Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Line Between Life and Death

Tolstoy expresses how he feels about death by showing characters at high risk of dying.  In soldiers’ encounters with the enemy, in old age, and in sickness War and Peace shows people struggling with death.  Tolstoy first introduces death, saying there is a line dividing the living and the dead.  This line is drawn on the battlefield between two opposing armies.  In this instance soldiers are aware of how easily they could end up on the wrong side of that line.  A soldier, because he is at such high risk of being killed, is forced to understand the he can die in the upcoming battle. 

Denisov gets sick and makes the reader think that he is going to die in the hospital.  He seems to have lost faith in his country and lost the will to live.  He appears later in the novel, healthy and in good spirits.  Andrew on the other hand gets sick and after a long struggle dies.  Old Bolkonsky is ready to cross the line.  He is suffering from dementia, and just wants a place to die in peace.  Unfortunately for him, he is forced to leave his home and dies uncomfortably.  Tolstoy’s killing of these characters seems unfair.

At the end of the novel some characters have died and others have remained alive.  Tolstoy seems to make the point that there is a fine line between life and death, and who lives is a matter of luck.  Denisov could easily have died and Andrew could easily have lived, but in reality the one who gets to live is random.  Tolstoy’s view on death, like his view on history, is that it is out of our control.   We can try to control when people die with the help of doctors, and by keeping our loved ones out of harm’s way, but in the end death can come to anyone.

Growing Up in War and Peace

One of the primary themes Leo Tolstoy explores in War and Peace is what it means to become an adult. In the first book, we meet Natasha and Pierre, two main characters that grow from naïve children to mature adults over the course of the novel. Tolstoy believes that growing up occurs primarily through surviving the hard times life inevitably hands you and that these times mold you into the person you are destined to become. To Tolstoy, growing up occurs not because of your individual choices, but because of the uncontrollable force of history on each person’s life.

Tolstoy feels the great force of history affects every individual life and that no one can escape this force. The reader sees this especially with Natasha, as the war deeply influences when she finally grows up. The war kills both her lover, Andrew, and her brother, Petya. These combined experiences become her defining moment, and the moment she becomes a woman. Tolstoy shows the effect history has on individuals with Pierre, too; Pierre becomes a man when the French irrationally and unjustly imprison him. Thus, while individual choices and events certainly do shape you, Tolstoy asserts that the larger forces in the universe have more power than any individual ever could.

The Spirit of War

I have been inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s idea behind war in War and Peace, the Spirit of War.  My favorite minor character is General Kutuzov, this is because Tolstoy uses him to explain this idea.  General Kutuzov commands his army in a very passive and patient way because he believes in the Spirit of War; this being the driving factor behind the soldiers’ actions on the battle field.

The Spirit of War is the reason why people can bring themselves to kill other human beings on the battle field.  They become a slave to this spirit and perceive their actions to be morally acceptable.  The focus is brought from the whole, where is there is mass murder and bloodshed, to the self, where survival is the only concern.  The solider no longer becomes worried that he is killing other innocent people, because all he can think about it surviving.

The Spirit of War has another very important role in the course of the battle.  The reason why General Kutuzov was such a profound generals is because he knew he had little effect on the outcome of the battle.  War is a very chaotic element and military officials like to feel as though they are the ones controlling and creating it, when in fact this is far from the truth.  In his novel, Toltosy continually played on the fact that commands fall to pieces as they travel to the front line.  This is because the Sprit of War is at play; all of the combined effects of each soldier fighting for their own respective lives makes each battle unpredictable and uncontrollable.

The Spirit of War is another force that is there to remind us that life ultimately is uncontrollable and the best way to survive is to just follow where it takes you.

Death and Rebirth

Little did I realize as I began my journey into Tolstoy’s War and Peace that this very long novel would change my perspective on death.  One of the prominent themes in War and Peace is the interconnections between death and re-birth.  Many times in the novel we read about death giving way to new life.  This new life can be physical or metaphorical. Tolstoy portrays death not as an end to life, but as a path to a new life or a new awareness.  
The primary characters encounter death in some form during the novel which always leads to a new life or a new realization. When Andrew’s wife, Lise, dies during childbirth, she brings a new character, Nicholas, into the novel, who grows up to dream of military glory for Russia like his father, Andrew.   The death of old Prince Bolkonsky provides a new life for Princess Mary, who for many years lived under his rule.  His death awakens in Mary “all the personal desires and hopes that had been forgotten” (636), and she becomes a strong and independent woman.  Furthermore, the death of Prince Andrew and Petya creates a profound change in Natasha.  This change provides her with the maturity and the experience to be able to marry Pierre and fulfill her destiny as a mother and wife. 
Death in War and Peace is not an end, but a revival of life.  Pierre, Princes Mary, and Natasha all had to experience the suffering of death before they were able to understand how to live life.  Before, I believed death was an end to life, however, I now believe that death is a beginning.

The Insignificance of Individual's Lives

            Tolstoy has much to say about war and history throughout War and Peace; it seems as though he views them as characters instead of events. Tolstoy’s frequent returns to war or history suggests that individual’s daily life problems are incredibly insignificant.  War and Peace is an interesting novel because it seemingly contradicts the major theme of the insignificance of individual social problems by spending hundreds of pages discussing the often-unimportant decisions of the aristocratic families. Still, in the end, it is clear that Tolstoy had greater perspective on the important events in life.
            Tolstoy suggests that the grand themes of both war and peace are greater than any individual conflict. This is most specifically through Anatole’s redemption in the mind of Prince Andrew. Even thought Anatole tried to steal and ruin Prince Andrew’s fiancée, he is forgiven because of the war. Prince Andrew recognizes that a fight over a woman is ultimately insignificant in the face of war and is able to feel sorry for Anatole when he is in pain. Tolstoy reinforces his point that the individual lives are relatively inconsequential through his inclusion of the second epilogue. The first epilogue mostly discusses what becomes of the remaining main characters Princess Mary, Natasha, Nicholas, Pierre, and Prince Andrew’s son. The second epilogue, and the end to the novel, however, goes to great length to detail Tolstoy’s views on war and history. Tolstoy chooses not to end his great novel with his characters, but rather with the larger themes that are important. In increasing desperation throughout the novel, Tolstoy emphasizes that War and Peace is not just about the social lives of the Russian aristocracy. His second epilogue is a final plea to the reader to understand what is and is not significant. Individual social lives are certainly interesting to follow and getting wrapped up in the daily choices of others is often appealing. Still, the world is full of greater forces that are simply more important. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Patriotism in War and Peace

Given that war and patriotism are often closely linked it is not surprising that patriotism is an important theme in War and Peace. From reading the War and Peace it is clear that Tolstoy views war as an unnatural occurrence that goes against basic human nature. What is it that Tolstoy considers to the cause of war? I think there are several things Tolstoy considers to contribute to the start and continuations of wars but patriotism is definitely among them.
Both war and patriotism are portrayed as negative things in War and Peace. Tolstoy portrays the aristocracy as people who due to their patriotism blindly follow and never question the government. It is the aristocracy who Tolstoy is most critical of that is presented as the most patriotic part of Russian society. In the beginning of the book in Anna Schérer’s soiree Pierre express support for the French Revolution and the ideas of liberty and equality of men. The rest of the aristocrats present strongly disagree and express support the monarchy. When Rostopchin gives a speech about the war and mentions the emperor the crowd is quickly are inspired and several men promise serfs for the army. Carried away with patriotic feelings and a quest for glory Andrew is wound and Petya killed.
I think Tolstoy believes that people have a duty to do what is right and what is good for humanity. However, what is good for humanity is not compatible with patriotism and what is best for one specific county.

Religion’s Role in Achieving Inner-peace

Tolstoy explores the role of religious institutions in obtaining inner-peace, a state his positive characters strive to achieve. We see this struggle in Mary, Natasha and Pierre’s emotional development over the course of War and Peace.

Although religious faith allows Princess Mary to cope with her father’s torment, Mary never finds inner-peace because her soul is incessantly searching for the eternal, which prevents her from accepting the present. Natasha also turns to the church for inner-balance. After her love affair with Anatole, Natasha begins to attend church and pray for forgiveness. Although she grows calmer, it is not religion that brings her temporary tranquility; it is the simplicity and structure of her lifestyle, facilitated by the church, which calms her. Pierre joins the freemasonry in hopes of achieving inner-fulfillment and peace; however, the freemasonry only grants Pierre an ephemeral sense of structure and belonging. In captivity Pierre is isolated from the superfluous distractions of the aristocracy. He learns to live simply and achieves true inner-peace through self-reflection and hard work.

Of these three characters, only Pierre finds inner-balance. Tolstoy demonstrates that religion provides one with structure, acceptance and stability; however, religion does not necessarily facilitate the achievement of inner-balance. As seen in the Russian peasantry and Pierre, inner-peace is achieved through self-reflection, simple living and hard work. You must eliminate life’s unnecessary distractions in order to determine your place in the world. Once you determine who you are and who you would like to be, then you gain purpose, understanding and inner-balance.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Russian Patriotism

Patriotism is often most strongly defined when placed in opposition with something. This is the case in Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, set at the time of the Russian War of 1812. Tolstoy imbued his novel with a strong patriotic theme because he was frustrated with the Russian aristocracy’s love of the French during a time when Napoleon was invading their country. By ridiculing the Russian aristocracy’s imitation of the French and creating strong Russian protagonists Tolstoy created a feeling of Russian pride in War and Peace to show both that Russia would triumph over Napoleon in 1812 and that Russian culture was respectable on its own, equal to or better than that of Western Europe.

The important families in the novel each take sides in the cultural dispute. The Kuragin family religiously adheres to French culture and customs to the extent that they continue their devotion to the French as Napoleon invades Moscow. Meanwhile, the Bolkonski and Rostov families follow traditional Russian customs and practices. Tolstoy urges us to sympathize with the Russians, portraying the adherents of French culture as shallow, scheming, and cowardly, while the Russians are patriotic and heroic. Tolstoy despises the idea that French culture is somehow superior to Russian. Therefore he ridicules members of the Russian aristocracy, such as the Kuragins, who only know French and cannot even speak Russian, suggesting that by speaking another country’s language at the expense of their own, they are implying that their culture is inferior. This is why Tolstoy’s protagonists have such strong Russian characteristics: they reflect the author’s own patriotism.

As his protagonists vehemently oppose Napoleon and adhere to traditional Russian culture, Tolstoy supports his view that Russia’s culture is worth more than that of France. The strong sense of nationality apparent in the Bolkonski and Rostov families coupled with their numerous virtues make them characters that the audience can easily identify with. By setting Russian culture against French in the form of the War of 1812 and declaring Russia the winner, Tolstoy sets Russia above France and the rest of Europe on an intellectual and cultural level. In this way the theme of patriotism serves to praise Russian culture and to criticize those who abandon the traditions of their homeland.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pierre's Anguish about Karataev's Death

In Book Fourteen both Petya and Karataev die. Although the death of Petya is tragic, the death of Karataev has a greater effect on me. Karataev represents simplicity, kindness, peacefulness and, above all, hope. Karataev's story about the old man wrongly accused of murder, demonstrates that Karataev anticipates death. In fact, it seems as if he welcomes death. Pierre respects Karataev's perspective on life, including his approach to death; however, Karataev's feeble condition makes Pierre feel very uncomfortable. He avoids interactions with Platon and marches ahead of him in line. Although I believe Pierre has found peacefulness and a new appreciation for a simple life, his reaction to Platon's death makes me more skeptical of the permanence of his transformation. Pierre still fears death. Therefore, he is not completely at peace. When the blue-gray dog begins to howl beside Platon's corpse, after he is shot by the French soldier, Pierre does not turn around but simply exclaims, "What a stupid beast! Why is it howling?" (941) The dog's howling expresses Pierre's inner-pain, which he refuses to accept. I think Pierre's indifference is a measurement of his anguish as well as an indication that he has yet to accept death. He is therefore not truly at peace.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


As I was reading chapter 3 in Book 13 of War and Peace, I was struck by Tolstoy's description of Pierre. Pierre is now solid and strong and has a calmness in his eyes. With all of the turmoil Pierre has had in his life, it is interesting that he now shows these changes.

It made me think about quality of life and what kind of life is best for one in order to be the most satisfied. Pierre seems to have been brought into the best version of himself in conditions that are far less luxurious than those he is used to. Tolstoy was critical of the elite class, yet it is hard to argue against the peace of mind that having money--now and in his time--brings. Yet Pierre is a great example of how sometimes less is more. The growth that can be had from having less is invaluable and reconfirms my belief that adversity makes you grow stronger.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Burning of Moscow

From early on in "War and Peace" we are shown that while St. Petersburg is becoming the new thriving metropolis and social capital of Russia, Moscow remains the older and more conservative city. Older characters want to stay in Moscow while the younger characters desire to run off to the up and coming city of St. Petersburg. While St. Petersburg is young and fun, Moscow is old and boring. When the French invade Moscow in the war of 1812 the city is abandoned and left to be burned. What does the burning of Moscow symbolize? Along with the death of Old Bolkonsky, the burning of the city could represent the emergence of the younger generation as the primary figures in Russia. Perhaps the older generation has met it's end and it is time for them to take a back seat to their children. It could also symbolize the changing of culture and behavior in Russia. Maybe the burning of the city is a symbol for the loss of old customs and ways. Any thoughts on what the burning of Moscow means to "War and Peace"?

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I would not dare to say that love is one of the most important themes of War and Peace, but I do believe that it is essential to pay attention at the description of how this feeling develops in each of the characters. Beside the moonlight, the night and the comets, how is this portrayed?  When I read War and peace I feel that most descriptions of love are not straightforward, that characters fall in love suddenly and abruptly and, as a consequence, their love does not last as long as it should. Pierre acknowledges that his love for Natasha has started a long time ago, but we had no previous hints of his love having been such a profound and deep feeling that developed over the years. Is it that Pierre realizes the fact that he has always loved Natasha while he is talking to the French soldier, or rather he knew it all along but it is the first time he allows himself to think about it and to speak it? Is this love as pure as the one Prince Andrew experiences as he is approaching death? 
Prince Andrew, the character in perpetual evolution, claims that he has " experienced that feeling of love which is the very essence of the soul and does not require an object". Also, another quote that drew my attention is: " When loving with human love one may pass from love to hatred, but divine love cannot change. No, neither death nor anything else can destroy it. It is the very essence of the soul."(p.817). What is this love that one experiences only at the closeness of death? What does Prince Andrew know that us, as part of the ignorant humanity do not know? Did Tolstoy actually know how this kind of love feels or is this just a philosophical idea he just wanted to bring into the attention of his readers? 
What is love in Tolstoy's view? Is it innocent as Natasha is when she falls in love with Andrew? Is it the fruit of a comparison with bad past experiences and a desire of renewal and of a new life as it is for Pierre and Andrew? Is it selfish love as it is in Helene's case? Is it caring and worrying about your family, as it is in the Rostov family? And if we admit that love is each of the above and more, does this combination of the types of love presented in War and Peace result in the divine love Prince Andrew experiences?
What is Tolstoy telling us about love?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pierre’s Dreams

In book eleven Pierre has a dream and this got wondering whether or not it is related to the other dreams that Pierre had earlier in War and Peace.
Pierre keeps a dairy book 6 and in it he records three dreams. First, Pierre dreams of being attacked by dogs. Pierre interprets this dream and decides the dogs represent his passions. In his second dream Pierre sees Joseph Alexeevich, his benefactor, and the two talk about Pierre’s greatest vice and Pierre’s "conjugal duties.” The message of the dream is clearly what is discussed in the dream. In his third dream Pierre again sees Joseph Alexeevich and is then shown a book of drawings which Pierre later interprets as representing the Song of Songs.
In book eleven Pierre has another dream. Pierre imagines the he hears the sounds of war and is awakened in a fright. Pierre considers himself cowardly for this and thinks of the soldiers who fed him and how brave they are. Pierre then goes back to sleep. This time Pierre dreams of being in the Masonic lodge and seeing his benefactor and friends. Pierre refers to these people as “they”, which Pierre defines as being a people who have no fear. The message of this dream is Pierre is working on being fearless.
Pierre’s recent dream is similar to his previous dreams in that is reflects a moral goal that Pierre is aiming for. I think this recent dream show that Pierre is still struggling to find what he wants in life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mob Mentality

Tolstoy's depiction of Count Rosopchin and of the Russian people left in Moscow before the French enter is very interesting. Rostopchin cannot believe that Moscow will actually be abandoned and is apparently trying to restore tranquility to the people with his broadsheets, but in fact he is stirring them up into a mob. Once they find out that he had been lying and that Moscow was in fact being abandoned, Rostopchin realized that he had led the people out of control and he felt that he had to appease them.
Of course, as is very typical of the nobility in War and Peace, Rostopchin cannot admit his own fault, but instead places the blame on someone else: the political prisoner Vereshchagin, who had nothing to do with the abandonment of Moscow. He throws Vereshchagin to the mob, thinking that he is doing good, when in fact he is not.
Both Rostopchin and the mob go through similar thought processes while this is happening. Rostopchin feels compelled to provide authority and sacrifice someone to the mob just as they feel compelled to obey him and attack Vereshchagin. Afterwards they both regret their actions, realizing that what they did is wrong. However, after regretting what he has done, Rostopchin then justifies his actions as necessary. This is another demonstration by Tolstoy of the stubbornness of the nobility. Even a mob can admit when they have done wrong, but the Count cannot.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Russian noblewomen: Inheritance, law and property

From 1753 noble Russian women enjoyed one legal right not held by most European women:  The right to alienate and manage their own property during marriage.  Noblewomen controlled their assets, whether acquired as dowry or inherited.  Women had the right to engage in the same range of property transactions as men, and the size of women’s holding grew dramatically.  By the nineteenth century, noblewomen controlled almost one-third of the land and serfs in private hands.

However, there was a fundamental contradiction between women’s station in family law and Russia’s standing law of property for women.  It was debated that the constraint of unlimited obedience in a marriage comprised a woman’s right as a proprietor.  In the 1831 Digest of Laws, Article 107 stated that ‘A wife shall obey her husband as the head of the family, abide with him in love, respect and unlimited obedience and render him every satisfaction and affection as the mistress of the house.’   Article 106 set for the duties of a husband: ‘A husband shall love his wife as his own body and live with her in harmony; he shall respect and protect her, forgive her short-comings, and ease her infirmities.  He shall provide his wife nourishment and support to the best of his ability.’   This not only reinforced gender hierarchies, but also made it difficult for noblewomen to have full control of their property.  Many noblewomen trusted their husbands to administer their holding for their mutual benefit.  Yet women’s’ failure to keep close watch on their holdings could lead to considerable loss for themselves or their children.  In order to reap the benefits of separate property, noblewomen were forced to patrol the legal boundaries between their own estates and those of their husbands.  As one observer of Russian social customs remarked, “Tho a married Woman has complete power over her Fortune she has not over her person.”1
For Russian noblewomen this was better than the practice of male primogeniture that was practiced in other European countries however, women still struggled to protect their personal rights and property.  

Bradford, The Russian Journals, p.232

Works Cited

"1780s Catherine Vorontsova, Née Senyavina by Dmitry Grigorievich Levitsky (location Unknown to Gogm) | Grand Ladies | Gogm." Notices and Definitions | Grand Ladies | Gogm. Web. 08 Nov. 2011. <>.
Lieven, D. C. B. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, ., 2006. Print.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Real Kutuzov

File:Kutuzov by Volkov.jpg

In preparation for our upcoming paper, I thought I would look briefly into the life of the real Kutuzov. Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813), fought and lead under three Tsars: Catherine II, Paul I, and Alexander I. He achieved much under all three, but is by far most well known for what he did in The Patriotic Wars (1812), which is what we are reading about now. I found it interesting, however, the Alexander was displeased at having to appoint him because he didn't like how he looked and unfairly blamed him for the disastrous Austerlitz. As in War and Peace, though, the Russian army was delighted to have him appointed. Kutuzov is considered the second best general in Russian history, second only to Suvorov, his teacher. He died from illness in 1813.

Friday, November 4, 2011

As I was reading section 21 of Book 10, I noticed that when speaking with Pierre a Russian officer consistently addresses Napoleon as "him". Tolstoy makes a point of italicizing the word "his" when the officer explains to Pierre which land is claimed by the Russians and which land is claimed by the French, "That's his again [...] It was ours yesterday, but now it is his." (p.678) The Russian officer later speculates that, “He will probably pass round to the right of Moskva.” (p.679) Throughout the conversation the Russian officer refuses to speak the name "Napoleon". What is Tolstoy's trying to tell the reader through this sudden use of pronouns? Am I reading too much into the text? Perhaps, but my own interpretation of this change in language is that the use of "he" instead of Napoleon demonstrates Napoleon's growing power. The Russians seem almost scared to speak his name directly, which tells the audience that after the failed battle of Borodino the Russians are gradually beginning to recognize and perhaps even fear the strength of the French army. I couldn't help but think of The Harry Potter Series when first noticing this word choice. In Harry Potter all witches and wizards refuse to speak Lord Voldemort's name. Instead they refer to him as, "He who must not be named". It's a stretch- I know. But I believe that the omission of Napoleon’s name carries the same significance as the omission of Lord Voldemort's name. The Russians are acknowledging the fearful wrath of Napoleon.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

War and Peace Movie

I thought it would be interesting to watch the movie trailer for one of the first theatrical versions of War and Peace.

One of the things I found interesting about this trailer was its portrayal of Natasha as the main character in the sense that many of the other characters were described in relation to her. I also found it interesting that they left out Nicholas and Mary, who are arguably also main characters. Still, I think it is fun to see a portrayal of this novel, especially in the dance scenes.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tolstoy's Birthday Party

Just found a link to some footage of Tolstoy's 80th birthday party. It's a little hard to understand whats going on but I thought it was pretty interesting anyway.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Formation of the Aristocratic Family

Marriage is an institution held in great importance in young people’s lives in War and Peace. The act of choosing a spouse is, however, very delicate, and we often see marriages occur between not the most perfect of matches. The formation of the aristocratic family is a process based largely on potential acquired wealth.

Natasha, as an elite without wealth, must make sure her husband is moneyed because she does not have wealth to inherit from her family. Borís faces the same constriction with his prospective matches. Although Natasha and Borís love each other they cannot overcome the fact that if they married they would suffer financially; this is their deal breaker. Pierre, on the other hand, is largely undesirable until he inherits his wealth. Then, he has opportunity to construct his family to include the most beautiful and desirable woman in Russia—Hélène—due to her desire of wealth, similarly to Natasha or Borís. But because of this importance of the superficial, Pierre’s marriage is cold and unhappy.

Overall, families in the Russian aristocracy formed like business relationships; partners were more desirable when they came with wealth. The already wealthy sought partners who were, instead of having money, the most charming or beautiful. Aristocratic families were largely formed because of a desire for money, but the superficiality of this desire resulted in doomed relationships for many.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Conjugate Pairs of Families in War and Peace.

While discussing War and Peace with a peer, I realized that the four major families within the novel exist in conjugate pairs: that is, each family and its values has an almost exact opposite embodied by another family. The Buzukhov family and the Rostov family are opposites, and the Kuragin family and the Bolkonski family are opposites.
The Buzukhov's embody a family on which relationships are built on money. If you love someone, you give them material things. Count Bezukhov shows his love for his son, Pierre, by including giving him the estate even though Pierre is illegitimate. The Rostov's, on the other hand, are terrible with money, but love each other immensely and show it though affection and emotional connection. Though in Russian Society "wealth is power", and we are supposed to look down on the Rostov's for their lack of financial knowledge, we can connect with the Rostov's through their obvious care for each other.
The Kuragin's, for their part, place emphasis on money, but only because it is necessary for a high status in society. They are obsessed with rank, and power, and will manipulate their way to the top. The family roles and boundaries are very unclear within their family. They are also obsessed with everything shallow and most of all, French. The Bolkonski's, on the other hand, embody Russian society. They fight some societal norms and prefer honor and integrity over rank and power. The structure of their family is very defined and almost unbreakable, in the way that there is mutual respect among them. Although within the family they are very different, they obviously care about each other, but seem unable to express it well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tolstoy's use of Fate

In the beginnings of both book 9 and book 10 of War and Peace Tolstoy describes the inevitability of the French invading Russia in 1812 and their defeat at the hands of the Russians. In both books Tolstoy emphasizes the fact that no one is really to blame for any of these actions and that it was all unavoidable acts of fate. He claims that the "Rulers and generals are "history's slaves""(535). About the French invading, he questions "What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes(535)?" While describing the people who took part in the fighting he claims that they were all "imagining that they knew what they were doing and did it for their own free will, but they all were involuntary tools of history, carrying on a work concealed from them but comprehensible to us"(607). I am wondering how his use of fate in these books reflect upon his belief in religion or the existence of god. On one hand it could be interpreted to symbolize Tolstoy's belief in god, showing how people are destined and guided by god to do what they do. People act in accordance with their own free will but are all the while being led to the inevitable outcome god has decided. On the other hand it could symbolize a belief in the lack of a god, showing how their is no influence from above directing the lives of men and women either way. With no god influencing the world, "history's slaves" assume they are living their lives based on their own free will but are really being led to these inevitable outcomes by the circumstances of their time. Either way it is clear Tolstoy believes in fate. Whether Tolstoy believes that fate is determined by God or circumstance is the real question. What do you guys think?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tolstoy - truth or bias?

Tolstoy was born in one of the best-known families of the Russian Nobility. However, his views in "War and Peace" are so different from what I would have expected from a rich nobleman that I had to ask myself : what makes Tolstoy so different? What triggered this shift in his opinion and made him disagree with the regular aristocrat Russian ?
Well, on the one hand, Tolstoy's life was not typical. His parents died when he was young and he was brought up by his relatives. Still, according to some sources, there are two possible events which can be considered reasons for his nearly contemptuous view about society. Tolstoy was always concerned with people's needs, so,when encountering a crowd of homeless people in a Moscow market, he decided he wanted to help them. He considered that simply giving each a small amount of money would not help, so he went up to his friends from the upper classes of society and told them about the situation. The vast majority refused to donate any sum for this truly noble cause, thus denying their "noblemen" statute[1]. The other event that might have influenced Tolstoy to view society and the state as artificial happened during one of his visits to France, when he witnessed a public execution in Paris.[2].
However, as an intellectual man, a "thinker", just like Pierre and Andrew, his reasons for despising society might also be connected to the trivial concerns and topics of discussion of the people surrounding him.
 Leo Tolstoy  believed that when writing realism is the essential ingredient for that piece of writing to be good. So, when he describes the balls, the war scenes and when he criticizes the society with such harshness, he is doing his best to replicate the atmosphere of the era he was living in. But what if he is a bit biased? What if the rank he had and was so uncomfortable with made him be harsher then he should have been with some of the characters and the events described?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Marriage in War and Peace

Marriage is a major theme in War and Peace. I have been curious about how Leo Tolstoy’s own experiences with marriage and his views on marriage can be seen in War and Peace.

On September 23, 1862 Leo Tolstoy married Sofya Bers. Leo was 34 and Sofya was only 18. Tolstoy started writing War and Peace the next year in 1863 and finished it in 1869. As we learned in class Tolstoy died in a train station attempting to leave his wife, but how was this marriage in its early years when Tolstoy was writing War and Peace and does this show in the novel?

When Leo Tolstoy died he had been married for 48 years. Both Sofya and Leo kept diaries throughout their lives. It is from these diaries that biographers have been able to learn about the life of the Tolsotys’ and their marriage. The early years of their marriage were not without problems but still they were relatively happy. While Leo wrote War and Peace Sofya copied and edited Leo’s drafts. As time progressed their marriage became more and more strained until Leo finally decided to run away.

In War and Peace so far a majority of marriages in the book so far have been unhappy or superficial. I think this reflects feelings Tolstoy was already starting to feel in his own marriage.