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.


  1. While I agree with your point, I also think that there isn't much description of peasants anywhere in the novel. Tolstoy only mentions them incidentally in the war sections. I think a better division between the focus of the peace and war sections would be men and women. Women, obviously, aren't part of the army, and they get pushed to the side during those sections. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, women are described more fully, since that is more "their place." I don't think Tolstoy meant to distinguish between rich and poor in the two sections of the novel, but rather women's and men's "place" in society.

  2. I think I can reluctantly agree that Tolstoy mentions the peasants more in War scenes. They are generally either miserably marching, eagerly awaiting battle, or happily drinking, but I'm not sure any of this captures Russian culture. I think, for the most part, War and Peace requires cultural context to understand some motivations, but Russian culture is actually seen somewhat rarely. We learn which countries Russians like, that it is dishonorable to turn someone in for theft, and fairly little else (although it might force us to learn some things, such as about Russian systems of marriage and divorce). That aside, in the war segments Tolstoy clearly compares Russia to other countries more, so I would agree with you there.