Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Save the "Shallow" Women of War and Peace 2k14
Yet another woman has been killed off in War and Peace!!! And yes, it was Helene, who no one liked, but still! We've now seen both Lise and Helene get killed because of their inabilities to be good wives. While Lise's death was framed as the product of childbirth and Helene's as sickness and then drugs, we have to look beyond that to Tolstoy's purpose to really understand these characters and their ends. Lise had to die in order for Andrew to move on and have his story arch with Natasha, a girl deemed more worth at the time because of her innocent and energetic nature. What was Tolstoy saying by comparing these two women but putting priority on Natasha? She wasn't actually that much smarter than Lise. The thing that made her a better fit for Andrew was her ability to engage him, which Lise couldn't do no matter how hard she tried, and she did try. So, unsurprisingly, Tolstoy is sending the message that a "good" wife should be able to keep her husband entertained, while there is no mention of this going the both ways. Helene, on the other hand, did not have to die in order for Pierre to pursue whoever he's going to pursue from here on out (probably Natasha). She'd already divorced him and left him a free man. Instead, Tolstoy seems to be punishing her for pursuing her own interests instead of wanting to stay with her childish and unloving husband. Not only that, but her punishment is death, which just makes me mad! These two characters in particular are women who are framed as disposable and whose fates are driven by Tolstoy's sexism. And yes, all of this can be dismissed with the simple explanation of "he was writing War and Peace in then 1860s" but still, I think it is important to be critical of texts using contemporary lenses in order to see the story from all angles. No text is without its flaws, especially older ones, and War and Peace is no exception.