practical strategy. The crowd is irrational, approving oversimplified versions of the Russian crisis and ignoring Pierre’s voice of reason. The tsar enters the hall and addresses the noblemen, sincerely thanking them for their loyalty. The noblemen and merchants weep in devotion to their leader, offering him everything they have. Count Rostov goes off to enroll Petya in the army, abandoning his earlier opposition. Even Pierre, swept away by patriotic emotion, feels ashamed of his earlier rational comments.

Analysis: Books Eight–Nine

Natasha’s romantic woes in these sections bring about a great deal of change in her character. Up to this point, she has always been a child of nature, carefree and happy, falling in love with man after man with childlike innocence. With Andrew’s departure for Europe, however, Natasha is forced to see love not as a carefree joy, but as a test. As time passes, she becomes less able to assure herself that a year of waiting will make no difference to her commitment to Andrew—and her infatuation with Anatole Kuragin destroys that commitment entirely. In Anatole’s so-called love for Natasha, Tolstoy shows us that love may not be an obvious emotional state, but may also be an illusion. We also see this illusory nature of love in Nicholas’s crush on Mary Hendrikhovna. Though Nicholas appears to have real affection for Mary Hendrikhovna, we see that all the officers have crushes on her, simply because they are starved for female companionship—not because of any real or lasting love. In this manner, Tolstoy establishes love as yet another ideal, like patriotism or religious faith, that comes into question as War and Peace unfolds.

Tolstoy also uses these chapters to explore the unpredictable irrationality of historical events, which becomes a symbol of the absurdity of human existence. The narrator makes an unusual direct aside to us, explaining that it is not great men who make history, but rather a vast network of tiny chains of cause and effect that no one, even emperors, can control. We see that neither Napoleon nor Tsar Alexander is in full control of the military situation. Both leaders, swept along by events as they unfold, are merely doing their best to pretend to be in control. The tsar’s military advisors can agree on nothing, and the Russian and French commanders disagree about which side is the aggressor in the war. Moreover, Tolstoy implies that what is true in war is true in all human endeavors. Even the best laid plans end up having no importance, as Andrew learns when all his work in developing a new civil code is rendered worthless for purely random reasons. Speranski’s sudden and unexplainable fall from grace, due to vague allegations of treachery, similarly invalidates all of Speranski’s work. In an unpredictable world, the most successful may be those who follow their instincts of the moment, like Nicholas when he rushes into battle without waiting for orders.

The intriguing character of Napoleon offers us a surprising, up-close portrait of the leader as an egomaniac. Contrary to our expectations, Napoleon is not gifted with superior rational powers. His stream of chitchat with the Russian General Balashev, steamrollering over his conversation partner in a way that leaves no room for contradiction or questioning, is based almost exclusively on outright lies. Napoleon claims the Poles as his allies, for instance, all the while knowing this assertion to be untrue. Napoleon’s genius lies not in his powers of reason, but in his conviction that he is absolutely right in all matters. He ends his conference with Balashev by mentally communicating to the latter “I have convinced you”—indicating the irrational self-confidence that seems to be the primary secret behind his stellar success at world domination. More broadly, Tolstoy uses Napoleon’s brand of authoritative falsehood to bring to the forefront the broader issue of the subjectivity of reality. If Napoleon is so effectively able to impose his views of reality upon others, we wonder who else in the novel is doing the same.