Neither foresight nor planning has anything to do with the way Napoleon conducts the war with Russia, declares Tolstoy. The unseasonal march of the French into the Russian heartland is by no means an example of Napoleon's"military genius." It would seem obvious to the French to realize they march to their doom the more they advance into the Russian winter. As for the Russians, they should have realized they could do no worse than hinder the French advance; yet this is what they did. When the two forces met, they fought the ill-planned battle of Smolensk. When the outraged citizens burned the town and the fields rather than leave them to the French to despoil, they set the pattern for the subsequent burning of Moscow.
The force of history is blind and unpredictable, concludes Tolstoy. The general busy scheming for his own advancement or Rostov's gallop against the dragoons because he cannot resist the run on a level slope are moments in history whose significance and coincidence with other random events have consequences beyond the event itself. Mishaps and fortuitous happenings neutralize each other often enough so that nothing is apparent except the"irresistible tide of destiny."
Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky is ill and he avoids Mlle. Bourienne as well as Princess Marya as a result of his quarrel with Andrey. Never mentioning the war, he lives increasingly in the past. But when Prince Andrey writes an apology to his father, the old man answers affectionately. Andre, warns that the war will come close to Bleak Hills, but his father refuses to believe this. He even sends his servant Alpatitch to Smolensk on an errand. The battle is in progress when the peasant arrives, and he meets Prince Andrey in town. Alpatitch returns with a message from Andrey: they must leave for Moscow right away, for the enemy will arrive at Bleak Hills within a week. When Bolkonsky arrives for a last look at his ancestral estate with the rest of the retreating forces, he hears from Alpatitch that the family left two days ago.
Despite all the changes over the past years, the two principal Petersburg salons remain the same. At Countess Bezuhov's home one evening, the company discuss the incompetence of the old man Kutuzov, whom even the tsar thinks is unfit to command the army. Some days later, the guests discuss with horror that the court council chose Kutuzov as commander-in-chief and the old general made one condition upon accepting the post: that the tsar should not be with the army.
Meanwhile Napoleon pushes on to Moscow, lured by the glory of conquering"the holy city." Three times he tries to engage in battle but the Russians always evade his troops. Owing to various incidents, the opposing armies finally meet at Borodino, 112 versts from Moscow.
Becausc her father refused to leave Bleak Hills, Princess Marya remained with him, sending Nikolushka and his tutor to Bogutcharovo, thence to Moscow. The old man is so angry at his daughter's disobedience that he suffers a stroke. At the last moment he summons her to his side, calling her endearing names and begging her forgiveness. The dried-up old body, encased in his full dress-uniform, is buried at Bogutcharovo.
Now that the old prince is dead, Marya and Mlle. Bourienne reconcile their past differences. Princess Marya takes charge of her household as her father would have done. Rather than acquiesce in the enemy occupation of her ancestral estates, she prepares to depart for Moscow. She orders all the stored grain to be distributed among the peasants and invites them to follow her to Moscow. The Bogutcharovo peasants are rebellious and savage. No longer serfs, since Prince Andrey made them rent-paying tenants, they regard Napoleon as the Antichrist and consider themselves entirely free. They refuse to obey Alpatitch's orders to supply Princess Marya with horses and carts for her departure.
With their village elder, Dron, at their head, the rebellious-tempered peasants meet with Princess Marya. They refuse her enslavement, they say, and will neither accept her grain nor accompany her to Moscow. Sternly repeating her orders to Dron to provide horses and carts, Princess Marya retires.
Meantime Rostov and Ilyin gallop merrily to Bogutcharovo, which lies between the two hostile camps. Nikolay hopes to provide provisions for his men before the French reach this place. Alpatitch runs out to the horsemen, begging their help. The peasants are all drunk, he says, and they prevent the mistress from leaving the house.
Angrily Rostov summons the village elder to bring him the leader of the rebellion. Humbled by his authority, the peasants contritely set to work packing and loading the carts. Nikolay's first meeting with Princess Marya is thus tinged with the romance of a rescuing hero and a lady in distress. She is grateful to him, and the expression of her large luminous eyes makes her appear beautiful and noble.
Their meeting impresses them both, with Princess Marya suddenly realizing she has fallen in love with a man whom she may never see again. For his part, Nikolay carries the agreeable impression of her charm, beauty, and soulfulness, realizing as well that her enormous fortune alone recommends her as a suitable wife for him. He wishes he could recall his written promise to Sonya.
Beginning to describe the French invasion of Russia, Tolstoy looses in earnest the forces of destiny that carry his characters through the flux of this moment in history. The last bastion of the old order collapses when Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky passes on, and the new generation, no longer hampered by the past, comes into power. Besides historical destiny, Tolstoy also maintains a sense of novelistic destiny. As Princess Marya meets her romantic deliverer for the first time, we foresee the marriage of Marya and Nikolay, a sign of the new Russia to emerge from the holocaust.
Tolstoy illustrates the changeover from the old to the new when Princess Marya faces the rebellious peasants. The theme here is that of the enlightened, gentle ruler confronting the blind anarchy loosed by the threat of war. This situation of the peasants against their mistress is analogous to the situation at court, where the tsar's orders are countermanded by the court council that chooses Kutuzov to lead the army. Tolstoy considers this an example of the ascendant will of the mass of people, who instinctively know whom they need in the moment of crisis. Kutuzov is thus the great Russian general chosen by his people, despite their sovereign, and attuned to the necessities of the critical moment. Because he reflects the expressed will of the people rather than his own ambitions, Kutuzov will bow to the manifest forces of necessity and prevail over the ambition-directed Napoleon.
Tolstoy also shows how Prince Andrey bows to historical necessity. Committing himself entirely to his men, who adore him, he avoids his aristocratic acquaintances and acts coldly to his fellow officers. Bolkonsky wishes to break entirely with the past and work through this transition period for the future.
The parallel themes of the domestic novel and the war chronicle, that have interwoven throughout the story thus far, now draw closer together as the historic events reach their climax on a personal as well as on a national level.