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.