Friday, December 13, 2013

Natasha Rostova on Facebook

I had a lot of fun with this project. When I created the account for Natasha, my intention was to catalogue all her relationships throughout the novel. This proved to be far too ambitious. There were too many to do, and Facebook isn't really made for adding relationship history, as I tried to do by putting the anniversary in the past. Dates were probably the biggest problem for me, since fb doesn't allow you to say your birth year is in the 1790s. I think it was Ashleigh who suggested we use 2013 as 1813, and do the dates from there. That was why, when Natasha was "in a relationship" with Boris, the anniversary was 2003.
I tried to make all my comments and posts exuberant, like Natasha was early in the book. I used a lot of exclamation points and hearts (<3) to convey her emotion. I really enjoyed the animosity between Natasha and Andrew's father, while it lasted. I think that in the close quarters of Facebook, the two of them would have butted heads far more often than in the book.
I did my best to make Natasha come across as excited and emotional, almost to the point of being childish. I think that Tolstoy did the same thing in War and Peace, because by showing us such a youthful character at the beginning, her transformation at the end is far more pronounced.
I think that this project could have been a lot more fun if we had started it at the beginning, because we would have been able to keep the timelines right. When we did it, everything got mixed up and we had things like deaths in the wrong order (I think Natasha was still engaged to Andrew when he died...awkward).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Count Rostov's Social Media

I have to admit, I'm not usually an active participant in social media. In War and Peace, I don't think that Count Rostov was really an active social participant either. True, many socialites gathered at the parties of Count Rostov, and a lot happened at Count Rostov's parties that would be facebook-worthy, but the characteristics that defined the Count were not what he shared, but what he hid from others. Count Rostov was a rather one-dimensional character in War and Peace. He had one goal, and that goal was for everyone that surrounded him to enjoy themselves. We see at Rostov's death that he paid a hefty price for the merriment of his Russian socialite friends, a price that he couldn't afford. Although it was known that Rostov wasn't good with money, nobody knew how far into debt he had plunged. That is why I didn't bring up Rostov's money troubles directly through his facebook profile. Rather, I made more subliminal hints at his monetary issues, such as adding Finance for Dummies to his favorite books list. On his death bed, Count Rostov confesses his mismanagement of the family's finances, and begs for forgiveness. I decided to portray this emotional confession with a more modern phrase in Ilya's final facebook status, "YOLO." When you think about it, Count Rostov's decisions about finance and the rest of his life could be explained by the motto usually associated with behavior that doesn't take consequences into consideration. However, I did conclude the status with an informal apology to Rostov's son Nicholas. I believe that Rostov did genuinely feel guilty for digging his family into a hole, but he wanted desperately to maintain the joy that the parties that he hosted created. Rostov valued and loved his family very much, but when push came to shove and there was a real crisis, it made him uncomfortable. For example,during Natasha's struggle with her engagement during the time that the family spent in Moscow, Marya Dimitrievna played a much bigger role in setting Natasha straight than her father did. As a character, Rostov did his best to act like adversity didn't exist and live life in constant pursuit of merriment. This approach didn't work out too well in the life of the Rostovs, which certainly wasn't adversity free. Count Rostov's facebook reflected the struggle between the pursuit of merriment and the issues that he denies.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Farewell Prince Bolkonsky!

Time to take off my Old Prince Bolkonsky mask! It was fun while it lasted. Most of us viewed the old prince as a grouchy old fella who had a dark relationship with his daughter Marya. He tormented and bullied her which may seem like a sado-masochistic relationship (emphasis on emotional abuse), but his whims and eccentricities were expressions of love. He is bitter and in total control of his little empire and as an authoritative figure, he demands respect, and love.

When I took on the role to play his character, I felt defensive! I knew he wouldn’t fit in with the other characters if he was extremely cold, formal, and authoritative. In light of this, I decided to add a touch of sarcasm to his modern use of language via Facebook status’s, and meme’s.

Starting off, I chose a photo of the old prince from the movie, as his profile picture because it was as I imagined him: white hair, wrinkling skin and scowling into the distance. I based his cover photos on a myriad of his interests including mathematics. I had him respond to Andre and Helen’s compliments with acceptance but vented out his anger through the use of CAPITAL LETTERS as is done on Facebook frequently. He’s sarcastic but he doesn’t take bull from anyone. I went on to writing a few statuses sarcastically geared towards Marya and Andrei. It was fun, but a little harsh when I threatened to block Marya on Facebook. Fatherly obligations I say!

Portraying a man with much experience, I decided to show the old prince’s disapproval of Andrei’s intentions to marry Natasha by giving her words of wisdom (with a bit of threat of course), a visual image of her banned marriage, and I geared a meme about marriage towards Andre and Pierre alike. I found a perfect picture using math to show my disapproval of Natasha and Andrei’s relationship, “You+Her=Syntax Error.” The modern Prince Bolkonsky reacting with peevish sarcasm and visuals is the way to go!

Although it was enjoyable to be a witty, sarcastic old man, I wanted to portray his hidden compassionate side. Ultimately, he adores his children so I thought it was only right for him to pass on words of sympathy to IIya Rostov regarding the death of Petya. Likewise, I mirrored War and Peace and had the prince apologize to Marya for mistreating her. I also had him express his wish for her happiness by changing the cover photo to an image of a father/daughter dance and tagged Marya in it! This was to emphasize his appreciation and love for her. At the end of the day he wishes the best for his children.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing the old prince!

Let's be honest.. Helene would be Queen of Social Networking.

Writing from the perspective of Helene was so much fun! If I had to guess why, I'd say it's because Helene is Queen Social, and there is no doubt in my mind that modern Helene would rule today's social networking with an iron (well manicured) fist. Much of my Facebook activity consisted of posts which demonstrated how self-absorbed and overly social Helene is. It was necessary to emphasize these negative qualities because I believe Helene is the worst female character in the entire novel, despite being generally well-liked (at least to her face). Her selfishness, use of her beauty to get ahead in the world despite manipulating the feelings of others, thoughtlessness, and terrible family all contribute to making Helene the most sinful woman in War and Peace, even if she is the most social.
I selected a provocative picture of Helene for her profile picture because it emphasizes Helene's main weapon as a socialite. Without her charming good looks, all she would be is a sneaky trickster trying to get ahead in the world--either that or a total fool like Hippolyte. I made a post about flirtation for obvious reasons: Helene flirts with anything with two legs, perhaps even her brother. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Narrator's post about Helene: "But Helene, like a really great man who can do whatever he pleases, at once assumed her own position to be correct, as she sincerely believed it to be, and that everyone else was to blame (742)." I felt this post really emphasizes how good she is as twisting things to suit her. Another good example of this is suggested by my post about having three men in love with her (Pierre and two others) at the same time. While Pierre does not really love her, Helene is entirely convinced she can use her charm to always get her way. I also felt it was important to post about the end of Helene's life; her abuse of several people's affections at once is what ultimately killed her. Helene's death was a very fitting end for the most horrible woman in the story, and Tolstoy certainly displayed that outward beauty will not get you far for long without an inner beauty as well. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sonya probably wouldn't have Facebook

       Among all the characters, I sympathise with Sonya the most. She sacrifices herself too much but everyone takes her for granted. I understood her more playing her role on Facebook. Life has been unfair to her. She is an orphan. Nicolas chose Marya over her. And think about this: Marya and she are both the kind and thoughtful type. Nicolas could have chosen her before he meets Marya if she had money.
    For sometime, I even feel like she wouldn't have social media if she lived in the modern age. If no one cares, what's the point of posting things on Facebook? And she probably doesn't have strong desire for her voice being heard anyway. That being said, all my Sonya posts weren't necessarily what she had to share with the others. They were more like what she might have in mind.
    All my posts were centered around Nicolas and the other Rostovs. Sonya's whole life is about them. She doesn't change much throughout War and Peace; people around her do. She just takes in what has changed and moves on with life. So I figured she would comment on others posts more often than posting her own stuff. Also, Sonya doesn't have strong opinions on things, so her comments wouldn't be against what others have to say.
    I gave some thoughts when I chose her profile picture and cover photo. I tried to find a picture of her, but apparently she's not important enough to have pictures all over the Internet. So I chose a cute white cat instead. This actually makes sense since Tolstoy refers to her as cat several times and she might not want herself in the profile picture given her self-abased personality. I was thinking of her affection for Nicholas when I picked her cover photo. It's a red flower in the dark, pure, beautiful but lonely. I was quite surprised when I read the part when Tolstoy calls her a "sterile flower". What a coincidence!

Prince Andrew and Facebook

I adored Prince Andrew from the beginning of the novel. I don't know what it was about him, maybe his striking good looks (in my brain), but I always loved him and I would defend him to the end, even when he did less than honorable things. That's part of the reason I was drawn to pick him as my character for the Facebook project. I wanted to explore how he would interact with others through this detached form of communication where expressing opinions and feelings is more common. It was interesting, trying to strike a balance between Andrew's portrayal in the book, as a generally hard lining man, with some emotional tendencies, and the potential Andrew, opened up by the anonymity and free speech that the internet, and platforms such as Facebook allow. I ultimately decided to follow the book and how Tolstoy portrayed Andrew, but added in some rash emotion here and there, as well as some more modern speech. I had him post a quote about glory, but also unearthed some probable feelings he had after Natasha denied him, through some fan fiction.

Ultimately, I wanted to create a modernized picture of Prince Andrew. Many people who I consider generally logical will post ridiculously emotional things on Facebook, because they feel they can be more open. This is why Andrew would occasionally declare his love for Natasha, or something along those lines. However, I did try to maintain some degree of Andrew's coldness and level of overall rationality. He criticizes overly emotion or private posts by other characters, as well as warns people of how to properly interact with his father. I particularly enjoyed interacting with Marya, because as Andrew left for battle the first time, we saw their love for each other, so it was great to be able to interact with her and show some level of care and understanding for her and her situation.

Overall this was an extremely fun project to finish out the semester and to help me reflect on one of my favorite characters in the novel.

Marya on Social Media

     While many of the characters in War and Peace may have benefited from having constant contact through social media, I believe Marya is someone who would have LIVED for Facebook. In the beginning of the novel, Marya is basically a prisoner in her father's house. She is rarely seen going out into society, and therefore, is deprived of any social contact. A social media site such as Facebook would have been a dream come true for lonely Marya. However, due to her sheltered lifestyle, Marya also may have been a tad socially awkward. In the beginning of my Facebook portrayal of Marya, I tried to make it apparent that she had a hard time finding her own voice. My first several statuses and pictures were bible verses or religious symbols because Marya found her identity almost exclusively in religion when she had nothing else in her father's house.
     I posted Marya's first non-religious status about the death of her father, as I feel this was the turning point in Marya's character. Although after this point she still found her identity in religion, she also began to make decisions for herself based on her own desires. She found the courage to love Nicholas, the humility to forgive Natasha, and the strength to let her brother go. I posted statuses about each of these life events, as well as engaged in conversations through comments on others' statuses or pictures. Through each consecutive status and comment, I portrayed Marya as a little less socially awkward. In the last status I posted as Marya, I summarized the dynamic change from Marya's character at the beginning of the novel to the end. As Marya learned to make her own decisions, I think she also learned to set aside the Christian value of the “joy of suffering” and instead value relationships and love. Tolstoy writes on page 1038 that “Marya's soul strove toward the infinite, the eternal, and the absolute, and could therefore never be at peace.” However, I think in her own way Marya does find a bit of peace and joy in her family and friendships with Natasha and Pierre.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nicholas in real world

I made this title in the reason of my psych book “psychology in real world”. Since I remembered, at the beginning of the semester, my psych professor told us that if you really wanted to know about psychology, you needed to put it into the real world. I think it is the same truth as we can see in War and Peace: if we really want to get to know, to understand, not just get acquainted with those characters, we should put them in the real world. Setting up Facebook for our characters gives me a precious chance to understand them in reality. I have to admit that Tolstoy gives vivid description of my character Nicholas in both his relationship and war career. However, for a long time, when we are reading, our minds are always under the manipulation of Tolstoy. It is exciting for me that this time I can jump out of a Frame called “Tolstoy’s opinion” and label my Nicholas in my own volition. I used to treat Nicholas as the most determined person in War and Peace: he insisted on his deep love for Sonya and great passion for the Emperor. Nevertheless, he changes all these factors which previously were most stable in his life in the progression of the plotline. I find that I really miss the little Nicholas who is lovably immature and unlimitedly energetic to do whatever he thinks is right. I also want to figure out what is the significance of the present characterization for my character Nicholas.
I do not deliberately make any plan for my portrayal. But to address my question, when I am reading the present Nicholas, I myself will play the previous Nicholas at the same time to see the disparity and huge change. So you see I go back to Sonya to express my care for her while I get married with Marya. Sometimes, I tend to be emotional: the fog reminds me of the little Nicholas, so I call him back to play his patriotism again.

Pierre on Facebook

     Some of the things that we lack in War and Peace (as a text) are pictures, songs, and videos. One of the ways I used Facebook was to post real time images and songs to go along with the action in War and Peace. I did this mostly through Pierre's "Vignettes of My Life." As I was reading I would choose a phrase or passage and try to find an image that I thought would enhance, complement, and/or depict the words (or sometime I found the image then the words). I also decided that it would be a fun challenge to use only photos that I personally had taken (or was in). I also feel that by only using my personal photos I was able to show that images from a 21st century unpredictable teenage life can actually pair nicely with ideas and themes in Pierre's life or more broadly War and Peace (after all this class is called Reading War and Peace in the 21ST CENTURY). I did very intentionally try to make the photos free of modern technology. I also thought that Pierre would definitely be the kind of guy to post something like a simple vignette with quite sentimental yet vague words. The text of the vignettes was usually a paraphrase or modification or something Pierre or the narrator said. The vignettes were also concise, which is not something we get much of in War and Peace, but something quite characteristic of Facebook. 
     In a couple of my statuses I included a song, which I tried to make representative of what I was posting about. In terms of the nature of my statuses, I thought that Pierre would likely be somewhat aloof, sentimental, and formal on Facebook. I did comment on some other people's statuses, but mostly in ways that were somewhat distant or expressed some underlying inner turmoil, characteristic of our dear Pierre. Most of all, Pierre is a fabulous character in War and Peace and I hoped to make his portrayal on Facebook fabulous in the fashion of Pierre. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What if … we read it second time?

When I start to write this last blog, I suddenly realize that we are getting end of our tutorial. I can’t believe that we are going to say goodbye to War and Peace, though I complained to my friends about the super length of this book for many times before. I don’t want to do any analysis any more. Instead, I reopened my War and Peace at beginning pages, trying to do some recollection with you. Do you remember what Pierre, Natasha or Andrew were like when we first knew them? I can recall Pierre as “an awkward bear”, Natasha as “a carefree angel”, and Andrew as “a perfect prince”. I’m like an old friend of them when I reread previous chapters. When I read that Andrew gave Pierre advice of never getting involved in marriage, I found myself was talking to Andrew that “young man, you will desire true love and nice marriage afterwards.” In spite of his death, I’m very glad that perfect Andrew who is always spotless can be aware of the secular love. To my surprise, I did not find it horrible to read War and Peace second time. I found myself enjoy the process, though another voice in my mind sometimes played a role of spoiler.

Back to the time when we knew these characters at the very beginning, you’ll move at their great changes. Reading War and Peace second time, not for reading a masterpiece of Tolstoy, not for analyzing Tolstoy’s philosophical views, not for learning Russian history, just for the sake of meeting our old friends, finding their immature behavior at that time lovable!  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What if.. Nahhh, Better Not Go There.

I recently found myself mourning the loss of Prince Andrew. In my depressed state of mind I thought of an irrational and just as bad alternative I wish would have happened instead: what if Pierre would have died instead of Andrew? When this idea popped into my mind I was at the bargaining stage of grief, and as soon as it passed I realized that was a stupid idea. As much as I feel emotionally attached to Andrew, I love Pierre too and the novel would not be the same without him. I realized my "what if" would never work because Andrew has completed his journey while Pierre has not. What do I mean by this? Andrew led good life. While he and Natasha never ended up married (insert sobbing), he had a pretty fulfilled life, and in the end he figured out where his place was (i.e. actually on the battlefield instead of in a high-ranking position and discovering a divine love over the worldly love he previously experienced). If one of the main characters had to rip our hearts out, it is better Andrew dies than Pierre because the latter has so much to learn still. Pierre has yet to discover what his purpose in life is or even to hold a single purpose for longer than a few weeks. I think his own foolishness might save Pierre from being killed off in the novel because he has yet to discover what the heck he is doing, and it certainly would not be a fulfilling ending if he died without discovering so! What do you think?

Why is War and Peace so long?

Tolstoy had A LOT to say and concise writing was not the dominant form of the time.

Well, okay, while I don't refute that those two reasons are pretty valid, I've been thinking about this question for some time and I'd like to offer another response.

When people ask me about War and Peace, the only somewhat suitable phrase I can come up with to describe War and Peace is "a slice of life." Tolstoy isn't telling us a 1200 page story or writing a purely philosophical discourse. What stands out about War and Peace to me from other books is that we, the readers, get to know the character's and their world similar to how we get to know people and our world in real life. To meaningfully accomplish that method of writing Tolstoy certainly needs 1200 pages. For many details in War and Peace you could argue that they are unimportant, which is in part a valid argument. If Tolstoy was writing in a style where he wished to explicitly describe each character and drive the story forward without "distraction," then I'm sure many details would be unnecessary. I think, however, that Tolstoy is attempting to draw us into the book slowly but surely by revealing characters to us the way we meet people in our own life. We get to know people around us simply by the sum of all their little actions and their conversations with us and those around them. That is how we begin to get to know characters in War and Peace; however, as we are accustomed to reading a different style of writing, we desperately want to know exactly how old the character's are, exactly where Pierre studied abroad, and what drives a character to act a certain way at a soiree. Much as in real life, we are left to just continue observing a character's actions and thoughts. One example that struck me is when Andrew has an epiphany, that something has changed in him is obvious, but we are not told what this epiphany is. This seems reflective of in real life when we can tell that something in someone has changed, but rarely would we be told in an all too explicit sentence what their "epiphany" was. While one could probably write a quite sufficient 15 page essay on Prince Andrew's character, the effect would not be the same as getting to know him the way we do in War and Peace. Those seemingly unimportant snippets of character's lives are important simply because of their "unimportance;" we get to know people by endlessly sifting through thousands of minute interactions.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Locked Up & in Need of HOPE

Pierre is going through a major identity crisis. He was uncertain of who he was from the beginning of the novel when he was introduced as the “awkward” and “illegitimate child.” He is an outcast from his physically awkward attributes to his sincerity that distinguishes him from the fake Russian aristocracy. He’s simply an outsider.

Furthermore, when he’s taken as a prisoner, he is traumatized by the unjustified executions and even more depressed then before. He then refuses to tell the French officers his true identity and it can be inferred that he is still uncertain of who he is. Pierre is need of hope!

Enter Platon Karataev, the saintliest peasant ever! Platon Karataev makes an important appearance in Book Twelve. Tolstoy presents him as an optimistic, kind Russian peasant who lives in the moment, forgetful of the past (he cannot even remember what he said a few minutes earlier!), and oblivious of the future. He quotes Russian proverbs at key moments, talks to the dog, and is pretty cheery. Pierre likes Platon's sincerity and enjoys his company.

What is your opinion of Platon Karataev? Knowing of Pierre’s sudden urges to pursue new ideas, do you think he will be influenced by Platon and have some kind of epiphany? 

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Sudden Burst of Feminism

When Natasha is finally reunited with Andrew as they leave Moscow, the narrator tells us that, "Natasha never left the wounded Bolkonsky, and the doctor had to admit that he had not expected from a young girl either such firmness or such skill in nursing a wounded man" (819). This passage struck me in particular because it didn't match the usual way Tolstoy depicted women. In the past, we have seen the women of the story as completely separate from the war, and unable to be of use during it. However, we now have a description of Natasha that says she is not only willing but effective at nursing Andrew. As late as this change is, do you think it betokens a new role for the women of the story as not merely ornamental, but also useful? The sudden burst of feminism seems out of place for Tolstoy, and I wonder if it will continue throughout the novel, or disappear when Andrew regains his health.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

People are animals too!

Tolstoy has compared his characters to animals many times throughout War and Peace. Lise's upper lip is described as having a "squirrel-like expression" (Tolstoy 22), and Sonya is frequently alluded to as a kitten or cat. Though it could be argued Tolstoy gives these ridiculous descriptions to make characters more memorable, I would argue that Tolstoy truly sees humans as having characteristics of animals. Animals can also be seen as spontaneous and thoughtless at times (not to bash on animal rights activists), and Tolstoy seems to promote the belief that although humans are capable of complex thinking, we still have animal instincts. Don't get me wrong, we're not savage wild beasts all the time; however, in many of the war scenes in the novel, men are portrayed as making rash and savage decisions.

I did not make the connection between Tolstoy's portrayal of large groups of people and animals until Book Eleven when Tolstoy compares Moscow to a dying bee hive. He describes in great detail what the bees do in the dying hive, "languidly fighting, or cleaning themselves, or feeding one another" (Tolstoy 778), and then goes on to describe the men in Moscow doing the same. Many men are fighting for stupid reasons, and stealing food.

Tolstoy's parallel between animals and humans aligns with his belief in each individual's incomprehensible motives. As I have mentioned before, a major theme in War and Peace is irrational decisions such as Andrew's decision to marry Natasha based on her approaching her cousin before Mademoiselle Bourienne, or Pierre playing a game of patience to decide his future in the army. Tolstoy might explain these irrational decisions by the animal side of the human psyche. Humans and animals are all subject to innate desires that cannot be controlled. Although humans have advanced far enough to understand mathematics and plan wars, we still have internal desires similar to our furry friends.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Great men don't exist?

    Tolstoy is the God in War and Peace.  He has opinions on everything and always finds strong evidence to his opinions. But those evidences aren't always true or effective.

    For example, in chapter one of book eleven, Tolstoy argues that great men don't exist, because "the sum of human wills produced the Revolution and Napoleon, and only the sum of those wills first tolerated and then destroyed them"(Tolstoy 732). Tolstoy thinks that Napoleon is not influential, for he alone can never cause the war. According to Tolstoy, Napoleon appeared as a conqueror when the war happened, just like cold wind blows coincidentally when oaks are budding. Cold wind does not influence the budding of oaks, so Napoleon was not influential to the war.

    However, a conqueror was very essential for the war to occur. Tolstoy came up with a untenable argument because his example of cold wind and oaks does not have the same nature as Napoleon with respect to the war. Oaks are budding in late spring; during that period of time, cold wind happens to blow. Cold wind is neither necessary nor sufficient for the oak to bud. Yet a war couldn't happen if there wasn't a conqueror. No one can imagine a war without a conqueror who makes decisions and leads the army. That is, the existence of  a conqueror, in this case Napoleon, was necessary for the war to happen despite the fact that Napoleon as an individual didn't guarantee the occurrence of the war. DOESN'T IT MAKE A GREAT MAN IMPORTANT?

   And at last, I have a few points to clarify. First, I'm not denying the influence of "the sum of human wills"(Tolstoy 732). Napoleon became powerful not only because of his abilities and luck: all the objective condition, such as social environment and public opinions favored his revolution. Second, I'm not focusing on Napoleon's importance as an individual. The existence of great men, not the great man himself, is important. He could be Napoleon, or anyone else with similar "greatness"in him. There is a mutual relationship between history and great men-- the development of history awaits great men to rise; great men plays a important role in almost every turning points of history.

* I didn't have a chance to have someone proofread this, so please don't mind my wording and grammar problems. And feel free to comment below if there's certain phrasing that you don't understand.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tolstoy, the hypocrite?

Well, we all know how much I love it when Tolstoy decides to talk about history. His monologues are interesting, but quite frankly, I agree with Adam, that many of his arguments are misplaced. However, opinions are opinions, and I suppose that Tolstoy is allowed to have his.

The issue of hypocrisy in Tolstoy's work arises in the midst of Book 10. We all know he mixes up ages every now and then, but who wouldn't, it's a long book! However, Tolstoy's opinions are often and clearly stated throughout the novel, especially in these later parts. So, you can imagine my confusion and frustration when Tolstoy's language in the narration on page 716 leads us to believe that Napoleon is in complete control of his destiny, contrary to Tolstoy's oft stated belief that great men don't exist, blah blah blah. Tolstoy's narrator says, "But Napoleon with his long experience of war well knew the meaning of battle not gained by attacking the side in eight hours, after all the efforts had been expanded. He knew that it was a lost battle and that the least accident might now -- with the fight balanced on such a strained center -- destroy HIM and his army." (Keep in mind that Tolstoy often expresses his own opinions through his narrator (eg pg 664), but never seems to go against himself until this subtle moment)

Now I realize this isn't a full blown contradiction of Tolstoy's formerly stated opinions, however the language used suggests that Napoleon was in control of the situation, that fate did not play a role. It may be an innocent slip of the fingers to give a good narration, but why is he giving up his strong opinions simply for a quick narrative that is seemingly unnecessary?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Is love a redemption or destruction for Sonya?

To be honest, when Sonya first came into my sight, I liked this kitten-like girl who passionately believed in her love with her cousin Nicholas. However, when I kept reading on, I found that Sonya was firmly convinced that her love would save her from the plain life rather than giving her an overwhelming destruction. I feel like that in the progress of the plot line, I see the girl I like at the beginning is gradually stepping into her ruin.

Sonya’s love for Nicholas is so blind that she eagerly sacrifices everything for the man she loves and even for his family. When Nicholas wanted to put his career first instead of his love with Sonya, she could sacrifice her thought of marriage for Nicholas. When the countess opposed the growing attachment between her and Nicholas, she could sacrifice her dignity for Nicholas and bear all the acrimony and vexation from the countess. When Sonya found out Natasha’s elopement with Anatole, she could sacrifice her three nights’ sleep for Nicholas. Sonya’s total world is centered in one man—Nicholas. She has sacrificed so much and I don’t know what else can she sacrifice next?

Love makes Sonya live for others instead of herself.  I just read that Nicholas grew affection for Princess Mary. I’m afraid that when the love—the only support in Sonya’s life—breaks down, will she want to kill herself like Natasha?

Monday, November 4, 2013

War and Peace as a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

     The title of War and Peace seems pretty straightforward and simple, which for the most part it is, however, I have still been pondering Tolstoy's choice. (After writing such a massive book, I imagine thinking of an adequate title would be quite trying.)
     In class, we often remark as to how we are about to read a "war section" (groans abound) and then we go back to a "peace section." I'm not sure I see the distinction quite that way though. As I was trying to think of a way to try to express my ideas in writing I kept saying to myself: I don't see the title as "War...  and ....Peace" but more like "WarandPeace." The first metaphor that came to mind was that of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Most people don't eat one piece of bread with peanut butter and then proceed to eat another piece of bread with jelly. The sandwich itself is indeed made up of two separate things jelly and peanut butter, but in my mind the result is a new mental object/association — the "peanut butter and jelly sandwich." The peanut butter and the jelly become inseparable. To me, when I read War and Peace I feel as though whether I am reading of a battle or of a Russian dance, both the peace scenario and war scenario are ever-present in my mind. I feel that this feeling is also true for many characters as well. While the men are at war, their mental state is still influenced by their family at home. Based on my observations, it seems that in many character's minds, such as Andrew, Nicholas, and the Old Prince, the events of peace time and war time must mix together in this mushy mess of chaos in their minds.
      Thus, it seems to me that one way to interpret War and Peace would be rather than comparing the state of characters in the peace time to the war time, to instead observe how characters' lives are shaped by this ever-present mind of "mushy war peace mess of chaos."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Criticizing Tolstoy's Views of History

Tolstoy's views of history are, for their time, revolutionary and extremely strange, but they seem reactionary and over the top. While I agree that ordinary individuals, as an aggregate, have a profound impact on history, Tolstoy seems a bit hasty to dismiss free will. Tolstoy writes that man acts for his own interest but also subconsciously out of his "hive life", serving the general will of the human race to fulfill the "aims of humanity". He deduces this by writing that, because choices compose history, history must guide choices. Therefore, kings and rulers are less free than ordinary men, as kings and rulers have the most power and are in the spotlight of history, making them the most guided by this hive life (Tolstoy 537)

This is both extremely counter-intuitive and, as far as I can tell, illogical. It seems to hinge upon faith that the genesis of the human race had some purpose that is slowly being revealed through history, although this seems somewhat contrary to Christianity (in which everything people must know is already in catechisms and the bible and individuals must act upon it to receive eternal life). As long as we believe people have free will, or at least do not assume we are forced to action by the underlying motive of the human race, then most of his arguments don't apply. Still, he has two more practical arguments where he stresses the importance of ordinary individual's choices and highlights the importance of uncertainty. He provides an example where every soldier in the war of 1812 had to choose to fight for it to happen (537), but this does not seem very compelling. Rulers can obviously do things to compel their subjects (financial incentives and punishments for deserting), and Kings still seem to have much more control over the shape of history than subjects. While it is true that, as a group, commoners have an extremely important role, they are very powerless individuals compared to a Czar. His discussion of randomness, on the other hand, seems very true, as droughts or even mistakes delivering information can have massive impacts on history. However, this does not deny that, as a group, rulers have far more capacity to shape the future than anybody else.

One more thing; Tolstoy says every action is "predestined from eternity" (538). I'm guessing this means either, one: There is no free will because at some time at the end of history you can look back and see everything that happened before (this presumes that our actions do not create the future but discover it, and seems unknowable). Or, it means that God, having created the universe from outside of time, is omniscient and invented the universe knowing every human action, therefore proving that people don't have free will. However, I don't feel like dealing with that right now and this is far too long already (if that is what Tolstoy intended then he is probably insane for slipping it as three words at the very end).

tl;dr: I think Tolstoy is generally wrong when he discusses history. What do you think? Did I miss anything important?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Natasha and Pierre could be perfect for each other

I have been doing a lot of thinking about Natasha and Pierre's characters and personalities lately. While they may have quite a few differences, my overly romantic mind cannot help but think they would be perfect together. I know I briefly mentioned this during class on Tuesday, but I would like to elaborate further on why:
One of the defining characteristics of both Natasha and Pierre is their impulsive spontaneity, which drives them (on more than one occasion) to make very irrational decisions. While pairing two people with this mindset may seem like a recipe to open up an entirely new book of problems, I choose to hope putting together these two passionate people would satisfy each's desire for love, meaning, and importance.
Another bonding factor these two characters have is the experiences they have gone through. Two strike my mind in particular: Firstly, both Natasha and Pierre have undergone a quick whirlwind of religious transformation (or epiphany, whichever you care to classify it as), and secondly, both Natasha and Pierre are now living with the humiliating gossip and mocking of the many aristocrats that condemn their romantic situations. Pierre's sudden obsession with the Freemasonry and Natasha's recent change into her "better," more religious self show readers that they are both looking for more from life--perhaps they could find it in each other?  Additionally, while Pierre has always been the sort of fellow to be mocked by others, it arguably has never been quite so bad as after his unfaithful wife helped to make a fool of him. Natasha too, shares the burden of an embarrassing romance: her near elopement with Anatole and broken engagement with Andrew have undesirably brought the public eye of disapproval upon herself.
Perhaps both characters are too spontaneous for love to ever work out in their favor, but who knows; a girl can dream, can't she?

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Feminist Interpretation of War and Peace?

When reading through book eight, I couldn't help but to think about the role of gender in War and Peace. In 19th century Russia, gender obviously had a much different role in society than now, but I still think that Tolstoy must have been trying to say something about the role of women in Russian aristocratic society through the character Natasha. I'm not very familiar with feminism or feminist interpretations of literature, but I think that it might be valuable to look at War and Peace through the lens of feminism. In just chapter eight, there is a lot of developments that could be important to a Feminist interpretation of War and Peace. Natasha's character has developed into what feels like a feeble girl that is controlled only by her passion. All of her thoughts and actions revolve around men, and the ease and speed with which Anatole seduced her makes it seem like Natasha is controlled by her suitor and doesn't have any willpower of her own. As Natasha matured, I feel like she lost her individual identity. Now that Natasha has reached young adulthood, her identity is based off of the man that most recently expressed his love for her. Natasha's futility as a character is contrasted by her hostess, Marya Dmitrievna. Dmitrievna is a widow that does not depend on anybody else. She advocates not only for herself, but for the Rostov family, taking charge of their downward spiral. Tolstoy includes Marya Dmitrievna to show that women in Russian society can have influence while maintaining the respect of the public. Marya has the unique position of being a widow, however. Tolstoy has made a lot of statements about marriage in the novel, but could all of the action surrounding marriage also be interpreted as Tolstoy's commentary on the position of women in Russian society?

Love or Illusion?

In Books Eight-Nine, we watch Natasha’s character change through her romantic woes. She was once a carefree child, full of innocence, and a girl always crushing on boys. That slowly changes when Andrew has to leave for a year. This puts Natasha to the test. Can she handle a serious commitment? 

When love is not as carefree-Natasha becomes more impatient and agitated. When Anatole eyes Natasha, the commitment falls apart. Natasha succumbs to Anatole’s charms and tries to elope with him. 

I think Tolstoy adds Anatole to the picture to show that his and Natasha’s emotional infatuation was a mere illusion. This is also apparent in Nicholas’s crush on Mary Hendrikhovana. He and the other male officers like Mary Hendrikhovana not because of “love” but because they yearn for female companionship. With this in mind, do you think Natasha and Pierre’s forming relationship will reveal Tolstoy’s ideal take on “real love” or will this be another illusion?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Love and Marriage

During our reading of the novel, we've talked about good matches and good marriages. There are very few examples of a successful, happy marriage so far. The first one that comes to mind is the Count and Countess Rostov. Other than that, we have the Bergs and Boris and Julie. More often than not, Tolstoy shows us an example of an unhappy match, whether it be financial or emotional unhappiness. Andrew didn't love Lise, Pierre doesn't love Helene (although he thought he did at one point), and things don't look good for Andrew and Natasha. What is Tolstoy trying to say with this? Does he believe that the vast majority of marriages are unsuccessful? Is marrying for love (or lust) a bad idea? Would it be better for characters to marry for money, and try to be a good team rather than our idea of a good couple?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Love is in the air! Keep your shoes on... or you might get cold feet

Natasha and Andrew have a love unlike any I've ever read about... It is both exciting and has a sense of foreboding. With Natasha and Andrew, it's definitely an “opposites attract” situation: Andrew is logical and calculating while Natasha is spontaneous and emotional. Sometimes marriages between opposites work well because the two personality types balance each other: Kate Middleton's bubbly personality contrasts Prince William's reserve, but it works for them. However some opposites like Katy Perry and Russell Brand attract and then repel.

Andrew was very unhappy in his last relationship, and he did not mourn for Lise as much as the typical widowed husband. He also decides to pursue Natasha on a whim: simply because she went and talked to her cousin before Mademoiselle Bourienne. This decision is strongly out of character for Andrew, as his decision is based on entirely false logic.

Natasha falls for Andrew pretty quickly, and seems happy about the idea of marriage. She tells her brother that “Oh, if only [Andrew] would come quicker! … I am growing old” (Tolstoy 460). However, in book 7, she says that “I know that I shall never again be as happy and tranquil as I am now” (Tolsoy 455). Natasha is clearly sad about leaving her happy childhood behind.

Clearly neither Natasha nor Andrew are 100% sure of their potential marriage, but everybody gets cold feet, right?
Do you think Natasha and Andrew's regards about their marriage are normal, or does it show the marriage is doomed to fail?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What if nothing can be done

Should we strive for a change even when nothing can be done?Andrew's answer is no. He devotes himself to a reforming project inside the army and ultimately gives up when he realizes that nothing can be done. As for me, the answer shouldn't be an easy no.

Andrew's reform is destined to fail because he oversimplifies the problems in the army and expects too much from the reform. He borrows ideas from the French military code that can't perfectly fit in the Russian army. Meanwhile, problems within army are too complicated to be solved by an immature reform. On top of that, his proposal isn't taken seriously at all. Things could have been improved if people with power took in the ideas from outside and chose what can be applied. 

However, I don't consider his efforts all for nothing just because the reform doesn't work out. From one aspect, at least it saves Andrew from depression and makes him think logically and try to do good for others. Notably, Andrew is given a powerless and not-paid position when he works on the reform. This indicates he doesn't care much about personal promotion and heroism as much as he did before. Andrew's personality is changing when he carries out reform. On the other hand, Andrew frees the serfs and builds schools and hospitals in his own estates. This is actually a remarkable reform, which Andrew has done naturally and successfully.

Using Andrew's failure, Tolstoy implies that nothing can be done with an individual's power, but that shouldn't be the reason holding us from taking action. Even if one fails, he has ruled out a wrong path toward success. And individual efforts adding up can make a big difference.

* Special thanks to Adriana Zenteno Hopp. She edited the blog. And feel free to point out my awkward expressions. I'd love to learn. :-)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mother-Daughter Love

Some of my most treasured moments in War and Peace are when Natasha and the Countess have their mother-daughter conversations. I think it is such a great device to further humanize the aristocratic Rostovs and portray the love within their family. The fact that Natasha feels comfortable climbing into bed with her mother, and talking about boys, is unusual, but charming to me. I don't feel like this is a common thread to include in most mid-19th century novels, but the love in this relationship is a welcome change to the traditions of those novels.

I think that these moments are what helps characterize Tolstoy's writing style and make this work so timeless, no matter the translation. I'm hoping that, despite the fact that Natasha is preparing to marry and go away from her mother, these talks will continue, as they help me in placing milestones within Natasha's life. Also, I don't think she's quite ready to totally part with her mother and be a mature adult quite yet. I look forward to future loving interactions between Natasha and her mother.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

After all we are men, not dogs.

I don’t think I am an emotional and easily moved person. But when I picture the same scene---an old soldier begs Rostov and claims out that “after all we are men, not dogs.”---in my mind, I cannot tell the strange feeling I am going through. It is like drinking a cup of dark coffee—the bitter taste lasts on my tongue. I keep telling myself deaths are inevitable in the war and this is just a normal death. However, my instinct tells me that this time it’s different: A young soldier dies in the corridor of hospital without anyone’s care. How ruthless the assistant was to not have mercy on him and even claim to be tired of taking his body away!

I firmly believe that the greatness of Tolstoy not only lies in his historical depictions but also lies in his humanity and love for ordinary people. Following the Rostov’s visit in the hospital, we can see two wards: one for soldiers and another for officers. Ironically, there is huge difference between two wards: sick officers can have beds to lie on, and gowns to wear, while wounded soldiers can only lay in two rows with their heads to the walls. Such difference is magnified when Tolstoy describes the death of the young soldier. Through his deliberate contrast and sarcastic description, Tolstoy tries to make us aware of the helplessness of normal soldiers, of the inequality between ordinary people and nobles, and of his care about the ordinary ones.

From “after all we are men, not dogs,” we can see that Tolstoy stresses the issue of inequality and desires to build equality between normal people and aristocrats. It reminds me of a quote from Jane Eyre “It is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,--as we are!” I believe that Tolstoy embraces the same hope.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Order to Adventure. Adventure to Order.

Up until Book Five, Tolstoy had presented the Rostov and Bolkonski as in direct contrast with each other. In his distinction between the two, he seemed to bringing up the ever debated question of Romantic versus Classical. I recognize that these exact terms are not used in Tolstoy's discourse; however, I do still think that the ideas are present in Tolstoy's writing. The Rostov's are seen as the ultimate Romantic family: loving, artistic (singing and dancing in their household), individualist (Nicholas' reverence of the Tsar). The Bolkonski family, in contrast, is known for their high standards of education, mathematic reasoning, and efficiency based routine. As I was reading Book Five, I noticed that the distinction between the two families was no longer so stark. The old prince leaves his routine life to get out in the world and serve as a recruiting officer. He also, for the first time in the novel, shows emotion with the possible death of Andrew and the actual death of Lise. Prince Andrew also has a shift away from strict Classical thinking when realizes his love for his newborn son. In the Rostov family, Tolstoy also presents some shifts away from their Romantic nature. The language he uses to describe Nicholas on page 345, when Nicholas rejoins his regiment, is very similar to some of the old prince's traits. Nicholas describes that in the regiment "all was clear and simple" (345)  and that "everything was definite." Just as the old prince clings to regularity and predictability, Nicholas is also beginning to seem emotionally drawn to order and defined. As the book continues, will these families continue to stray from their Romantic and Classical characteristics? If so, will Tolstoy portray these changes in behavior as positive and productive or as detrimental to the individual and their family?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Why is Nicholas at all?

Nicholas is easily the most obnoxious primary character in the novel. He acts impulsively, preens his masculinity, consistently makes stupid mistakes, values honor to a detrimental degree, and holds the Emperor in a reverence that borders on creepy. At the same time, he is undeniably good-hearted and ethical. Put more concisely, Nicholas is a model for immaturity, and he stands in sharp contrast to the other older, more philosophical primary male characters. I suspect that Nicholas is included as a complement to Andrew, both in their opposite backgrounds and in their wildly different personalities. Nicholas, to some extent, shows the results of nurturing and love while Andrew shows the results of discipline and instruction; Andrew is more sophisticated and competent while Nicholas is more kind and naive. However, there is still some value in Nicholas individually. First, his naive beliefs about the glory of war and the Emperor sets him up for disillusionment, allowing Tolstoy to get didactic on the horrors of war and great men. Also, by his youth and the consequences of it,  he both allows the romantic development in the novel and lodges a subtle criticism of it (that, at least in Tolstoy's time, people chose their life partners in their period of greatest immaturity). Still, characters like Nicholas are made to change, and his outburst at the end of book five indicates that he is becoming self aware and maybe even likable. Why do you think Nicholas is included among far more ideologically complex, likable characters? What do you think of him generally?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pajama Day in the "War and Peace" tutorial

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Here is the 2013 "Reading War and Peace in the 21st century" tutorial group (class of 2017)!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

OHHHHHHHHHH PIERRE! Our Unlucky Rich Friend


"It was as if the thread of the chief screw which held his life together were stripped, so that the screw could not get in or out, but went on turning uselessly in the same place." This line from page 303 tears on my heart strings a bit. Pierre has been a favorite of mine since the beginning of War and Peace, but bad things just keep on happening to him. He is, quite possibly, the most unlucky fellow to ever inherit a large fortune, and I cannot help but feel sad for Pierre whenever anything bad happens to him, regardless of whether or not he may have brought it upon himself.

Some may view Pierre as a common sense-deprived idiot that deserves everything he gets. One might argue that if Pierre is only going to think with body parts other than his head, he deserves Helene and her scandalous ways. There is also the infamous bear incident to back up this point, and the fact that Pierre chose to go out with his rowdy friends after telling Andrew he wouldn't certainly doesn't help his case. In times like these when it is easy to jump on the "Pierre is a total idiot" train, one must take care to remember that Pierre IS a good person and he always has good intentions. He does his best to please others, and while his common sense (or lack thereof) may hinder this on occasion, he doesn't deserve to be cheated on by Helene, and certainly not to be treated as he is by the rest of the aristocracy. Nearly all of Pierre's more questionable actions (i.e. shooting Dolokhov and the bear-policeman scandal) were the result of something bad happening first to Pierre or someone else egging him on to do something bad.

Pierre is easily persuaded, but that doesn't necessarily make him a bad person. I think I am rooting for Pierre so hard because he very much reminds me of myself. Just like me, Pierre is a kindhearted, passionate person, who just so happens to have a bit less common sense than most. He does not deserve many of the misfortunes that befall him, and Pierre is worthy of your sympathy as well as your good opinion.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Historical Depiction of Russian Culture

The most popular way to read War & Peace is as a representation of Russian society in the early 19th century. Tolstoy's heavy incorporation of real historical events and figures make his work a great insight to the way Russians thought about their own country and culture at the time. There are a lot of posts being made comparing the times of war and peace, and the differences between them. I believe that through a historical lens, the sections of War offer the most truthful insight to what Russian culture was really like in the 19th century. Tolstoy was raised in a wealthy aristocratic family, and served in the military like many of the main characters. Just like the wealthy young men serving in the military in War & Peace, it is likely Tolstoy's only interactions with classes of Russians outside aristocrats was in the context of the military. Thus, when Tolstoy wants to represent true Russians, he does it in the only context that he knows them. Although the War scenes are a lot of play-by-play action scenes, scenes such as Andrew riding through the ranks of Russians are a more realistic depiction of Russian culture than parties hosted by Anna Pavlovna.

Natasha Rostova's Romantic Impulses

Natasha Rostova is portrayed as a charming, lively, full of life young girl. We first see her as a plain 13 year old, and watch her grow to a more mature teenager. She does seem boy crazy at an early age when she is smitten with Borris and later we see her crush on Denisov. In my opinion it seems like she was leading him on. However, when Denisov proposes to her she runs to her mother for help. This shows us that she’s naive and is still learning how to navigate relationships/ideas of love. Thus far, the idea of a “fit” marriage has seemed unattainable as we saw with Pierre & Helene. Do you think Natasha will settle down and have a happily ever after or will her romantic impulses end up being destructive?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


In the original Russian translation of the novel's title, the word used for Peace in War and Peace, was "mir," a word also used to define communal peasant sovereignties, (Encyclopædia Britannica). In lieu of the word's dual-meaning, titling the passages depicting battle "war" and titling social scenes "peace" might not fall in line with Tolstoy's message; if mir can be interpreted as a peasant commune, it follows that Tolstoy is correlating war to the aristocratic social scenes (the opposite of  mir) and peace to agrarian peasant lifestyle. I think the tedium with which I (personally) read Tolstoy's depiction of battle, relative to his depiction of aristocratic drama, also fits into interpretation of how the novel is compartmentalized. Tolstoy portrays the war in frankly dull, somewhat peaceful prose, devoid of the intensity expected of battle scenes; the author portrays war as peace and peace as war. I think Tolstoy's subversion of terms critiques Russia's contemporary oligarchic government and implies a political assertion in favor of a communist government--I'm sure future readings will further clarify the book's possible political implications.

"mir." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 18 Sep. 2013. <>.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Family vs. Fame

For me, the "war" parts of War and Peace are monotonous and dull. Military strategy and the discussions of generals don't interest me as much as the gossip and intrigues of high society. That being said, there was one scene in this week's reading that I found particularly striking. At the end of chapter eleven, Andrew reflects on the coming battle, and realizes that he might die the next day (in fact, he takes it as a sort of macabre certainty). As so often happens, this epiphany is accompanied by a reflection on what truly matters to him in life. Prince Andrew values rank and esteem more than anything else on earth. In a rather melodramatic soliloquy, Andrew says that, "Precious and dear as many people are to me...I would give them all at once for a moment of glory, of triumph over men, of love from men I don't know and never shall know" (Tolstoy 230). This vehement admission struck me because it is one of the first times that we clearly get to see what a character stands for. I don't think a character's values and intentions will ever be spelled out as clearly as Andrew's are here.

 The fact that Andrew is willing to give up his family (who, as we've seen already, he doesn't care for much) to gain the admiration of strangers not only speaks volumes about Andrew's character, it sets up a moral question for us to debate. Is it fair to abandon one's family in order to gain status or rank, or should family be valued above everything? Andrew's fate will likely provide us clues as to how Tolstoy would answer this question, and it will surely crop up again later in the novel.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The other admirer of Napoleon

Pierre definitely admires Napoleon. He made this point clearly when he's trying to defend Napoleon in front of a whole bunch of "Napoleon haters". But, Prince Andrew's admiration to Napoleon appears more interesting to me.

Compared to Pierre,  Prince Andrew seems to be more reserved on his admiration. He almost keeps it to himself, never speaking of it except for that one time when he helped with Pierre's argument at Anna's soiree. Yet, I can tell he praises Napoleon just as much as Pierre, or even more. He doesn't say much about it because like his sister Mary said he has an "intellectual pride"(p90). Feeling no one else could understand his genius mind, he thus senses that it is unnecessary to share all his feelings. Moreover, he doesn't want to seem rude and weirdly different from the others, though he sets himself outside the crowd deep in mind. 

Why does Andrew admire Napoleon? Why not Nicholas or Boris? I think it's an important point that Tolstoy is trying to make about Andrew's characteristics. First of all, he does have an insight. Andrew sees the greatness of Napoleon, unlike the others who resent Napoleon just because he is leading a war against Russia. Next, Andrew yearns for Napoleon's power and achievements. He believes that individual greatness can make a difference and is almost obsessed with himself, just like Napoleon. However, what he doesn't have is Napoleon's opportunaties and abilities to achieve the so-called "greatness". 

Will the war change Andrew? I'm not sure but, I think he's starting to realize his weakness. When he sent the retreat order to Tushin, "the mere thought of being afraid roused him again"(p167). Maybe Andrew needs a stronger incident  to wake him up. 

*Credit to Glorianne Dorce, she edited the blog.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Motive as a Motif

Motive as a Motif

A major motif in War and Peace is the varying motivations that influence the characters' decisions. Characters are motivated by many factors ranging from their social status to their gut feelings.

The very first character that the reader meets, Anna Pavlovna, is motivated largely by her desire to have an influence in upper-class society. Anna Mikhaylavna contrasts greatly with Anna Pavlovna; almost everything she does in the book is in an attempt to help her son Boris without regard to her social standing or peoples' opinions of her. First, Anna Pavlovna asks Prince Vasili to have her son put in the Guard. Then, she tries to get inheritance money from the dying Count Bezukhov in order to pay for her son's uniform. She even states to her friend that “God grant you never know what it is to be left a widow without means and with a son you love to distraction!... I don't care what they think of me,” (War and Peace 40).

Every major character has a prominent motivation, if not several. Andrew is largely motivated to go to war by his marital dissatisfaction. Natasha is largely motivated to pursue Boris in Book 1 of the novel because she sees Sonya kissing Nicholas. Nicholas says he is motivated to go to war because he feels his place is in the army. However, his father speculates that he is going to war to follow his friend Pierre.
Do you think Nicholas joins the army because he feels pressured to conform to all of the men around him who are also joining the army, or is he intrinsically motivated?

The (un)Likable Prince Andrew

I like Prince Andrew. Okay, I said it. I find him to be an intriguing, generally good character that I'm sure Tolstoy will use to explore a variety of themes and motifs throughout the novel. There have been some qualms about Andrew discussed in class, and while I understand these issues, I cannot help but like this character. Most would ask, "how on earth can you love a man who seems to hate his wife?" That's what I'm here to explain.

Many have expressed concerns about Andrew and his outright cold treatment of his wife. I do not believe that it is right to hate your wife, however, I don't think that Tolstoy wants the reader to focus on this aspect of Andrew's characterization. I feel as though, especially given the time period, that this characteristic is included in the novel to humanize Andrew a bit. Tolstoy did not want to create amazing heroes who can do no wrong; he wanted depth and conflict for his characters, as many great novelists do. In 1805, marriage was a tool to bring wealth and status to a family, as well as continue on the family name, and rarely anything more. Theoretically, you could look at Lise as Andrew's business partner. It would make Andrew more likable in this era if his relationship with his wife was described in this way. No one would judge a man for acting cold or rather business like with a business partner that he had little choice in choosing. No one would criticize his actions if he disliked his cubicle mate. The understanding of marriage in the day is critical to promote to modern day readers, so that it is easily understood that Andrew's treatment of his wife is not to make him seem like a bad person, but almost to make him more relatable and likable for the readers of Tolstoy's era. 

The idea of Andrew's treatment of his wife never bothered me, partially due to the history, and partially because it intrigued me into thinking that there must be a deeper characterization waiting below the depths of Andrew's 'public' face. I'm constantly looking for clues as to why else Tolstoy might have included this detail. I'm hoping as I read on that I will find a dynamic back story to explain Andrew's behavior. Even if I don't, I'm sure Tolstoy will tie up all the loose ends for me anyway. I'm looking forward to the moment where I see a more pressured, deeper side of Andrew.