Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) was an English Sentimentalist writer, who, it turns out, had a great effect on Tolstoy. Tolstoy read at least two of Sterne's works, The Sentimental Journey and Tristram Shandy. The influence Sterne's assertions in these two works had on Tolstoy made it into the text of War and Peace and into many of his other works. Sterne was a firm believer, as many Sentimentalist writers were, in the belief that body language and appearance told more about characters than their stated thoughts did. Consequently, we see Tolstoy's emphasis on physical features and "significant looks." Take for example, his description of Natasha (33) or the way Princess Mary's eyes reflect her true feeling (91). In both of these instances, the physical being expressed more than their words alone could have. Emotion, body language, and physical appearance often tell us much of what we know about Tolstoy's characters. Thus, Sterne's sentimentalist approach to character development had a great influence on Tolstoy, as seen over and over again in War and Peace.
Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Sterne