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.


  1. I will be really interested in finding out more about Tolstoy though the projects and maybe the movie at the end of the semester, because I have often wondered how much of the negative choices are drawn from his own mistakes or mistakes he almost made and therefore thought a lot about. I love the footnotes that draw parallels to Tolstoy's life.

  2. Yes, I agree with you. It is really interesting to see how his personal experiences find their way into the novel in some form or another. I know he takes a very realistic approach to writing War and Peace, but I didn't realize how much of the novel was based on his own life.

  3. It is interesting how authors cannot seem to help but put themselves into their novels and perhaps this is was makes a novel great. War and Peace for Tolstoy seems to be a long discussion with himself about his lifestyle, family, and demons. I think I connect with the reading more when I can think about how Tolstoy's life is embedded into the criticisms and characters. The novel has a more touching feel because of it.