Saturday, November 26, 2011


As I was reading chapter 3 in Book 13 of War and Peace, I was struck by Tolstoy's description of Pierre. Pierre is now solid and strong and has a calmness in his eyes. With all of the turmoil Pierre has had in his life, it is interesting that he now shows these changes.

It made me think about quality of life and what kind of life is best for one in order to be the most satisfied. Pierre seems to have been brought into the best version of himself in conditions that are far less luxurious than those he is used to. Tolstoy was critical of the elite class, yet it is hard to argue against the peace of mind that having money--now and in his time--brings. Yet Pierre is a great example of how sometimes less is more. The growth that can be had from having less is invaluable and reconfirms my belief that adversity makes you grow stronger.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Burning of Moscow

From early on in "War and Peace" we are shown that while St. Petersburg is becoming the new thriving metropolis and social capital of Russia, Moscow remains the older and more conservative city. Older characters want to stay in Moscow while the younger characters desire to run off to the up and coming city of St. Petersburg. While St. Petersburg is young and fun, Moscow is old and boring. When the French invade Moscow in the war of 1812 the city is abandoned and left to be burned. What does the burning of Moscow symbolize? Along with the death of Old Bolkonsky, the burning of the city could represent the emergence of the younger generation as the primary figures in Russia. Perhaps the older generation has met it's end and it is time for them to take a back seat to their children. It could also symbolize the changing of culture and behavior in Russia. Maybe the burning of the city is a symbol for the loss of old customs and ways. Any thoughts on what the burning of Moscow means to "War and Peace"?

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I would not dare to say that love is one of the most important themes of War and Peace, but I do believe that it is essential to pay attention at the description of how this feeling develops in each of the characters. Beside the moonlight, the night and the comets, how is this portrayed?  When I read War and peace I feel that most descriptions of love are not straightforward, that characters fall in love suddenly and abruptly and, as a consequence, their love does not last as long as it should. Pierre acknowledges that his love for Natasha has started a long time ago, but we had no previous hints of his love having been such a profound and deep feeling that developed over the years. Is it that Pierre realizes the fact that he has always loved Natasha while he is talking to the French soldier, or rather he knew it all along but it is the first time he allows himself to think about it and to speak it? Is this love as pure as the one Prince Andrew experiences as he is approaching death? 
Prince Andrew, the character in perpetual evolution, claims that he has " experienced that feeling of love which is the very essence of the soul and does not require an object". Also, another quote that drew my attention is: " When loving with human love one may pass from love to hatred, but divine love cannot change. No, neither death nor anything else can destroy it. It is the very essence of the soul."(p.817). What is this love that one experiences only at the closeness of death? What does Prince Andrew know that us, as part of the ignorant humanity do not know? Did Tolstoy actually know how this kind of love feels or is this just a philosophical idea he just wanted to bring into the attention of his readers? 
What is love in Tolstoy's view? Is it innocent as Natasha is when she falls in love with Andrew? Is it the fruit of a comparison with bad past experiences and a desire of renewal and of a new life as it is for Pierre and Andrew? Is it selfish love as it is in Helene's case? Is it caring and worrying about your family, as it is in the Rostov family? And if we admit that love is each of the above and more, does this combination of the types of love presented in War and Peace result in the divine love Prince Andrew experiences?
What is Tolstoy telling us about love?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pierre’s Dreams

In book eleven Pierre has a dream and this got wondering whether or not it is related to the other dreams that Pierre had earlier in War and Peace.
Pierre keeps a dairy book 6 and in it he records three dreams. First, Pierre dreams of being attacked by dogs. Pierre interprets this dream and decides the dogs represent his passions. In his second dream Pierre sees Joseph Alexeevich, his benefactor, and the two talk about Pierre’s greatest vice and Pierre’s "conjugal duties.” The message of the dream is clearly what is discussed in the dream. In his third dream Pierre again sees Joseph Alexeevich and is then shown a book of drawings which Pierre later interprets as representing the Song of Songs.
In book eleven Pierre has another dream. Pierre imagines the he hears the sounds of war and is awakened in a fright. Pierre considers himself cowardly for this and thinks of the soldiers who fed him and how brave they are. Pierre then goes back to sleep. This time Pierre dreams of being in the Masonic lodge and seeing his benefactor and friends. Pierre refers to these people as “they”, which Pierre defines as being a people who have no fear. The message of this dream is Pierre is working on being fearless.
Pierre’s recent dream is similar to his previous dreams in that is reflects a moral goal that Pierre is aiming for. I think this recent dream show that Pierre is still struggling to find what he wants in life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mob Mentality

Tolstoy's depiction of Count Rosopchin and of the Russian people left in Moscow before the French enter is very interesting. Rostopchin cannot believe that Moscow will actually be abandoned and is apparently trying to restore tranquility to the people with his broadsheets, but in fact he is stirring them up into a mob. Once they find out that he had been lying and that Moscow was in fact being abandoned, Rostopchin realized that he had led the people out of control and he felt that he had to appease them.
Of course, as is very typical of the nobility in War and Peace, Rostopchin cannot admit his own fault, but instead places the blame on someone else: the political prisoner Vereshchagin, who had nothing to do with the abandonment of Moscow. He throws Vereshchagin to the mob, thinking that he is doing good, when in fact he is not.
Both Rostopchin and the mob go through similar thought processes while this is happening. Rostopchin feels compelled to provide authority and sacrifice someone to the mob just as they feel compelled to obey him and attack Vereshchagin. Afterwards they both regret their actions, realizing that what they did is wrong. However, after regretting what he has done, Rostopchin then justifies his actions as necessary. This is another demonstration by Tolstoy of the stubbornness of the nobility. Even a mob can admit when they have done wrong, but the Count cannot.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Russian noblewomen: Inheritance, law and property

From 1753 noble Russian women enjoyed one legal right not held by most European women:  The right to alienate and manage their own property during marriage.  Noblewomen controlled their assets, whether acquired as dowry or inherited.  Women had the right to engage in the same range of property transactions as men, and the size of women’s holding grew dramatically.  By the nineteenth century, noblewomen controlled almost one-third of the land and serfs in private hands.

However, there was a fundamental contradiction between women’s station in family law and Russia’s standing law of property for women.  It was debated that the constraint of unlimited obedience in a marriage comprised a woman’s right as a proprietor.  In the 1831 Digest of Laws, Article 107 stated that ‘A wife shall obey her husband as the head of the family, abide with him in love, respect and unlimited obedience and render him every satisfaction and affection as the mistress of the house.’   Article 106 set for the duties of a husband: ‘A husband shall love his wife as his own body and live with her in harmony; he shall respect and protect her, forgive her short-comings, and ease her infirmities.  He shall provide his wife nourishment and support to the best of his ability.’   This not only reinforced gender hierarchies, but also made it difficult for noblewomen to have full control of their property.  Many noblewomen trusted their husbands to administer their holding for their mutual benefit.  Yet women’s’ failure to keep close watch on their holdings could lead to considerable loss for themselves or their children.  In order to reap the benefits of separate property, noblewomen were forced to patrol the legal boundaries between their own estates and those of their husbands.  As one observer of Russian social customs remarked, “Tho a married Woman has complete power over her Fortune she has not over her person.”1
For Russian noblewomen this was better than the practice of male primogeniture that was practiced in other European countries however, women still struggled to protect their personal rights and property.  

Bradford, The Russian Journals, p.232

Works Cited

"1780s Catherine Vorontsova, Née Senyavina by Dmitry Grigorievich Levitsky (location Unknown to Gogm) | Grand Ladies | Gogm." Notices and Definitions | Grand Ladies | Gogm. Web. 08 Nov. 2011. <>.
Lieven, D. C. B. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, ., 2006. Print.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Real Kutuzov

File:Kutuzov by Volkov.jpg

In preparation for our upcoming paper, I thought I would look briefly into the life of the real Kutuzov. Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813), fought and lead under three Tsars: Catherine II, Paul I, and Alexander I. He achieved much under all three, but is by far most well known for what he did in The Patriotic Wars (1812), which is what we are reading about now. I found it interesting, however, the Alexander was displeased at having to appoint him because he didn't like how he looked and unfairly blamed him for the disastrous Austerlitz. As in War and Peace, though, the Russian army was delighted to have him appointed. Kutuzov is considered the second best general in Russian history, second only to Suvorov, his teacher. He died from illness in 1813.

Friday, November 4, 2011

As I was reading section 21 of Book 10, I noticed that when speaking with Pierre a Russian officer consistently addresses Napoleon as "him". Tolstoy makes a point of italicizing the word "his" when the officer explains to Pierre which land is claimed by the Russians and which land is claimed by the French, "That's his again [...] It was ours yesterday, but now it is his." (p.678) The Russian officer later speculates that, “He will probably pass round to the right of Moskva.” (p.679) Throughout the conversation the Russian officer refuses to speak the name "Napoleon". What is Tolstoy's trying to tell the reader through this sudden use of pronouns? Am I reading too much into the text? Perhaps, but my own interpretation of this change in language is that the use of "he" instead of Napoleon demonstrates Napoleon's growing power. The Russians seem almost scared to speak his name directly, which tells the audience that after the failed battle of Borodino the Russians are gradually beginning to recognize and perhaps even fear the strength of the French army. I couldn't help but think of The Harry Potter Series when first noticing this word choice. In Harry Potter all witches and wizards refuse to speak Lord Voldemort's name. Instead they refer to him as, "He who must not be named". It's a stretch- I know. But I believe that the omission of Napoleon’s name carries the same significance as the omission of Lord Voldemort's name. The Russians are acknowledging the fearful wrath of Napoleon.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

War and Peace Movie

I thought it would be interesting to watch the movie trailer for one of the first theatrical versions of War and Peace.

One of the things I found interesting about this trailer was its portrayal of Natasha as the main character in the sense that many of the other characters were described in relation to her. I also found it interesting that they left out Nicholas and Mary, who are arguably also main characters. Still, I think it is fun to see a portrayal of this novel, especially in the dance scenes.