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.


  1. Good observation, Stella. I think this scene, as well as the earlier scene in which Natasha is depicted ordering the servants to get the carts packed with wounded soldiers, both are showing development in Natasha's character. Natasha has matured a lot since the beginning of the book, but she is the only female character that has played a major role as a strong woman. Unfortunately, I don't think Natasha nursing Andrew back to health is a sign of Tolstoy becoming a feminist. Although, I would love it if more female characters become strong characters throughout the rest of the novel!

    Can anybody think of any other female characters Tolstoy has depicted as strong? I'm open to ideas if anybody else can remember something I can't!

    1. I think Natasha is the only main female character depicted as strong. I won't even say that Sonya and Marya are dynamic characters: they are certainly different from who they are in childhood, but I don't see much growth in their characteristics. But Natasha is different. She grows from a childish, spontaneous girl to a strong lady. And also, women were considered inferior to men at Tolstoy's time, so it is reasonable that not many strong female characters show up in the novel.

  2. I think up until recent events, he has portrayed Sonya as strong. Our most recent reading reveals that all of her sacrifices have simply been to make her better for Nicholas, but up until then, I was always impressed at her ability to sacrifice for the Rostovs. She always seemed very logical and able to give up Nicholas because she knew it was best for everyone else. The only thing that concerns me is that as the book is drawing to a close, she is becoming a bit weaker with new revelations by Tolstoy.

  3. Had I read this post about 30 minutes earlier, I probably would've thought quite differently about it. I just read the part of Book 12 where Natasha is knitting stockings while Andrew rests: "She had learned to knit stockings since Prince Andrew had casually mentioned that no one nursed the sick so well as old nurses who knit stockings, and that there is something soothing in the knitting of stockings" (869). From my perspective in the 21st century, this comment is far from feminist and puts women in the role of a housewife who is expected to be emotionally calming for the busy important males of the household. I do, however, think that in time period of War and Peace and Tolstoy's time, the people would not observe the comment with such feminist opinions. Thus, I also agree with Lizzie that it might be a stretch to say that Tolstoy is being feminist. Lizzie, I'd probably have to think some more to come up with more things, but another situation of women portrayed as strong that comes to mind is when Natasha is directing the loading of the carts before they flee Moscow. Also, Anna Mikhaylovna, the older single woman who was a bigger character earlier in the book, is portrayed as a strong, influential, and respected woman.

  4. It seems to me like Tolstoy is purposefully contrasting Natasha's independent actions in the most recent chapters of the book to the sequence with Anatole. Previously, men were going out of their way to pursue Natasha, but now it is Natasha who is taking control of her own situation.
    Natasha was very objectified when the Rostov family traveled to Moscow. The entire scene where the Rostovs attend the opera served no purpose other than to show that Natasha's beauty was her most important trait. Now, Natasha demonstrates that she is valuable to Andrew for real, practical reasons beyond superficial beauty.

  5. My understanding for the word "Feminism" is that women have the equal rights as men do. From Natasha, I like your point that Tolstoy suddenly portrays her from an attractive and spontaneous character into a useful woman who can get involved into the war like men. I think Tolstoy's feminism is determined by whether he wants a weak or strong character. So when he writes female character like Lise and Sonya, he displays their great independence on men rather than showing the feminism. However, when he writes Natasha -- in addition to introducing her beauty, Tolstoy also puts some men's characteristics onto Natasha, making her personality stronger. Your post reminds me of Rostov's hunting scene in which Tolstoy writes that Natasha can ride horse much better than normal men, again emphasizing that Tolstoy turns to be a feminism when he tries to give strong personality.

  6. This post presents an interesting point, however, I don't feel the way in which the doctor described Natasha shows feminism by Tolstoy at all. The doctor's surprise in Natasha's being a skilled caretaker shows a sort of insult disguised as a compliment, and although this statement demonstrates a woman taking charge, in my opinion, it is a far cry from feminism.