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?