Friday, October 31, 2014

Women in War and Peace

I am really interested in Tolstoy's portrayal of women in War and Peace. Initially, I was pretty happy with him. I think this was primarily because of Anna Pávlovna, the very first character introduced in the book. She seemed like a cool lady! She was independent, powerful, and very well-informed about the goings on in the world. In this same opening chapter, Hélène and Lise were also both introduced. I have to say, I thought that they were bumbling idiots at the time and to be honest my opinion hasn't really changed. Lise died before she could be very deeply developed (although she does arguably represent women wronged by the structure of marriage and society in general) and Hélène, while she has become powerful, is still treated primarily by Tolstoy as a seductive, trouble-making fool. But overall, I thought, "Who cares? These are just two small examples of silly women who hide behind their beauty." Now though, I'm not so sure for several reasons.

First off, what happened to Anna Pávlovna? Why has Tolstoy stopped mentioning her? The fact that the least "feminine" woman in the book has disappeared suggests that Tolstoy just doesn't value the idea surrounding feminism at all.

I also have a problem with Mary. I was very pro-Mary initially, seeing her the same way I saw Anna but to a slightly less extent. She was educated beyond most people's dreams, but was held back by her father. This didn't bother me too much because I thought that it meant that the family was just really tightly-knit. However, recently the Old Prince has been terrible to Mary, ultimately destroying my idea. Now she's just a smart woman wasting her potential by being held back by a man. I'm hoping that Tolstoy is doing this on purpose and will develop her more later on, but I can't be sure.

Next, Natasha. Natasha was my favorite character for quite a while. She seemed like the only one of the lot who thought for herself and had any life in her. Now that life has been crumbling away before our eyes; she's a shell of her former self.

So it seems to me like Tolstoy and strong women just don't get along well. I hope this changes, but I also understand that it would be natural for this time period for him to brush most women aside.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tolstoy and Fate

Tolstoy introduces the concept of destiny earlier in the novel, but he expands on his ideas about fate and the way it intervenes with humans and their decisions during Book 9. First he talks about how nothing is the cause of the war, it’s the sum of all these little things added up.  He then talks about the characters, saying “[every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole course of history and predestined from eternity” (538).   This quote shows that Tolstoy believes that everybody’s path is laid out for them and character’s decisions don’t impact their fate because it was already planned.

Some say that Tolstoy displays himself through his characters in his novel, but relating to his beliefs about fate I am not sure if he does. His characters do not seem to attribute many things to fate, for they become extremely upset at decisions others make and decisions they make themselves. Natasha becomes physically ill after having her heart broken by Anatole, and thinks of herself as a bad person for falling in love with him. She doesn’t seem to attribute her actions to fate, but to her own terrible soul and bad decisions. Prince Andrew is extremely upset at Anatole when he discovers the situation and searches for a duel. He doesn’t attribute Natasha’s falling in love to predestination but to Anatole’s manipulation.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Well, book 8 really threw everybody off! I feel as though this event between Andrew, Anatole, and Natasha epitomizes the structure, instability, and scandal of developing marriages in War and Peace. To be honest, I feel as though this could have been easily predicted when looking at other relationships that have been formed throughout the book. Pierre, another classic example of marriage so far in War and Peace, blindly "falls in love" with Helene, and it eventually backfires on him. His immaturity, the manipulation of the family involved, and the speed of events that occurred all lead to his ultimate unhappiness.

 This directly parallels with Natasha. After being "vaguely interested" in Anatole, Natasha begins her downward spiral, just as Pierre experienced. Her blindness to the future and rapid development of "love" with him eventually leads to attempted self-harm and complete unhappiness. It was also a very irresponsible act that didn't take into consideration the feelings of Prince Andrew. Albeit, he mentioned that she could cut their engagement at any point, she did so in a way that could seriously due  emotional damage to an already instable Andrew.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Reasons why Prince Andrew Bolkónski is great for Natasha Rostóva!!!

Prince Andrew Bolkónski is a great match for Natasha Rostóva as a marriage between the two would be greatly beneficial for both of them. Natasha being young and naïve could gain a lot from a disciplined and well-read man such as Andrew.  Andrew’s intellect sets him apart from the other characters and that combined with his humble personality and great depth in thinking about philosophical matters make him highly intriguing. Tolstoy describes Andrew’s thoughts as ones with “extraordinary clearness and rapidity”. Apart from his mental abilities, his ability to change his outlook on life go hand in hand with Tolstoy’s belief of self-improvement and the importance of its role in human life[i]. After his near death experience, Andrew restructures his priorities, he says his son is the “one thing left” now. The devotion he has for his son is shown in Book Five, Chapter Seven and reveals his capacity to care. Andrew’s love for Natasha is genuine; his love for her reignites passion in him and gives him a “beaming, ecstatic expression of renewed life”[ii].

Unlike Anatole and Boris, Andrew is interested in Natasha for who she is and not for anything callous or calculated. As the novel progresses Andrew changes, in Book Six, Chapter Two members of society see that Andrew has lost “pride and contemptuous irony and acquired the serenity that comes with years”, serenity Natasha could benefit from. Practically speaking, a marriage between Andrew and Natasha would greatly help the Rostóvs, as they will not have to pay dowry.  As we have seen in the book and even historically, lack of funds puts girls in vulnerable positions, desperate for the very few matches available. Andrew is a match all of high society agrees is rare and highly sought after, Natasha is considered lucky to have Andrew. Andrew being a thinker and Natasha a feeler[iii], a union between them would create a balance. Natasha’s effects on Andrew are already evidently positive; driving him out of the sorrowful state he was in after his involvement in the war. One thing to remember is Natasha is still young; her permanent personality is yet to be set or revealed by the author. She has potential and her positivity and generally carefree attitude if added with discipline and calamity, things Andrew can provide, can lead her to becoming something greater. One last thing, Natasha is not Lise. Andrew finds Natasha’s “shy grace” admirable. Natasha also can fit in well in the country. Part of the conflict between Lise and the Bolkónskis always surrounded her craving aristocratic circles and finding country life dull.

I had to limit myself! I could defend Andrew for days :-)

[i] Idea first expressed in my third essay.
[ii] Idea first expressed in my third essay.
[iii] Idea and terms (thinker and feeler) first introduced in my third essay.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pierre's Future

It's interesting how Pierre's character has been progressing and growing thus far in War and Peace. He went from being one of the most socially awkward and isolated characters in the book to one of the most liked. Interestingly enough, he hasn't really grown less awkward, instead society has just begun to notice how selfless and kind he is. He's constantly giving money to people, supporting different groups in society, and generally giving away all he has for the betterment of the community. You'd think that someone able to be this giving would be pretty happy with themselves and their situation in life, but Pierre isn't. Despite the fact that he's is being well received by everyone, a vast improvement from the way he was treated at the beginning of the book, we also see him spiral into alcoholism, extreme sexual frustration made evident by the abusive way he talks about his wife, and (denied) jealousy of Andrew's engagement to Natasha. Yet all of these things are masked by the way he is constantly trying to help others out. It's as if he's trying to shed the money and status he inherited from his father in order to go back to a time in his life when things were simpler and he was happier. His dependency on wine is especially upsetting and doesn't bode well for his future in the novel. Drinking is obviously one way he's coping with his problems with his wife and his feelings for Natasha, but I think the same can be said for his generosity. If not checked, he could lose a lot over time and be taken advantaged of. Hopefully Pierre will be able to rein these two habits in before anything gets out of control. So far though, I'd say his future isn't looking too bright and he'll probably need to make a big lifestyle change before he can find happiness.

Monday, October 13, 2014


After finishing Book 7, I can't help but think these marriages within the Rostov family are NEVER going to happen.  Nicholas with the help of Natasha guilted his parents into allowing his marriage with Sonya. He does this by questioning wether they would have him marry for money, pulling on the consequence of Count Rostov since he foolishly lost the family money (though with Nicholas' help) and the heartstrings of his mother.  Yet, he goes back to war and with distance once again from Sonya  he's hesitant.   I mean for goodness sakes it took him till he saw Sonya dressed up as a Circassian with a mustache for him to realize that he wanted to marry her!  What does that say about him? Like Sara's post it seems as though he is just highly immature and although he took a long time to come to this decision it does not seem as though it is logically thought out.  How does he expect to support her?  His family is broke and losing ground fast this marriage will just create a larger burden.

In the case of Natasha the distance with Prince Andrew seems to be negatively affecting her mood and attitude.  She talks with Nicholas about being depressed and although her actions don't necessarily always reflect that, by the end of Book 7 she seems especially cross.  This marriage is also a sense of worry within the Rostov home.  Her mother worries that this marriage won't end up well but they also worry it won't happen because they need the money.  There is a pull between what is best for their daughter and what is best for the family.   The marriage and money problems are intertwined.  And the weight of these problems lay heavy on the household.  The usually happy cohesive family seems disjointed and out of sorts.  It makes me wonder if these marriages will ever actually occur, and if they do will it help solve their problems?

The Immaturity of Nicholas

by Sara Ashbaugh

The hunting scene in Book Seven functions to show the reader aspects of Russian culture, but also to develop the characters. During the scene, Tolstoy focuses on Nicholas, and by doing so he reveals yet another example of Nicholas’s extreme emotional reactions and his need for competition to boost his ego. During the scene Tolstoy describes Nicholas’s despair and elation in extremes, consistent with the past actions of Nicholas’s character. Verbs such as “wailed”, “shouted”, and “cried in despair” are used to describe him, and the narrator states that capturing the wolf is “the happiest moment of his [Nicholas’s] life” (Tostoy, 443). Even more revealing of Nicholas’s character, however, are his inner thoughts. At one point he states, “Everywhere, at cards and at war, I am always unlucky,” and then, “Only once in my life to get an old wolf, I want only that!” (Tolstoy 442). Nicholas attributes his misfortune to bad luck, when in reality it is a result of consistently spontaneous and risky decisions that leave him with nowhere to turn. His desire for competition to showcase his masculinity can be seen over and over; betting the obviously cheating Dolokhov and engaging in competition between the hunting dogs are only two examples. He seems to believe that if he is successful, even in something so small as the capture of a wolf, it makes up for his previous misadventures. This need for competition and lack of thought in decision-making is immature. Despite all he’s been through, Nicholas is still showing off.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Tolstoy's Process

After reading Karnika's "At War With Shakespeare", I became interested in Tolstoy's thoughts on the art of writing. Beginning on page 1083 of our text are a few of Tolstoy's letter and diary extracts. On March 19th, 1865 Tolstoy wrote:

I became absorbed in reading the history of Napoleon and Alexander. In a cloud of joy and awareness of the possibility of doing great work, the idea caught up to me of writing a psychological history of Alexander and Napoleon. All the meanness, all the phrases, all the madness, all the contradictions of the people around them and in themselves...I must write my novel and work for this (Tolstoy, 1083).

This passage caught my eye because in Book Two of War and Peace, Tolstoy uses clouds and smoke as dark symbols, to cover the free and happy open sky. Yet Tolstoy describes his "joy and awareness" as a cloud. How did the cloud imagery in War and Peace come to represent the opposite of what it means to Tolstoy in 1865? Maybe Tolstoy understands clouds as urgent and excited clusters of mental activity, and in the war scenes of War and Peace, all mental activity is directed towards the dark activities of war, thus the clouds are dark symbols. Is this a stretch?  Also,how did Alexander and Napoleon get marginalized (as far as we've read) ? Could there be a link between his hopes for writing a "great work" and including the theme of "great men" in war?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tolstoy and Nationalism

Book seven features Nicholas and the wolf hunting. After the hunting, Nicholas and his siblings enjoy Russian style dinner and dance. I think Tolstoy included these scenes to shoe the Russian peasant lifestyle which was, for the most part, not represented in popular culture (novels, etc). Tolstoy's depiction of the peasant lifestyle as embodying true Russian spirit is reflective of Lenin's critique of Tolstoy. Lenin said that Tolstoy is valuable because he effectively showed the contradictions of the Russian working class. Tolstoy ' s  bias toward 'Russian'characters is apparent throughout the novel, as people belonging to the Moscow circle is sown as superior to those in the St. Petersberg. His nationalistic view (calling Russian army as ours and presenting an attractive view of Russian culture) must have inspired the Russian readers who have been facing internal and external turmoils (I can't  say the specifics because I don't know history at the time Tolstoy wrote War and Peace).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Missing History

As we have discussed in class, Leo Tolstoy spent a lot of time researching the history of Russia (and Europe) in the early 1800s to write War and Peace. Some instrumental characters in the book are based on historical figures including Napoleon and Tsar Alexander. I would argue that one of the reasons War and Peace is one of the most influential and popular books ever written is because of its basis in history, allowing people to relate and giving the book context in events real people experienced.

The first three books of War and Peace, or over 250 pages of the book cover the year 1805. Although this is an extreme, every other year receives at least a major section of one of the books. On the other hand, 1808 is covered in one sentence (367). If the historical context of War and Peace is so important, why is Tolstoy able to cover a whole year in three lines?