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.


  1. I noticed that generally the women in War and Peace marry for money, while the already wealthy men have the luxury of selecting young and beautiful aristocratic women. The marriage system in 18th century Russia affirms the notion that women are dependent on men. Men select their brides not for their compatibility or intelligence, but for their good looks. Prince Andrew and Pierre are prime examples of men who marry striking women and soon realize that a relationship cannot be maintained by beauty alone for very long. Will the aristocracy ever learn?

  2. You are right in general about the system of marriage at the time, but in the case of Natasha and Boris I think money wasn't the only reason their courtship failed. Although money was important to Boris, he and Natasha also grew apart as they grew up and found that they valued different qualities in a potential spouse. In the end they realize that they don't love each other after all.

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  4. I think its interesting that people believe marriages based on shared values alone can't work, when generally speaking arranged marriages based on shared values are more successful and happier than so-called "love-matches". that being said, I agree you should probably love someone before you make a commitment to spending your life with them.