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.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Tolstoy's Views In War and Peace

I have recently become more interested in how much of War and Peace reflects Tolstoy's own views and struggles relating to life and religion. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that many of Tolstoy's personal opinions are reflected through those of his characters, especially Andrew, Pierre, and Nicholas. For instance, it took years for Tolstoy to figure out his religious beliefs and this confusion is shown in his writing through the conflicting viewpoints of Andrew and Pierre.
As we have discussed in class, death is a prominent theme in War and Peace. This is not accidental. Even as a child Tolstoy was no stranger to death, losing first his mother, then his father and his grandmother. This caused him to think a lot about death and its consequences. This is evident in many places in War and Peace, especially on page 123 when Nicholas first rides into battle and in Book Four, Chapter 9 when Lise dies. Tolstoy saw death as a common and unavoidable theme of life, thus it comes up frequently in his writing.
Tolstoy himself shares many similarities with his characters as well. As a youth he struggled with a gambling problem, which is reflected in many places in the novel including Book Four, Chapter 13 when Nicholas gambles with Dolokhov and loses. However, the character Tolstoy is most similar to is Pierre. The description of Pierre as a bear, and as being large and awkward is very similar to how Tolstoy saw himself. Furthermore, Tolstoy and Pierre share a weakness: women. Similar to Pierre's situation in War and Peace, Tolstoy slept with many women in his youth, which conflicted with his morals. Finally, in 1856 Tolstoy tries to free his serfs, just as Pierre does in the novel. However, neither attempt was very successful.
One of the reasons War and Peace is so successful is that it deals with many universal human problems, such as the struggle with death, religion, and addictions like gambling and women. In many ways it is Tolstoy's own experiences that form the heart of the novel.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Wolf has Meaning

During the hunt of Book Seven, Chapter 5, Nicholas tries to hunt down a wolf.  Tolstoy uses a lot of metaphorical language to convey meaning in this Chapter.  He uses the Wolf as means for foreshadowing and also to allude to Nicholas' life.

Nicholas' life has recently centered around his time at war, and the hunting puts him at ease because it reminds him of it, "the cries of the dogs whose notes were familiar to him" (441).  But the wolf, whom Nicholas was hunting after, symbolizes Nicholas' future, which always runs from him.  The wolf "ran without hurry, evidently feeling sure that no one saw her" with "easy yet resolute hope" (442).  Nicholas isn't in complete control of his life; actually, he prefers it mundane and less dramatic, which is specifically why he prefers to be at the battlefields.

Nicholas couldn't even take care of his own problems, because it was Daniel who took down the wolf but it was still "the most happiest moment of [Nicholas'] life" (443).  The taking down of the wolf alludes to Nicholas' coming into power over the family's wealth.  There will be a struggle over the Old Count Rostov but due to some outside help, the wealth will be under his control, but only with the "old wolf, alive, [and gaged] on a shying snorting horse" (444).

Natasha's Dance

I couldn't find any videos or information about Natasha's Dance, but I found this song.

this is Natasha's Dance  by Chris de Burgh.

This isn't very relevant to War and Peace, but Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Helene's Salon

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the significance of the Helene's salon. How could a woman like her ever be perceived as clever? However, learning the difference in class the other day between "clever" and "smart" in the Russian language was enlightening. If clever implies manipulative, while smart implies intelligent, then a case could be made for Helene's cleverness. She rises to the top only through manipulating those around her, a very "clever" move. Helene tricks people into thinking she is also intelligent, shown when Tolstoy says, "...she could say the emptiest and stupidest things and yet everybody would go into raptures over every word of hers and look for a profound meaning in it of which she herself had no conception" (Tolstoy, 387). It is very interesting that these supposedly intelligent elite of Russia allow themselves to be tricked like this.
By surrounding herself with those at the top of the social circle, she rises above her actually smart husband in perceived intelligence, which leads me to question these salons. Is Helene's salon successful because "stupidity was just what was needed to run such a salon, or because those who were deceived found pleasure in the deception"? (Tolstoy, 387) I lean towards the side that stupidity was actually needed. What do you think?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nicholas at peace vs. Rostovat war

During my first semester at college I have become a different person.  Being away from home, one cannot help but change.  This is also true for Nicholas Rostov in the novel, War and Peace.  Tolstoy emphasizes this character’s adaptation by referring to him as Nicholas at home, and Rostov at war. 
When Nicholas marched off to war, he became Rostov.  With this new name came a maturity that comes from being away from the comfort of home.  Even when he is away from the war, he is still referred to as Rostov by Tolstoy.   Nicholas, just like every person, has his moments of immaturity.  One example of this is when he had to tell his father about his gambling debts.  In these instances Tolstoy refers to him as Nicholas to point out his ill-considered actions and his immaturity. 
As a reader, do you believe that Tolstoy intended to change his name to show the character’s growth or was there another reason for the name change?