Thursday, December 15, 2011
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.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
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.
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
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
Saturday, November 26, 2011
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
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
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
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
Friday, October 28, 2011
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
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
I found this and I thought it was a really good help to understand where everything is going on and how the war moves around Europe. I hope it will be useful to you too:).
Saturday, October 15, 2011
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. 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..
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 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.