Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Serfdom in early 19th Century Russia

Throughout the past few chapters, the concept of serfdom has been highlighted quite frequently. This is mostly because of Pierre’s newfound religious ideals that involve liberating the serfs and treating them better by building hospitals and other important institutions. I thought it would be interesting to learn more about serfdom in Russia.
            Serfdom officially began in Russia during the 16th century and it became hereditary during the 17th century. These serfs were essentially slaves of the nobility and they worked the land on the estates. They were regarded as property and could be bought or sold to other members of the nobility. Furthermore, they faced the fear of being unjustly punished by being beaten or exiled to Siberia. After the Crimean War, Alexander II started to see the economic flaws within a system of serfdom. In 1861 the serfs were freed in Russia and were allowed to buy their land from the nobility.
            Since Tolstoy was writing War and Peace while the serfs were being freed, is it possible that he is suggesting that Pierre is ahead of his time? Additionally, since on of the primary reasons that serfdom ended was for the economy, is it possible that Tolstoy is juxtaposing the failing economic situations of nearly all of his characters (it seems like every family is trying to find more money) with the social structure that made Russia’s economy so weak?

 Information about serfdom from:
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  1. This is really interesting, because I actually appreciate Tolstoy for his main characters' lack of drive concerning money. The serf system has obviously been discarded in today's society and for good reason as it is extremely degrading and has almost no ability to provide incentive for growth in the economy. But, it is interesting to see Andrew as a pioneer of an obviously risky economic change when his original motivation was glory, and glory and riches go hand in hand. Additionally, because he doesn't believe serfs have the ability to better themselves, it is a bit of an ironic statement.

  2. It is nice to gain more context for the political/economic discussions that take place in the novel. I would consider Pierre ahead of his time especially when you take his political views, such as his support “equality of citizenship and freedom of speech and of press” (17), into consideration.