Summary and Analysis
Book III: Chapters 9–19
Prince Andrey keeps a general waiting while he has an interview with Boris Drubetskoy, who seeks a better position in the army. Boris learns a lesson from this which helps him pursue his opportunism: Besides the existing protocol within the hierarchy there operates another and more actual system of subordination which allows a captain and lieutenant to talk while a general respectfully waits.
Prince Andrey attends the council of war prior to the Austerlitz campaign because he has a plan to present to Kutuzov. In a private aside to his aide, Kutuzov predicts they will lose the battle. While the droning voice of the Austrian general Weierother outlines the details of the campaign plan, the old general begins to snore and wakes up when the discussion is over. Prince Andrey never gets the chance to set forth his own scheme. He is unable to sleep that night and paces the floor. Andrey imagines how, at the point of defeat, he will lead his regiment to victory according to his own plan and become a national hero. He realizes he would be glad to sacrifice the love of those he holds dear in order to gain glory and the love of men he does not know."The only thing I love and prize," he muses,"is ... that mysterious power and glory which seems hovering over me in this mist."
That same night, Rostov rides the sleepy round of picket duty. When shouts resound from the enemy encampment he is sent to the French lines to find the cause for the noise. The enemy troops were shouting in response to Napoleon's proclamation encouraging his men to fight bravely. Exhilarated from his gallop and from having been shot at, Nikolay is eager for the battle.
At sunrise, the Russians advance to their positions. They descend into a fog-filled valley where many officers and men get separated during the blind march. Dispirited, the troops sense confusion and mismanagement; indeed they reflect the disagreements between the Austrian and Russian generals about certain dispositions. From the heights where he has a sunlit view of the enemy, Napoleon signals the battle to begin.
Kutuzov is furious when he finds out his sharpshooters have been ordered to change position and he sends Prince Andrey to check. Then the resplendent emperors, Francis and Alexander, with all their staff arrive, restoring confidence to Kutuzov's cheerless retinue. Suddenly the densely massed French appear; they were supposed to be a mile away. As the troops recoil in confusion, Kutuzov turns a tearful face to Prince Andrey. With a weak"Hurrah," Bolkonsky snatches up the flag and rushes forward; a few men follow him. Suddenly Andrey is hit and sinks to the ground. Struggling to keep his men in sight, he sees only the lofty clear sky. The boundless vista promises peace and loveliness and he feels happy."All is vanity, all is a cheat, except that infinite sky," he thinks, and then loses consciousness.
Not yet called to action, Bagration sends Rostov to get orders from Kutuzov. Nikolay gallops through the gunfire and into the village where the commander is to be found. But the town is entirely French-occupied. Clearly the battle is lost. As Rostov galIops on, he discerns his young tsar standing alone and forlorn in the middle of the field. He is too shy to offer assistance to his beloved Alexander and he sees one of the generals approaching the emperor.
Prince Andrey regains his senses while Napoleon and two adjutants inspect the field of dead and wounded. They stop before him."A fine death," Bonaparte says, but to Andrey the words are no more than the"buzzing of the flies." His hero seems insignificant compared with the infinite sky above and the feeling in his soul. Prince Andrey next finds himself in an ambulance which the emperor is inspecting. Recognizing him, Napoleon asks how he feels, but Andrey does not reply. As he gazes into his hero's eyes, he muses on"the nothingness of greatness, on the nothingness of life . . . and on the . . . nothingness of death . . . ." His delirium is filled with images of Bleak Hills, his future son, that"little, petty Napoleon," and over all, the lofty sky.
Prince Andrey strives to attain meaning in his life through being a hero, and he imagines how his battle-winning plan will launch him to fame. Being a hero, however, is another way of expressing the youthful needs for acceptance and recognition, and Bolkonsky must first value himself before he can assess his value to the world. Through these conflicting viewpoints — self-esteem versus the esteem of others — Prince Andrey is caught in an"enchanted circle": While depending on the approval of the world for self-definition, he cannot approve enough of himself to recognize the conditions for being unique and outstanding. This dichotomy between Andrey's lack of emotional self-awareness and his highly developed intellectual awareness results in a profound nihilism, a deep desire for the restfulness of death.
Tolstoy invokes images of death when he speaks of the"mysterious power and glory" Bolkonsky feels hovering over him"in the mist," and when the stricken Andrey views the"infinite lofty sky" (which Nikolay viewed in Book II) promising the sought-for surcease from his personal struggles, life, death, and individuality combine into nothingness under that eternal expanse.
With this death-oriented insight, Prince Andrey sees Napoleon as insignificant as an insect. Like a parasitic buzzing fly fed on carrion, the great man regards the battlefield corpses as nourishment for his personal needs. Because death has no absolute value for Napoleon, he is deluded about the value of life; this means he is also unaware of his historic significance. Symbolizing Napoleon's nature as that of a fly, Tolstoy projects Andrey into a symbolic state of death. Henceforth Bolkonsky must be"reborn" in order to live, and we foresee a new phase in his life. Andrey's symbolic death, however, is a foreshadow of his ultimate demise.