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.