Part 3 moves away from the battlefield and back to mainland Russia.
After Pierre Bezukhov receives his inheritance, everyone fawns over him. Prince Vassily volunteers to manage Pierre’s affairs, and gets the younger man a diplomatic job in St. Petersburg. Although diplomacy doesn’t interest him, the hapless Pierre accepts the job and moves back to Petersburg, where he will live with Prince Vassily until his own house is redecorated. Anna Pavlovna Scherer encourages Pierre to pursue Vassily’s beautiful daughter, Princess Hélène Kuragin. Pierre doesn’t like this idea – he thinks Hélène is vacuous, he doesn’t want to be bound to Prince Vassily’s family, and there are disturbing rumors about an incestuous relationship between Hélène and her brother Anatole. However, Pierre cannot overcome his physical attraction to the young woman.
Pierre attends Hélène’s name-day party, where the other guests expect him to propose to her. He is plagued with doubts for the whole evening, but under implicit pressure from both Hélène’s parents and the guests, Pierre finally proposes to her in a private moment. No one really expects this to result in a happy marriage, but they are all happy for Hélène because her fiancé is so rich. Six weeks later, Pierre and Hélène are married.
Prince Vassily and Anatole visit Bald Hills in hopes of securing Anatole’s engagement to Princess Marya. Prince Nikolai dreads their visit because he dislikes the Kuragins and doesn’t want his daughter to marry into that family. However, Marya is very excited, especially when Lise and Mlle Bourienne (her poor friend and attendant) tell her that Anatole is handsome. Lise and Mlle Bourienne try to help Marya get ready to meet him, but Marya is hurt by their assumption that she can’t get ready herself. She tries to hide her excitement, but is extremely nervous. Eventually, she gives up trying to look pretty and puts her chances with Anatole into God’s hands.
Everyone at Bald Hills assembles to meet Vassily and Anatole. As he is dressing, Prince Nikolai thinks to himself that Marya should never marry because: 1) he can’t bear to leave her, and 2) most marriages turn out unhappy anyway, at least in his opinion. He tries to sabotage Marya by insulting her hairdo in front of the guests. When the women meet Anatole, they are all stunned by his good looks. Anatole thinks to himself that Marya is “devilishly ugly” (226), but he is polite to her because of her wealth. However, he is really attracted to Mlle Bourienne.
Mlle Bourienne is infatuated with Anatole. Still hoping to sabotage his daughter’s marriage, Nikolai tells Marya about the attraction between her companion and Anatole (which is obvious to everyone but Marya). Marya doesn’t believe him until she sees Anatole and Mlle Bourienne embracing in the winter garden through a window. Mlle Bourienne confesses to Marya that she is passionately in love, and Marya selflessly rejects Anatole’s proposal so that he and Mlle Bourienne can be together (although such a union is still unlikely because of Bourienne’s low rank).
Count Rostov receives a letter from his son Nikolai which mentions that the latter has been wounded (but also promoted to officer). Although Nikolai has forced a cheerful tone into the letter, Count Rostov is too distraught to break the news to his wife. Princess Drubetskoy volunteers, and tactfully breaks the news to Countess Rostov, but not before first letting the news slip to Natasha. Natasha immediately informs Sonya, who is devastated to find out that her beloved has been hurt. Her enduring love for Nikolai contrasts with Natasha’s attitude toward Boris Drubetskoy, in whom she has lost interest. The Rostovs all write letters for Nikolai, and send them along with 6,000 roubles to the front.
Chapter 7 shifts back to Kutuzov's army, stationed now near Olmütz.
Nikolai Rostov visits his friend Boris, who has the letter and money for him from the Rostovs. The Rostovs have included a letter of recommendation to hopefully secure him a position working for Prince Bagration, but Nikolai believes such a lackey position is beneath him. Boris is talking to Lieutenant Berg when Nikolai arrives, and Nikolai bluntly asks Berg to leave so he can catch up with his old friend. Berg is offended, but gamely returns after he has been invited back. He then tells Boris and Nikolai all about his regiment’s recent combat triumphs. Prince Andrei enters, and he and Nikolai bicker about what happened at the battle of Schöngraben (which was described in Part 2). Nikolai insinuates that Andrei does not know what the action was truly like since he is a higher-ranked officer, and though Andrei takes offense, he encourages the younger man not to hold a grudge before leaving.
The next day, the emperors of Austria and Russia inspect Kutuzov’s troops. The presence of the Russian Tsar Alexander I inspires deep passion and patriotism among the men.
Boris visits Prince Andrei at Olmütz. Although they are in different regiments, Boris asks Andrei to use his influence to obtain Boris a promotion to adjutant. Andrei takes Boris to visit Prince Dolgorukov, who is even better placed to obtain the promotion for Boris. The men gossip about Napoleon, after which Dolgorukov agrees to help Boris.
After Kutuzov’s army wins another skirmish, Nikolai Rostov buys a horse from a captured French dragoon. Tsar Alexander inspects the troops again, and the men are infatuated with him – especially Nikolai. Captain Denisov is promoted to major.
Napoleon sends an envoy to ask for a peace treaty. The older Russian officers wish to stop advancing until the peace is negotiated, but the younger ones want to keep moving in order to crush the French. Prince Dolgorukov meets with Napoleon, but is unable to negotiate an immediate peace. The German general Weyrother develops a plan to attack the French. Prince Andrei proposes an alternate plan, but no one listens to him because Weyrother got his plan approved first.
Weyrother and Kutuzov hold a war council to review the plan of attack. All of the generals are tired and even Kutuzov falls asleep while Weyrother reads his plan aloud. A few officers, including Langeron and Prince Andrei, raise objections, but the allies nevertheless move forward with Weyrother’s plan. As he gets ready for bed, Prince Andrei is nervous about the battle, but he decides to look forward to it as a chance for glory, even though he may die.
Nikolai Rostov daydreams about saving the tsar’s life. He hears the French rear guard making noise and alerts the generals, but not before nearly being shot – an experience that exhilarates him. Dolgorukov and Bagration disagree about the reason for the noise. Nikolai volunteers to fight on the front lines in the next day’s battle. As it turns out, the noise came from the French soldiers applauding Napoleon, who had visited them. Napoleon tells his troops that they must fight valiantly to protect him.
The battle of Austerliz begins.
At the battle the next day, the Russian troops head for the French’s right flank, and the Austrian troops advance on the left. None of the men know where they are going, but the enlisted men are cheerful nevertheless. However, the officers are very disgruntled because they think Weyrother’s strategy is “stupid” (271). The action begins but moves slowly because of the foggy weather and because the Russian officers have not yet given definite orders.
Kutuzov and Prince Andrei are in the fourth column. Prince Andrei orders his men to line up, but Kutuzov reprimands him for doing this without being ordered. He sends Andrei to check on the third column’s progress. Tsar Alexander arrives to inspect the troops again. Kutuzov makes a bad impression on the emperor because of his subservience and sluggishness. The emperor seems to prefer another general, Miloradovich.
The French surprise the Russians by appearing earlier than expected, having approached under the cover of fog. Kutuzov is seriously wounded in the attack, so Prince Andrei rallies the troops but is struck by something during the charge. Just before he is hit on the head and knocked out, Andrei sees Tushin fighting with some French soldiers.
Prince Bagration does not want to send his regiments into battle because he wants to prevent unnecessary loss of life. To delay the action, Bagration sends Nikolai Rostov to Pratz to find out what their superiors want Bagration to do – an unnecessary and extremely dangerous errand. On his way, Nikolai sees the Russians and their allies, the Austrians, accidentally fire on each other.
When Nikolai arrives in Pratz, he is horrified to learn that the battle is lost and that Kutuzov has been wounded. He sees the emperor standing alone on the battlefield, but is too shy to approach him. He is furious at himself when another officer approaches the emperor to console him. Elsewhere, Dolokhov and forty other soldiers fall through some ice while fleeing an attack.
Prince Andrei lies dying on the battlefield, clutching the Russian standard. Napoleon, surveying the site of his victory, sees this and is impressed. He orders Andrei to be taken to the hospital, and after the prince is treated, Napoleon graciously praises him and two other high-ranking prisoners. Although Andrei used to idolize Napoleon, his near-death experience has changed his attitude, and the French emperor now strikes him as petty and insignificant.
It is worth discussing Tolstoy’s use of the French language in War and Peace. About two percent of the novel is written in French (Flaitz 3), although English translations approach this differently. Some include the French passages in the original; others translate them into English just like the Russian. Many critics have suggested that the use of French implies a social critique (Figes). The characters often lapse into French when they are being pretentious or deceptive, while they use Russian when they are being more forthcoming. The eccentric but straightforward Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky never uses French, and Tolstoy comments explicitly that Prince Andrei uses French “when he wanted to speak disdainfully” (249). In any case, there is a certain irony in the fact that the characters profess to hate Napoleon while using the French language.
In this section, Tolstoy demonstrates the power of suggestion in relationships, particularly romantic ones. Although they are not interested in marriage, both Pierre Bezukhov and Princess Marya Bolkonsky are influenced by others to desire marriage. Although Princess Drubetskoy and Mlle Bourienne are not particularly subtle, Pierre and Marya are completely oblivious to the fact that third parties first inspired their attraction to Hélène and Anatole, respectively.
The role of influence isn’t the only parallel between Pierre and Marya’s romantic misadventures. Because they are wealthy, both characters are in a position to choose if and when to get married. Both characters would be considered undesirable if they did not have so much money. Tolstoy explicitly notes at the beginning of this section that no one thought much of Pierre before his surprise inheritance, and Marya’s ‘plain’ appearance takes a major toll on her self-esteem.
Most importantly, each character must face an internal dilemma when considering marriage. Pierre must choose between rational consideration and physical attraction, and Marya must weigh Mlle Bourienne’s feelings against her own desire for earthly love and a family. Their very different responses to these dilemmas is a strong indicator of their moral fortitude (or lack thereof). Regardless of what they choose, what we do see in these characters is a serious moral consciousness and thoughtfulness that is hardly shared by every character. Both are sensitive to the conflict described above, and even if (as in Pierre's case), they choose poorly, they are unique in having so directly confronted themselves and their competing desires.
In the second part of this section, Tolstoy explores the power of great individuals to change history. Despite his youth and his mild personality, Tsar Alexander has an exaggerated influence on the enlisted men’s morale – especially that of Nikolai Rostov, who was previously discouraged by his horrific first battle experience. However, Alexander’s influence is negated by that of Napoleon, who also visits his troops before the battle and rallies them even more effectively by appealing to their desire to protect their emperor. By including Napoleon’s speech in full, Tolstoy suggests that this feat of rhetoric was a decisive factor in the battle’s outcome. Further, it humanizes the emperor in a way that reminds us that history is not created by detached concepts like Napoleon, but rather by real men like Napoleon.
In fact, this section further indicates the historical nature of the novel. All of the battles thus far related are based on real battles, and Tolstoy does not change their outcome. And yet his focus is quite different from that of a historian; not only is he more interested in the way individual (rather than non-specific group) decisions affect the outcome, but he also wants to explore the effect of war on these individuals. Certainly, any writer of fiction would want to focus on the work's particular characters, but many of the sections lack dramatic momentum, instead delving deeply into a character's psychology, morality, and thoughts. What emerges is not only the way individuals can impact history, but how big historical events - like horrific battles the likes of which Europe had rarely seen - similarly affect individuals. It is arguably in terms of this large historical interest that Tolstoy's novel is most epic and expansive in its scope.