Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tolstoy and Happily Every After

written by Sara Ashbaugh

War and Peace is a novel about relationships, including romantic relationships between several of the characters. While these relationships provide important information on Russian culture, they also give insight into Tolstoy’s views on what a successful marriage looks like. None of the most successful relationships in the novel involve particularly passionate love; rather they focus on the importance of compatibility and partnership in a marriage. The surprisingly successful matches between Boris and Vera, Natasha and Pierre, and Nicholas and Mary are examples of this. In each case, the couples’ defining feature is how well they work together as a partnership. Boris and Vera, although they bicker frequently and struggle for power, ultimately help one another accomplish their goals. Although there is no struggle for power in the relationship between Natasha and Pierre, there is a power imbalance. The same power imbalance is seen in the relationship between Natasha’s parents, with the wife having more control. However, Tolstoy does not present this imbalance as a negative, on the contrary, it appears to be the reason the relationship is successful. It makes it possible for the pair to make decisions and work together effectively. Rather than treating idealized passionate love as the key to marital success, Tolstoy recognizes the power of simple compatibility. In fact, the relationships in the novel that did involve passionate love, like Nicholas and Sonya or Natasha and Andrew, were not successful. Tolstoy seems to have a realistic idea of what makes a successful partnership


  1. I agree that Tolstoy does seem to understand what makes a marriage a good marriage. He emphasizes happiness in each marriage. Even though some couples get this happiness through power imbalance or other factors, he still qualifies it as a good marriage, which i find very realistic.

  2. I think part of the reason why a more practical view on love is what Tolstoy showcases as successful is because passionate love especially considering the time period the novel was written, was viewed as immoral as it could lead to impulsive acts that could permanently destroy one's reputation (Anatole and Natasha's attempted elopement ).

  3. Your post makes me recall Nicholas' comment about love not being important; rather, it's the compatibility that matters. Passionate love wasn't a factor that people looked favorably as you mentioned in your post. I think it is lucky for the main characters to have found happiness because a lot of couples during that time couldn't (Pierre and Helene, for instance). Well done!
    Ps. Just a reminder, but Vera married Berg and Boris married Julie :)

  4. Ji, thanks for the correction! I meant Berg and Vera, but Boris and Julie could be another example.
    I agree with all of you, Tolstoy's emphasis on happiness and practicality in marriage allow him to have a more realistic take on it.

  5. I think that Tolstoy's happy marriages also include the fact of opposites complementing each other. Thus practical down-to-earth individuals (Nikolai, Natasha, Kitty in Anna Karenina) marry dreamy spiritually-minded individuals (Princess Mary, Pierre, Levin). The practical ones practice a formal Russian Orthodox faith and the idealists tend to have a personal form of faith with more reference to Christ.