History of Literature

Leo Tolstoy

"The Kreutzer Sonata"


Leo Tolstoy

Ivan Kramskoy. Portrait of Leo Tolstoy. 1873



Leo Tolstoy

Russian writer
Tolstoy also spelled Tolstoi, Russian in full Lev Nikolayevich, Count (Graf) Tolstoy
born Aug. 28 [Sept. 9, New Style], 1828, Yasnaya Polyana, Tula province, Russian Empire
died Nov. 7 [Nov. 20], 1910, Astapovo, Ryazan province

Russian author, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s greatest novelists.

Tolstoy is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written. War and Peace in particular seems virtually to define this form for many readers and critics. Among Tolstoy’s shorter works, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is usually classed among the best examples of the novella. Especially during his last three decades Tolstoy also achieved world renown as a moral and religious teacher. His doctrine of nonresistance to evil had an important influence on Gandhi. Although Tolstoy’s religious ideas no longer command the respect they once did, interest in his life and personality has, if anything, increased over the years.

Most readers will agree with the assessment of the 19th-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold that a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life; the 20th-century Russian author Isaak Babel commented that, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy. Critics of diverse schools have agreed that somehow Tolstoy’s works seem to elude all artifice. Most have stressed his ability to observe the smallest changes of consciousness and to record the slightest movements of the body. What another novelist would describe as a single act of consciousness, Tolstoy convincingly breaks down into a series of infinitesimally small steps. According to the English writer Virginia Woolf, who took for granted that Tolstoy was “the greatest of all novelists,” these observational powers elicited a kind of fear in readers, who “wish to escape from the gaze which Tolstoy fixes on us.” Those who visited Tolstoy as an old man also reported feelings of great discomfort when he appeared to understand their unspoken thoughts. It was commonplace to describe him as godlike in his powers and titanic in his struggles to escape the limitations of the human condition. Some viewed Tolstoy as the embodiment of nature and pure vitality, others saw him as the incarnation of the world’s conscience, but for almost all who knew him or read his works, he was not just one of the greatest writers who ever lived but a living symbol of the search for life’s meaning.

Early years
The scion of prominent aristocrats, Tolstoy was born at the family estate, about 130 miles (210 kilometres) south of Moscow, where he was to live the better part of his life and write his most important works. His mother, Mariya Nikolayevna, née Princess Volkonskaya, died before he was two years old, and his father Nikolay Ilich, Count Tolstoy, followed her in 1837. His grandmother died 11 months later, and then his next guardian, his aunt Aleksandra, in 1841. Tolstoy and his four siblings were then transferred to the care of another aunt in Kazan, in western Russia. Tolstoy remembered a cousin who lived at Yasnaya Polyana, Tatyana Aleksandrovna Yergolskaya (“Aunt Toinette,” as he called her), as the greatest influence on his childhood, and later, as a young man, Tolstoy wrote some of his most touching letters to her. Despite the constant presence of death, Tolstoy remembered his childhood in idyllic terms. His first published work, Detstvo (1852; Childhood), was a fictionalized and nostalgic account of his early years.

Educated at home by tutors, Tolstoy enrolled in the University of Kazan in 1844 as a student of Oriental languages. His poor record soon forced him to transfer to the less demanding law faculty, where he wrote a comparison of the French political philosopher Charles de Secondat de Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws and Catherine II the Great’s nakaz (instructions for a law code). Interested in literature and ethics, he was drawn to the works of the English novelists Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens and, especially, to the writings of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau; in place of a cross, he wore a medallion with a portrait of Rousseau. But he spent most of his time trying to be comme il faut (socially correct), drinking, gambling, and engaging in debauchery. After leaving the university in 1847 without a degree, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana, where he planned to educate himself, to manage his estate, and to improve the lot of his serfs. Despite frequent resolutions to change his ways, he continued his loose life during stays in Tula, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. In 1851 he joined his older brother Nikolay, an army officer, in the Caucasus and then entered the army himself. He took part in campaigns against the native Caucasian tribes and, soon after, in the Crimean War (1853–56).

In 1847 Tolstoy began keeping a diary, which became his laboratory for experiments in self-analysis and, later, for his fiction. With some interruptions, Tolstoy kept his diaries throughout his life, and he is therefore one of the most copiously documented writers who ever lived. Reflecting the life he was leading, his first diary begins by confiding that he may have contracted a venereal disease. The early diaries record a fascination with rule-making, as Tolstoy composed rules for diverse aspects of social and moral behaviour. They also record the writer’s repeated failure to honour these rules, his attempts to formulate new ones designed to ensure obedience to old ones, and his frequent acts of self-castigation. Tolstoy’s later belief that life is too complex and disordered ever to conform to rules or philosophical systems perhaps derives from these futile attempts at self-regulation.

First publications
Concealing his identity, Tolstoy submitted Childhood for publication in Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”), a prominent journal edited by the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Nekrasov was enthusiastic, and the pseudonymously published work was widely praised. During the next few years Tolstoy published a number of stories based on his experiences in the Caucasus, including “Nabeg” (1853; “The Raid”) and his three sketches about the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War: “Sevastopol v dekabre mesyatse” (“Sevastopol in December”), “Sevastopol v maye” (“Sevastopol in May”), and “Sevastopol v avguste 1855 goda” (“Sevastopol in August”; all published 1855–56). The first sketch, which deals with the courage of simple soldiers, was praised by the tsar. Written in the second person as if it were a tour guide, this story also demonstrates Tolstoy’s keen interest in formal experimentation and his lifelong concern with the morality of observing other people’s suffering. The second sketch includes a lengthy passage of a soldier’s stream of consciousness (one of the early uses of this device) in the instant before he is killed by a bomb. In the story’s famous ending, the author, after commenting that none of his characters are truly heroic, asserts that “the hero of my story—whom I love with all the power of my soul . . . who was, is, and ever will be beautiful—is the truth.” Readers ever since have remarked on Tolstoy’s ability to make such “absolute language,” which usually ruins realistic fiction, aesthetically effective.

After the Crimean War Tolstoy resigned from the army and was at first hailed by the literary world of St. Petersburg. But his prickly vanity, his refusal to join any intellectual camp, and his insistence on his complete independence soon earned him the dislike of the radical intelligentsia. He was to remain throughout his life an “archaist,” opposed to prevailing intellectual trends. In 1857 Tolstoy traveled to Paris and returned after having gambled away his money.

After his return to Russia, he decided that his real vocation was pedagogy, and so he organized a school for peasant children on his estate. After touring western Europe to study pedagogical theory and practice, he published 12 issues of a journal, Yasnaya Polyana (1862–63), which included his provocative articles “Progress i opredeleniye obrazovaniya” (“Progress and the Definition of Education”), which denies that history has any underlying laws, and “Komu u kogu uchitsya pisat, krestyanskim rebyatam u nas ili nam u krestyanskikh rebyat?” (“Who Should Learn Writing of Whom: Peasant Children of Us, or We of Peasant Children?”), which reverses the usual answer to the question. Tolstoy married Sofya (Sonya) Andreyevna Bers, the daughter of a prominent Moscow physician, in 1862 and soon transferred all his energies to his marriage and the composition of War and Peace. Tolstoy and his wife had 13 children, of whom 10 survived infancy.

Tolstoy’s works during the late 1850s and early 1860s experimented with new forms for expressing his moral and philosophical concerns. To Childhood he soon added Otrochestvo (1854; Boyhood) and Yunost (1857; Youth). A number of stories centre on a single semiautobiographical character, Dmitry Nekhlyudov, who later reappeared as the hero of Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection. In “Lyutsern” (1857; “Lucerne”), Tolstoy uses the diary form first to relate an incident, then to reflect on its timeless meaning, and finally to reflect on the process of his own reflections. “Tri smerti” (1859; “Three Deaths”) describes the deaths of a noblewoman who cannot face the fact that she is dying, of a peasant who accepts death simply, and, at last, of a tree, whose utterly natural end contrasts with human artifice. Only the author’s transcendent consciousness unites these three events.

“Kholstomer” (written 1863; revised and published 1886; “Kholstomer: The Story of a Horse”) has become famous for its dramatic use of a favourite Tolstoyan device, “defamiliarization”—that is, the description of familiar social practices from the “naive” perspective of an observer who does not take them for granted. Readers were shocked to discover that the protagonist and principal narrator of “Kholstomer” was an old horse. Like so many of Tolstoy’s early works, this story satirizes the artifice and conventionality of human society, a theme that also dominates Tolstoy’s novel Kazaki (1863; The Cossacks). The hero of this work, the dissolute and self-centred aristocrat Dmitry Olenin, enlists as a cadet to serve in the Caucasus. Living among the Cossacks, he comes to appreciate a life more in touch with natural and biological rhythms. In the novel’s central scene, Olenin, hunting in the woods, senses that every living creature, even a mosquito, “is just such a separate Dmitry Olenin as I am myself.” Recognizing the futility of his past life, he resolves to live entirely for others.

Nikolay Gay. Portrait of Leo Tolstoy. 1884

The period of the great novels (1863–77)
Happily married and ensconced with his wife and family at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy reached the height of his creative powers. He devoted the remaining years of the 1860s to writing War and Peace. Then, after an interlude during which he considered writing a novel about Peter I the Great and briefly returned to pedagogy (bringing out reading primers that were widely used), Tolstoy wrote his other great novel, Anna Karenina. These two works share a vision of human experience rooted in an appreciation of everyday life and prosaic virtues.

The period of the great novels (1863–77) War and Peace
Voyna i mir (1865–69; War and Peace) contains three kinds of material—a historical account of the Napoleonic wars, the biographies of fictional characters, and a set of essays about the philosophy of history. Critics from the 1860s to the present have wondered how these three parts cohere, and many have faulted Tolstoy for including the lengthy essays, but readers continue to respond to them with undiminished enthusiasm.

The work’s historical portions narrate the campaign of 1805 leading to Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, a period of peace, and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Contrary to generally accepted views, Tolstoy portrays Napoleon as an ineffective, egomaniacal buffoon, Tsar Alexander I as a phrasemaker obsessed with how historians will describe him, and the Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov (previously disparaged) as a patient old man who understands the limitations of human will and planning. Particularly noteworthy are the novel’s battle scenes, which show combat as sheer chaos. Generals may imagine they can “anticipate all contingencies,” but battle is really the result of “a hundred million diverse chances” decided on the moment by unforeseeable circumstances. In war as in life, no system or model can come close to accounting for the infinite complexity of human behaviour.

Among the book’s fictional characters, the reader’s attention is first focused on Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, a proud man who has come to despise everything fake, shallow, or merely conventional. Recognizing the artifice of high society, he joins the army to achieve glory, which he regards as truly meaningful. Badly wounded at Austerlitz, he comes to see glory and Napoleon as no less petty than the salons of St. Petersburg. As the novel progresses, Prince Andrey repeatedly discovers the emptiness of the activities to which he has devoted himself. Tolstoy’s description of his death in 1812 is usually regarded as one of the most effective scenes in Russian literature.

The novel’s other hero, the bumbling and sincere Pierre Bezukhov, oscillates between belief in some philosophical system promising to resolve all questions and a relativism so total as to leave him in apathetic despair. He at last discovers the Tolstoyan truth that wisdom is to be found not in systems but in the ordinary processes of daily life, especially in his marriage to the novel’s most memorable heroine, Natasha. When the book stops—it does not really end but just breaks off—Pierre seems to be forgetting this lesson in his enthusiasm for a new utopian plan.

In accord with Tolstoy’s idea that prosaic, everyday activities make a life good or bad, the book’s truly wise characters are not its intellectuals but a simple, decent soldier, Natasha’s brother Nikolay, and a generous pious woman, Andrey’s sister Marya. Their marriage symbolizes the novel’s central prosaic values.

The essays in War and Peace, which begin in the second half of the book, satirize all attempts to formulate general laws of history and reject the ill-considered assumptions supporting all historical narratives. In Tolstoy’s view, history, like battle, is essentially the product of contingency, has no direction, and fits no pattern. The causes of historical events are infinitely varied and forever unknowable, and so historical writing, which claims to explain the past, necessarily falsifies it. The shape of historical narratives reflects not the actual course of events but the essentially literary criteria established by earlier historical narratives.

According to Tolstoy’s essays, historians also make a number of other closely connected errors. They presume that history is shaped by the plans and ideas of great men—whether generals or political leaders or intellectuals like themselves—and that its direction is determined at dramatic moments leading to major decisions. In fact, however, history is made by the sum total of an infinite number of small decisions taken by ordinary people, whose actions are too unremarkable to be documented. As Tolstoy explains, to presume that grand events make history is like concluding from a view of a distant region where only treetops are visible that the region contains nothing but trees. Therefore Tolstoy’s novel gives its readers countless examples of small incidents that each exert a tiny influence—which is one reason that War and Peace is so long. Tolstoy’s belief in the efficacy of the ordinary and the futility of system-building set him in opposition to the thinkers of his day. It remains one of the most controversial aspects of his philosophy.

Ilya Repin. Portrait of Leo Tolstoy. 1887

The period of the great novels (1863–77) Anna Karenina
In Anna Karenina (1875–77) Tolstoy applied these ideas to family life. The novel’s first sentence, which indicates its concern with the domestic, is perhaps Tolstoy’s most famous: “All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina interweaves the stories of three families, the Oblonskys, the Karenins, and the Levins.

The novel begins at the Oblonskys, where the long-suffering wife Dolly has discovered the infidelity of her genial and sybaritic husband Stiva. In her kindness, care for her family, and concern for everyday life, Dolly stands as the novel’s moral compass. By contrast, Stiva, though never wishing ill, wastes resources, neglects his family, and regards pleasure as the purpose of life. The figure of Stiva is perhaps designed to suggest that evil, no less than good, ultimately derives from the small moral choices human beings make moment by moment.

Stiva’s sister Anna begins the novel as the faithful wife of the stiff, unromantic, but otherwise decent government minister Aleksey Karenin and the mother of a young boy, Seryozha. But Anna, who imagines herself the heroine of a romantic novel, allows herself to fall in love with an officer, Aleksey Vronsky. Schooling herself to see only the worst in her husband, she eventually leaves him and her son to live with Vronsky. Throughout the novel, Tolstoy indicates that the romantic idea of love, which most people identify with love itself, is entirely incompatible with the superior kind of love, the intimate love of good families. As the novel progresses, Anna, who suffers pangs of conscience for abandoning her husband and child, develops a habit of lying to herself until she reaches a state of near madness and total separation from reality. She at last commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. The realization that she may have been thinking about life incorrectly comes to her only when she is lying on the track, and it is too late to save herself.

The third story concerns Dolly’s sister Kitty, who first imagines she loves Vronsky but then recognizes that real love is the intimate feeling she has for her family’s old friend, Konstantin Levin. Their story focuses on courtship, marriage, and the ordinary incidents of family life, which, in spite of many difficulties, shape real happiness and a meaningful existence. Throughout the novel, Levin is tormented by philosophical questions about the meaning of life in the face of death. Although these questions are never answered, they vanish when Levin begins to live correctly by devoting himself to his family and to daily work. Like his creator Tolstoy, Levin regards the systems of intellectuals as spurious and as incapable of embracing life’s complexity.

Both War and Peace and Anna Karenina advance the idea that ethics can never be a matter of timeless rules applied to particular situations. Rather, ethics depends on a sensitivity, developed over a lifetime, to particular people and specific situations. Tolstoy’s preference for particularities over abstractions is often described as the hallmark of his thought.

Conversion and religious beliefs
Upon completing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy fell into a profound state of existential despair, which he describes in his Ispoved (1884; My Confession). All activity seemed utterly pointless in the face of death, and Tolstoy, impressed by the faith of the common people, turned to religion. Drawn at first to the Russian Orthodox church into which he had been born, he rapidly decided that it, and all other Christian churches, were corrupt institutions that had thoroughly falsified true Christianity. Having discovered what he believed to be Christ’s message and having overcome his paralyzing fear of death, Tolstoy devoted the rest of his life to developing and propagating his new faith. He was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox church in 1901.

In the early 1880s he wrote three closely related works, Issledovaniye dogmaticheskogo bogosloviya (written 1880; An Examination of Dogmatic Theology), Soyedineniye i perevod chetyrokh yevangeliy (written 1881; Union and Translation of the Four Gospels), and V chyom moya vera? (written 1884; What I Believe); he later added Tsarstvo bozhiye vnutri vas (1893; The Kingdom of God Is Within You) and many other essays and tracts. In brief, Tolstoy rejected all the sacraments, all miracles, the Holy Trinity, the immortality of the soul, and many other tenets of traditional religion, all of which he regarded as obfuscations of the true Christian message contained, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount. He rejected the Old Testament and much of the New, which is why, having studied Greek, he composed his own “corrected” version of the Gospels. For Tolstoy, “the man Jesus,” as he called him, was not the son of God but only a wise man who had arrived at a true account of life. Tolstoy’s rejection of religious ritual contrasts markedly with his attitude in Anna Karenina, where religion is viewed as a matter not of dogma but of traditional forms of daily life.

Stated positively, the Christianity of Tolstoy’s last decades stressed five tenets: be not angry, do not lust, do not take oaths, do not resist evil, and love your enemies. Nonresistance to evil, the doctrine that inspired Gandhi, meant not that evil must be accepted but only that it cannot be fought with evil means, especially violence. Thus Tolstoy became a pacifist. Because governments rely on the threat of violence to enforce their laws, Tolstoy also became a kind of anarchist. He enjoined his followers not only to refuse military service but also to abstain from voting or from having recourse to the courts. He therefore had to go through considerable inner conflict when it came time to make his will or to use royalties secured by copyright even for good works. In general, it may be said that Tolstoy was well aware that he did not succeed in living according to his teachings.

Tolstoy based the prescription against oaths (including promises) on an idea adapted from his early work: the impossibility of knowing the future and therefore the danger of binding oneself in advance. The commandment against lust eventually led him to propose (in his afterword to Kreytserova sonata [1891; The Kreutzer Sonata]), a dark novella about a man who murders his wife) total abstinence as an ideal. His wife, already concerned about their strained relations, objected. In defending his most extreme ideas, Tolstoy compared Christianity to a lamp that is not stationary but is carried along by human beings; it lights up ever new moral realms and reveals ever higher ideals as mankind progresses spiritually.

Fiction after 1880
Tolstoy’s fiction after Anna Karenina may be divided into two groups. He wrote a number of moral tales for common people, including “Gde lyubov, tam i bog” (written 1885; “Where Love Is, God Is”), “Chem lyudi zhivy” (written 1882; “What People Live By”), and “Mnogo li cheloveku zemli nuzhno” (written 1885; “How Much Land Does a Man Need”), a story that the Irish novelist James Joyce rather extravagantly praised as “the greatest story that the literature of the world knows.” For educated people, Tolstoy wrote fiction that was both realistic and highly didactic. Some of these works succeed brilliantly, especially Smert Ivana Ilicha (written 1886; The Death of Ivan Ilyich), a novella describing a man’s gradual realization that he is dying and that his life has been wasted on trivialities. Otets Sergy (written 1898; Father Sergius), which may be taken as Tolstoy’s self-critique, tells the story of a proud man who wants to become a saint but discovers that sainthood cannot be consciously sought. Regarded as a great holy man, Sergius comes to realize that his reputation is groundless; warned by a dream, he escapes incognito to seek out a simple and decent woman whom he had known as a child. At last he learns that not he but she is the saint, that sainthood cannot be achieved by imitating a model, and that true saints are ordinary people unaware of their own prosaic goodness. This story therefore seems to criticize the ideas Tolstoy espoused after his conversion from the perspective of his earlier great novels.

In 1899 Tolstoy published his third long novel, Voskreseniye (Resurrection); he used the royalties to pay for the transportation of a persecuted religious sect, the Dukhobors, to Canada. The novel’s hero, the idle aristocrat Dmitry Nekhlyudov, finds himself on a jury where he recognizes the defendant, the prostitute Katyusha Maslova, as a woman whom he once had seduced, thus precipitating her life of crime. After she is condemned to imprisonment in Siberia, he decides to follow her and, if she will agree, to marry her. In the novel’s most remarkable exchange, she reproaches him for his hypocrisy: once you got your pleasure from me, and now you want to get your salvation from me, she tells him. She refuses to marry him, but, as the novel ends, Nekhlyudov achieves spiritual awakening when he at last understands Tolstoyan truths, especially the futility of judging others. The novel’s most celebrated sections satirize the church and the justice system, but the work is generally regarded as markedly inferior to War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Tolstoy’s conversion led him to write a treatise and several essays on art. Sometimes he expressed in more extreme form ideas he had always held (such as his dislike for imitation of fashionable schools), but at other times he endorsed ideas that were incompatible with his own earlier novels, which he rejected. In Chto takoye iskusstvo? (1898; What Is Art?) he argued that true art requires a sensitive appreciation of a particular experience, a highly specific feeling that is communicated to the reader not by propositions but by “infection.” In Tolstoy’s view, most celebrated works of high art derive from no real experience but rather from clever imitation of existing art. They are therefore “counterfeit” works that are not really art at all. Tolstoy further divides true art into good and bad, depending on the moral sensibility with which a given work infects its audience. Condemning most acknowledged masterpieces, including Shakespeare’s plays as well as his own great novels, as either counterfeit or bad, Tolstoy singled out for praise the biblical story of Joseph and, among Russian works, Dostoyevsky’s The House of the Dead and some stories by his young friend Anton Chekhov. He was cool to Chekhov’s drama, however, and, in a celebrated witticism, once told Chekhov that his plays were even worse than Shakespeare’s.

Tolstoy’s late works also include a satiric drama, Zhivoy trup (written 1900; The Living Corpse), and a harrowing play about peasant life, Vlast tmy (written 1886; The Power of Darkness). After his death, a number of unpublished works came to light, most notably the novella Khadji-Murat (1904; Hadji-Murad), a brilliant narrative about the Caucasus reminiscent of Tolstoy’s earliest fiction.

Mikhail Nesterov. Portrait of Count Leo Tolstoy. 1907

Last years
With the notable exception of his daughter Aleksandra, whom he made his heir, Tolstoy’s family remained aloof from or hostile to his teachings. His wife especially resented the constant presence of disciples, led by the dogmatic V.G. Chertkov, at Yasnaya Polyana. Their once happy life had turned into one of the most famous bad marriages in literary history. The story of his dogmatism and her penchant for scenes has excited numerous biographers to take one side or the other. Because both kept diaries, and indeed exchanged and commented on each other’s diaries, their quarrels are almost too well documented.

Tormented by his domestic situation and by the contradiction between his life and his principles, in 1910 Tolstoy at last escaped incognito from Yasnaya Polyana, accompanied by Aleksandra and his doctor. In spite of his stealth and desire for privacy, the international press was soon able to report on his movements. Within a few days, he contracted pneumonia and died of heart failure at the railroad station of Astapovo.

In contrast to other psychological writers, such as Dostoyevsky, who specialized in unconscious processes, Tolstoy described conscious mental life with unparalleled mastery. His name has become synonymous with an appreciation of contingency and of the value of everyday activity. Oscillating between skepticism and dogmatism, Tolstoy explored the most diverse approaches to human experience. Above all, his greatest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, endure as the summit of realist fiction.

Gary Saul Morson



The Death of  Ivan Ilyich

Leo Tolstoy

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a short novel but not a modest one. As the spiritual crisis of Levin, Tolstoy's self portrait, had been left unresolved in Anna Karenina, here he describes the agony of ambivalence that led to that resolution, albeit through the story of a less complicated man, a man less liable to crises of self-understanding than Levin. Ivan Ilyich is an ambitious bureaucrat jostling his thay up the ladder of advantages in a corrupt Russia still harnessed by the czar's bureaucratic apparatus. He slides gracefully into the roles offered to him, adjusting the attitudes and ethics of his youth to fit with the exigencies of his career, and accepting gladly the circus of perks and consolations offered hy fashionable society and its luxuries. He particularly enjoys playing cards, a pastime evidently despised by Tolstoy as much as by the German philosopher Schopenhauer, who thought it the most degraded, senseless and "automatic" behavior imaginable. Following what seems like an unremarkable injury, Ivan becomes gradually more incapacitated until finally he is unable to rise from the couch in his drawing room. Tolstoy describes with ferocious zeal the intensity of Ivan's physical suffering, which so exhausts him that eventually he gives up speaking and simply screams without remission, horrifying his attendant family. In the end, death proves not to be the destination of Ivan's tormented and ignorant spiritual journey, it is simply the wasted province of all that he leaves behind by relinquishing his life, all the possessions and affectations, and even the human intimacies that he permitted in order to pass off his life as a reality worth settling for. This is Tolstoy's most concentrated statement of renunciation of a pre-revolutionary corrupted social existence.



The Kreutzer Sonata

Leo Tolstoy

The Kreutzer Sonata proffers a blistering attack on the "false importance attached to sexual love." It argues in favor of sexual abstinence (even within marriage), against contraception, and against sentimental ideas of romantic attachment. These morals are, in many respects, alien to the West today, but the novel cannot be simply dismissed as a reactionary rant. The idea that women will never enjoy equality with men while they are treated as sexual objects resonates with ongoing feminist debates. Here is the late Tolstoy at his most puritanical, following his famous late "conversion" to Christianity. If we were in any doubt that he shares the views advanced by the tormented protagonist, Pozdnyshev, he wrote a famous "Epilogue" the following year, an elaboration of his apologia for chastity and continence as befitting human dignity. The novel caused a scandal on its publication and attempts were made in Russia, to ban it, though copies were widely circulated. Mere extracts were prohibited in the U.S., and Theodore Roosevelt called Tolstoya" sexual moral pervert."
Set during a train journey, Pozdnyshev tells the narrator the story of how he came to kill his wife, blaming his actions on the sexual ethos of the times. Readers of Anna Karenina will know that the train in Tolstoy's world can often be seen as a symbol of degraded modernity. The most compelling aspect of this novella is the psychologically acute depiction of obsessive male jealousy. Like Shakespeare's Othello, Pozdnyshev's conviction that his wife is having an affair with her music partner finds confirmation in trifles. The barrier between his inner pain and his polished, scrupulously polite social exterior, between private passion and public decorum, ultimately breaks down in his final murderous outburst.



Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is claimed by many to be the world's greatest novel. Whether or not that is the case, it is one of the finest examples of the nineteenth-century psychological novel.Tolstoy analyzes the motivation behind the actions of the characters, though without any moral judgement. Alongside the omniscient narration, Tolstoy freguently employs interior monologue, a stylistic innovation for the novel form which enables him to present his characters'thoughts and feelings in intimate detail.
Rebellious Anna Karenina succumbs to her attraction to a dashing officer, Count Vronsky, and leaves her loveless marriage to embark on a fervent and ultimately doomed love affair. In doing so, she sacrifices her child and subjects herself to the condemnation of Russian high-society. Anna's tragic story is interwoven with the contrasting tale of the courtship and marriage of Konstantin Levin and Kitty Shcherbatskaya, which closely resembles that of Tolstoy and his own wife. In his search for the truth, Levin expresses views about contemporary society, politics, and religion that are often taken to be those of the author himself.
The novel is valuable for its historical as well as its psychological aspects. Despite its length, Anna Karenina draws readers into a breathtaking world that is vital and all consuming in its realism.


Type of work: Novel
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Type of plot: Social criticism
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: Russia
First published: 1875-1877 (English translation, 1886)


The first of the dual plots in this novel relates the tragic story of Anna Karenina, who falls in love with a handsome young officer: eventually despairing of his love, she commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. The second plot, which centers on the happy marriage of Konstantine Levin and his young wife Kitty, is Tolsto\s vehicle for dramatizing a search for the meaning of life and a philosophy and manner of living similar to his own.


Principal Characters

Anna Karenina (an-пэ' катё'ш-пэ, Karenin's beautiful, wayward wife. After meeting the handsome officer Count Vronsky, she falls completely in love with him, even though she realizes what the consequences of this act of infidelity may be. In spite of her love for her child, she cannot give up Vronsky. Estranged from her husband, this unhappy woman, once so generous and respected, has an illegitimate child, runs off with Vronsky, and finally, when his love seems to wane, commits suicide by throwing herself in front of an approaching railway engine.
Count Alexey Kirilich Vronsky (aleksa' kiri'lich vron'skiy), a wealthy army officer, who eagerly returns Anna Karenina's love. He is not a bad man; in fact, he is thoughtful and generous in many ways, as he proved when he gave part of his inheritance to his brother. Yet he thinks nothing of taking Anna away from her husband. Actually, such behavior is part of his code, which includes patronizing his inferiors. After Anna's death, he gloomily seeks death for himself.
Alexei Karenin (a-lek-sa' ka-re'nin), a public official and a cold-blooded, ambitious man, whose main desire is to rise in government service. Seemingly incapable of jealousy or love (except self-love), he allows Anna to see Vronsky away from home. He is afraid only that his reputation will be blemished by his wife's infidelity. In spite of his cold temperament, he is a good official, who knows how to cut red tape and bureaucratic inefficiency.
Sergey Alexeyich Karenin (ser-ga' a-leksa'ich ka-re' nin), called Serezha (sere'zhg), Anna Karenina's bewildered young son. Recognizing the schism between his father and mother, he is often distraught by what he senses but does not understand.
Konstantine Levin (kon-stan-tln' le'vln), a prosperous landowner. A fine, decent man, he intensely dislikes all forms of chicanery and hypocrisy. With his generous spirit and democratic outlook, he wants to help his peasants by giving them larger profits from their work on his estate. In return, he believes they will work harder for him. Forgetting his pride, he finally marries Kitty Shtcherbatskaya, and together they work hard to make his agricultural theories succeed.
Prince StepanOblonsky (stepiin oblon'skiy >. a high government official and Anna's brother. With hi-- strong. well-fed body, he is the very picture of robust energy. A kind, often guilt-ridden man, he has a bachelor's temperament, and he finds it practically impossible to be true to his unattractive, jealous wife. After each affair. he strongly feels his guilt and tries to make amends, only to be smitten by the next pretty face he sees He is so cheerful and happy that people like to be around him.
Princess Darya Oblonskaya (da ry? oblon >кэ-\э|. called Dolly, Oblonsky's long-suffering and unattractive wife. Faced with her husband's infidelity, she finds solace in her six children. Although she often threatens to leave him, she never does, and she becomes partly reconciled to his philandering.
Princess Catharine Shtcherbatskava i-cher-bat'skg-ys), called Kitty, Dolly's younger sister, who cannot choose between sober, generous Konstantine Levin and the more dashing Count Vronsky. When she learns that Vronsky obviously is not interested in marriage, she knows she has made an error in refusing Levin's proposal. After a short period of despondency, she. naturally buoyant and happy, realizes that the future is not completely gloomy, and she marries Levin.
Prince Alexander Shtcherbatsky (a ■ leksan der shcher - bat'skfy), a bluff, hardy man, the father of Kitty and Dolly. He likes Levin as Kitty's suitor because he is often suspicious of Vronsky's intentions toward his daughter. His cheerfulness lifts the spirits of his associates.
Princess Shtcherbatskaya (shcher-bat'sks-ya). Dolly and Kitty's ambitious mother. At first, she hopes Kitty will marry handsome Count Vronsky. Later, she is willing to accept Levin as Kitty's husband.
Nicholas Levin (nl-ko-ll' le'vin), Konstantine's brother.
A rather pitiful figure, he is aware of his approaching death from tuberculosis. Dreading his fate, he is a somber man, subject to violent rages and childish behavior.
Sergius Ivanich Koznyshev (ser'ji-us ivan'Ich koz'myshef), Konstantine Levin's half brother, a noted novelist and philosopher, whose favorite pastime is debating the issues of the day. Although he has many convincing arguments, it is doubtful that he understands the peasants as much as his more inarticulate brother.
Countess Vronskaya (vron'skg-ya). Count Vronsky's mother. An emaciated old woman, she tries to keep her favorite son under close watch. Failing in this effort, she withholds his allowance.
Marya Nikolavna (та'гуэ m-ko'lav-na), called Masha (ma'shs), Nicholas Levin's mistress. She looks after the sick man as she would a child, even though he does not seem to appreciate her attempts to help them.
Tanya Oblonskaya (Чап'уэ ob-lon'sks-ya), Prince Oblonsky's daughter.
Grisha (gri'sha), Oblonsky's son.
Princess Elizabeth Fedorovna Tvershaya (fyo' darsvna tver-sha'ya), called Betsy, who acts as a go-between for Vronsky and Anna. Like many women in her social set, Betsy has a lover.
Agatha Mikhaylovna (mrhl'ta-vns), Levin's trusted housekeeper and confidante.
Princess Myagkaya (myag-ка'уэ), who likes to gossip and has a sharp, vituperative tongue.
Lieutenant Petritsky (pet-rit'skiy), Count Vronsky's friend, a hard-drinking gambler. His commanding officer often threatens to expel him from the regiment.
Prince Yashvin (ya'shvln), Vronsky's friend. Like Petritsky, he is a hard drinker and an inveterate gambler.
Kuzma (kooz-ma'). Levin's manservant.
Mikhail (mI-ha-И') and Piotr (pyo'tr), Vronsky's servants.
Piotr Ivanovich (pyo'tr rva'ns-vich), a professor.
Petrov (pet-rof), an invalid artist dying of tuberculosis. He is infatuated with Kitty.
Anna Pavlovna (ап'пэ pav'bvns), Petrov's jealous wife.
Sappho Stolz, a full-blown actress.
Lisa Merkalova (li'ss mer-ka'ls-vs), Betsy Tver-shaya's friend. A beautiful, charming girl, she always has a number of ardent admirers following her.
Nicholas Ivanich Sviyazhsky (nikoll' lva'nlch svi-ya'zh-skiy), a wealthy landowner and a marshal of the nobility.
Mile Varenka (va-гёп'кэ), Kitty's friend. She is wholesome and pure, and her greatest pleasure is caring for the sick.
Mme Stahl, Mile Varenka's malingering foster mother. According to one person, she never gets up because she has short legs and a bad figure.
Annushka (an-nush'ks). Anna Karenina's maid.


The Story

Anna Karenina, the sister of Stepan Oblonsky, came to Moscow in an attempt to patch up a quarrel between her brother and his wife, Dolly. There she met the handsome young Count Vronsky, who was rumored to be in love with Dolly's younger sister, Kitty.
Konstantine Levin, of an old Muscovite family, was also in love with Kitty, and his visit to Moscow coincided with Anna's. Kitty refused Levin, but to her chagrin she received no proposal from the count. Indeed, Vronsky had no intention of proposing to Kitty. His heart went out to Anna the first time he laid eyes on her, and when Anna returned to her home in St. Petersburg, he followed her.
Soon they began to be seen together at soirees and at the theater, apparently unaware of gossip which circulated about them. Karenin, Anna's husband, became concerned. A coldly ambitious and dispassionate man, he felt that his social position was at stake. One night, he discussed these rumors with Anna and pointed out the danger of her flirtation, as he called it. He forbade her to entertain Vronsky at home and cautioned her to be more careful. He was not jealous of his wife, only worried over the social consequences of her behavior. He reminded her of her duty to her young son, Serezha.
Anna said she would obey her husband, and there the matter rested.
Anna, however, was unable to conceal her true feelings when Vronsky was injured in a racetrack accident. Karenin upbraided her for her indiscreet behavior in public. He considered a duel, separation, and divorce but rejected all these courses. When he finally decided to keep Anna under his roof, he reflected that he was acting in accordance with the laws of religion. Anna continued to meet Vronsky in secret.
Levin had returned to his country estate after Kitty had refused him, and he busied himself there with problems of agriculture and peasant labor. One day, he went into the fields and worked with a scythe along with the serfs. He felt that he was beginning to understand the primitive philosophy of their lives. He planned new developments, among them a cooperative enterprise system. When he heard that Kitty was not married after all and that she had been ill but was soon returning to Moscow, he resolved to seek her hand once more. Secretly, he knew that she loved him. His pride, as well as hers, had kept them apart. Accordingly, Levin made the journey to Moscow with new hope that soon Kitty would be his wife.
Against her husband's orders, Anna Karenina sent for Vronsky and told him that she was pregnant. Aware of his responsibilities to Anna, he begged her to petition Karenin for a divorce so that she would be free to marry him. Karenin informed her coldly that he would consider the child his and accept it so that the world should never know his wife's disgrace, but he refused to think of going through shameful divorce proceedings. Karenin reduced Anna to submission by warning her that he would take Serezha away if she persisted in making a fool of herself.
The strained family relationship continued unbroken. One night, Karenin had planned to go out, and Anna persuaded Vronsky to come to the house. As he was leaving, Karenin met Vronsky on the front steps. Enraged, Karenin told Anna that he had decided to get a divorce and that he would keep Serezha in his custody. Divorce proceedings, however, were so intricate, the scandal so great, the whole aspect of the step so disgusting to Karenin that he could not bring himself to go through the process. As Anna's confinement drew near, he was still undecided. After winning an important political seat, he became even more unwilling to risk his public reputation.
At the birth of her child, Anna became deathly ill. Overcome with guilt, Vronsky attempted suicide but failed. Karenin was reduced to a state of such confusion that he determined to grant his wife any request, since he thought she was on her deathbed. The sight of Vronsky seemed to be the only thing that restored her. After many months of illness, she went with her lover and baby daughter to Italy where they lived under strained circumstances. Meanwhile, Levin proposed once more to Kitty; after a flurry of preparations, they were married.
Anna Karenina and Vronsky returned to Russia and went to live on his estate. It was now impossible for Anna to return home. Although Karenin had not undertaken divorce proceedings, he considered himself separated from Anna and was everywhere thought to be a man of fine loyalty and unswerving honor, unjustly imposed upon by an unfaithful wife. Sometimes Anna stole into town to see Serezha, but her fear of being discovered there by her husband cut these visits short. After each visit, she returned bitter and sad. She became more and more demanding toward Vronsky, with the result that he spent less time with her. She took only slight interest in her child. Before long, she convinced herself that Vronsky was in love with another woman. One day, she could not stay alone in the house. She found herself at the railway station, and she bought a ticket. As she stood on the platform, gazing at the tracks below, the thunder of an approaching train roared in her ears. Suddenly, she remembered a man run over in the Moscow railroad station on the day she and Vronsky met. Carefully measuring the distance, she threw herself in front of the approaching train.
After her death, Vronsky joined the army. He had changed from a handsome, cheerful man to one who welcomed death; his only reason for living had been Anna.
For Levin and Kitty, life became an increasing round of daily work and everyday routine, which they shared with each other. At last, Levin knew the responsibility of wealth imposed upon him in his dealings with the peasants. Kitty shared with him this responsibility. Although there were many questions he could never answer satisfactorily for himself, he was nevertheless aware of the satisfying beauty of life—its toil, leisure, pain, and happiness.


Critical Evaluation

Leo Tolstoy spent almost six years composing Anna Karenina, from first draft (1873) through serial publication (1875 -1877) to publication in one volume (1878). He constantly refined the structure, style, and content until he took unabashed "pride in the architectonics." The novel is perfectly symmetrical in balancing pairs of relationships, places, and events. The style is carefully crafted to suit the character and the event: famous scenes such as Levin's reaping of the harvest and Anna's suicide possess distinctive rhythm, syntax, and imagery. The novel tackles subjects that concerned its contemporary audience: the morality of divorce, the problem of managing land with freed serfs, and the wisdom of a recently declared war against Bulgaria.
The opening sentence of Anna Karenina simply, starkly announces the theme and predicts the symmetrical structure: "All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Whether a family is happy or not depends upon the husband and wife, man and woman who are its nucleus The happy-family is that formed by the marriage of когыапппе Levin and Kitty Shtcherbatskaya. The unruppy family is composed of Anna Karenina and Alexei Karenin
The happy family of Kitty and Levin doe- not happen spontaneously or easily. Kitty, her heart set on the charming Count Vronsky, refuses Levin's first proposal When Vronsky finds another love, Levin makes a second, hesitant proposal. Kitty's acceptance is tentame because what she feels for Levin is more affection than passion. To ease his conscience of past sins. Levin shows Kitty his youthful diaries; their secrets are bitter to her but not barriers to their union. Their wedding day is joyous as is establishing their household on the estate that Levin manages. Inevitably, the honeymoon ends. Together. Levin and Kitty must care for his dying brother Nicholas and then open their house to her sister Dolly, who is estranged from her philandering husband. Now the established married couple, they play matchmaker for friends and
relations. With Kitty in confinement with their first child, the lonely Levin wrestles with the questions of life's meaning and his own mortality. Then the birth of his son reminds him that he has the power to invest life with goodness and meaning. Kitty and Levin are thus a happy couple not because their life together is without sorrow but because they sacrifice for each other, pardon each other, and desire each other's happiness.
The family of the Karenins was possibly once happy. Anna and Karenin are among the elite of St. Petersburg society; they possess status, wealth, security, and reputation. Anna's first meeting with Vronsky is accidental; though the young count is handsome and her husband cold, she is not looking for a distracting passion. Yet he pursues Anna over her protestations, and eventually she returns his love. Their affair soon comes to Karenin's attention, but he only cautions her to conceal her actions. Even if the inward happiness of their relationship is destroyed, Karenin would be content with the outward appearance of happiness. Since passion is stronger than prudence, Anna and Vronsky continue to meet until the inevitable happens: She becomes pregnant. Karenin threatens a divorce but is afraid of public scandal. Anna almost dies giving birth to the child, and Vronsky attempts suicide. To convalesce, the lovers travel to Italy and live together—in open defiance of convention—when they return to Russia. As her world narrows, Anna grows jealous and suspicious. Thinking Vronsky has fallen in love with another woman, Anna commits suicide. Vronsky volunteers for the Bulgarian war, determined to die in battle. Their story is the classic tale of fatal attraction. For love—or perhaps for ego—Anna and Vronsky sacrifice family, reputation, health, and ultimately, life.
Tolstoy's contrast between these stories is neither a simple nor a simplistic one. Levin and Kitty are not unvaryingly good or is their marriage without its problems. Conversely, Anna and Vronsky are adulterers who possess intelligence, passion, and commitment; their relationship offers moments of peace and insight. Most surprisingly, the central contrast is neither between Levin and Vronsky or Karenin, nor between Anna and Kitty. The novel offers portraits of adulterers who are not punished and portraits of faithful husbands who are ignoble. Both marriages are, in fact, atypical of aristocratic society. Only by resisting the temptation to present Sunday-schoolish opposition between moral respectability and self-destructive sinfulness was Tolstoy able to invest Anna Karenina with a transcendent quality approaching wisdom.
What gives the novel its unusual power is the crucial juxtaposition of Levin to Anna. The dramatic similarity between Anna and Levin is that both are tempted to kill themselves. Both reach a moment in which they despair that life has no meaning. Anna succumbs but Levin does not. Neither can claim credit for their fate. At the last second, Anna attempts to stop herself from pitching beneath the wheels, but something forces her forward. Levin carries about the rope or gun that could end his life, but something prevents him. That something comes from the character's relationship to society and to nature.
Anna is a creature of St. Petersburg society, and Levin is a creature of Moscow society. They stand, however, in different relationship to their societies. To Anna, status is everything: her conversation, her dress, her thinking— all of her activities—have the sole purpose of distinguishing her from the other important women of St. Petersburg. To Levin, status is nothing: he cares little for the round of glittering parties and current fashions. He accepts society's characterization of him as a sweet but odd man.
Anna is a creature of the city. She lives in the artificial environments of the parlor, boudoir, and ballroom. She lives by the calendar of public events, and mixes only with those of her own social class. Levin, on the other hand, is a creature of the country. He lives in the natural environments of field and forest. He lives by the calendar of the seasons: sowing, hunting, and harvesting in turn. He works beside the laborers who tend his estate, sharing their physical exertions and pleasures.
Finally, Anna is a woman. Her intelligence and her will have two avenues of expression in St. Petersburg society. She may have status as a wife, binding her husband by giving him children and managing his house, or she may have reputation as a mistress, captivating her lover by passion and sensuousness. When she stops being a wife and no longer charms a paramour, she has no power or position left in society. As a man, Levin is more fortunate. He has a wider scope for exercising his intelligence and will. He can abjure political or military responsibility and content himself with managing his estate. He can live without a wife; he can postpone having a family and still have purpose and identity in life.
Tolstoy clearly respects both of his protagonists. His identity with Levin is easy to understand. The self-reflective nobleman has much in common with the author: His marriage is a portrait of Tolstoy's own marriage, with Sonya Bers; his fear of death is Tolstoy's own memento mori. Tolstoy's respect for Anna is more complex. He originally conceived her as a portrait of sexual corruption: She would be an object lesson about the wages of infidelity (a topic much on Tolstoy's mind). Then he came to conceive her as a character deserving sympathy, a pathetic figure rather than a monster. Actually, he presents her as a tragic figure. Like Oedipus or Antigone, she is trapped by fate. Unable to undo the effects of society and nature, she asserts herself by controlling the one thing she has power over, her life. Like Levin, she proves that she is ultimately free to invest her life with meaning.



War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace is one of those few texts —James Joyce's Ulysses is another—that are too often read as some kind of endurance test or rite of passage, only to be either abandoned half way or displayed as a shelf-bound trophy, never to be touched again. It is indeed very long, but it is a novel that abundantly repays close attention and re-reading. Like the movies of Andrei Tarkovsky, who was greatly influenced by Tolstoy, once you enter into his Russia, you will not want to leave: and in this sense, the length of the text becomes a virtue, since there is simply more of it to read.
Based primarily upon the members of two prominent families, the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs, War and Peace uses their individual stories to portray Russia on the brink of an apocalyptic conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte's France. Events swiftly move the central characters toward this inevitable confrontation. No other writer surpasses Tolstoy in the scale of his epic vision, which encompasses the mood of whole cities, the movement of armies, the sense of foreboding afflicting an entire society. The skirmishes and battles are represented with astonishing immediacy, all crafted from interlinked individual perspectives. The interconnected nature of the personal and the political, and of the intimate and the epic, are masterfully explored. As Tolstoy examines his characters' emotional reactions to the rapidly changing circumstances in which they find themselves, he uses them to represent Russian society's responses to the demands of both war and peace. One final note: if you are going to read War and Peace, then don't opt for an abridged version. Tolstoy may be unjustly famed for his ability to digress, but to compromise the unity of the full version is to undermine the reading experience.


Type of work: Novel
Author: Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Type of plot: Historical romance
Time of plot: 1805-1813
Locale: Russia
First published: Voyna i mir, 1865-1869 (English translation, 1886)


This novel, often acclaimed as the greatest of its genre, is a panorama of Russian life in the Napoleonic era. War and Peace is a moving record of historical progress, and the dual themes of this vast work—Age and Youth, War and Peace—are shown as simultaneous developments of history.


Principal Characters

Pierre Bezuhov (pyeV be-zoo'hsf), the illegitimate son of wealthy Count Cyril Bezuhov. Clumsy, stout, and uncommonly tall, he is at first spurned by the social set but is much admired after his father leaves him a fortune. He is beguiled into a marriage with Helene Kuragina, who in turn is unfaithful to him. For long years Pierre searches for peace of mind, a meaning in life. He seeks for it in philanthropy, in the dissipations of society, in wine, in heroic feats of self-sacrifice during the war with Napoleon. Finally he gains such a internal harmony through witnessing the horror of death on the battlefield and by learning to share the misery of the human race. At the conclusion of the novel he marries Natasha Ros-tova, whom he has long secretly loved.
Princess Natasha Rostova (na-ta'sha ros-tov's), the beautiful daughter of Count Ilya Rostov. Regularly in attendance at all social functions, she is admired by a host of suitors. She becomes engaged to the wealthy and handsome Prince Andrey Bolkonsky; however, the marriage is postponed for a year at Andrey's father's request. During this engagement period, Natasha ruins the proposed marriage by attempting to elope with the rake Ana-tole Kuragin. When Andrey is mortally wounded, she faithfully cares for him and receives his forgiveness. Later she becomes the wife of Pierre Bezuhov.
Princess Helene Kuragina (koo-ra'gi-пэ), "the most fascinating woman in Petersburg," who becomes Pierre Bezuhov's wife. Although she has no love for Pierre, she marries him for the advantage of wealth and social position. Marriage in no way hampers her amours, and she constantly entertains and encourages prosperous admirers. Essentially she is a superficial and shallow individual, seemingly unperturbed by the misery and suffering of the war around her. Her happiness is only a facade, however, for the tragedy of loneliness and isolation; unable to find the meaning of life in true love and affection, she takes her own life by an overdose of medicine.
Count Nikolay Rostov (nl-ko-lay' ros-tof), Natasha's handsome older brother, who distinguishes himself as a cavalry officer in the Russian army. It is long supposed that he will wed Sonya, his cousin, who lives with the Rostov family; however, the financial ruination of his family makes necessary a more profitable match with Princess Marya Bolkonskaya. When the Russian army is in retreat, he saves Marya from the rebellious peasants on her estate.
Princess Marya Bolkonskaya (та'гуэ vol-kon'skl-ys), Prince Andrey Bolkonsky's sister, who endures the eccentricities of a tyrannical father. The old prince, desirous of Marya as a nurse and companion, methodically destroys her chances of marriage by refusing to entertain would-be suitors. Resigned to her fate, she takes refuge in an intense religious conviction, entertaining and sponsoring "God's Folk," peasants who have had various mystical experiences. After the deaths of her father and brother, she desires the life of a recluse; but her admiration and love for Nikolay Rostov, whom she later marries, restores her to a normal life.
Sonya (so'nys), Nikolay Rostov's poor cousin, the affectionate companion of Natasha in the Rostov family. For the sake of allowing Nikolay to make a more advantageous marriage, she releases him from a childhood pledge.
Prince Andrey Bolkonsky (an-dra' vol-kon'skly), a wealthy nobleman, the son of an eccentric father and the brother of Marya. At the battle of Austerlitz he fights valiantly, rallying the Russian troops by charging directly into the front line while waving the Russian flag. Missing in action, he is assumed dead, but he later returns after having been nursed to health by peasants of the countryside. He becomes engaged to Natasha Rostova, but the marriage is canceled as a result of Natasha's indiscretions. Although he swears never to fight again, his sense of duty compels him to enlist when France invades Russian soil. Again wounded, he dies in Natasha's arms, having been reconciled to her through her untiring devotion to him during is illness.
Princess Lise Bolkonskaya (li'ss vol-kon'-skrya), the beautiful and sensitive wife of Prince Andrey. She dies in childbirth.
Nikolushka Bolkonsky (nrko-loo'shks vol-kon'skly), the young son of Prince Andrey and his wife Lise. Count Nikolay Rostov and his wife Marya adopt the child after Prince Andrey's death.
Prince Nikolay Bolkonsky (m-ko-lay'vol-kon'skly), the tyrannical and eccentric father of Andrey and Marya.
Prince Anatole Kuragin (a-na-to'Hy коб'гэ-gin), Helene's brother, a profligate. Although previously forced into marriage, he woos Natasha Rostova and subjects her to scandal and ridicule.
Prince Vasily Kuragin (vase'lly кбб'гэ-gin), the head of the Kuragin family and the father of Anatole and Helene.
Prince Hippolyte Kuragin (hl-po'lyta кбб'гэ-gin), his feeble-minded younger son.
Count Ilya Rostov (el-уз' ros-tof), a wealthy nobleman.
Countess Natalya Rostova (na-tal'ya ros-tov'a), his wife.
Countess Vera Rostova (vye'ra ros-tov'a), their older daughter.
Count Petya Rostov (руёЧуэ ros-tof'), their younger son.
Lieutenant Alphose Berg, an officer and intimate friend of the Rostov family. He marries the Countess Vera.
Prince Boris Drubetskoy (bo-ris' droo-bet'skoy), a fashionable and ambitious friend of the Rostovs, a successful staff officer.
Princess Anna Drubetskaya (ап'пэ droo-bet'skl-уэ), the mother of Prince Boris, an impoverished noblewoman.
Julie Karagina(zho6'llka-ra'grn9), a wealthy young woman who marries Prince Boris Drubetskoy.
Anna Scherer (ап'пэ sha'rer), maid of honor to the Empress Marya Fedorovna. Her salon is a meeting place for the highest St. Petersburg society.
General Michael Kutuzov (rmha-fl' koo-too'zaf), appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian army in August, 1812. Obese and slovenly, he is disliked by his fellow officers, and his military tactics are considered obsolete. Yet it is to him that Czar Alexander I and all Russia turn when Napoleon boldly advances upon Russian soil. Even then, however, he is viciously criticized when, after a prolonged and costly battle at Smolensk, he chooses not to defend Moscow by what he considers a useless and hopeless encounter. His wily scheme of "time and patience" proves sound after Napoleon, his line overextended and the Russian winter fast approaching, is forced to withdraw his forces, which are virtually annihilated by hunger, cold, and guerrilla warfare.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the renowned commander of the French Grand Armee. Worshiped and admired by the French, feared by the Russians, he shatters the myth of his invincibility during his disastrous Russian campaign.
Mademoiselle Bourienne, a companion of Marya in the Bolkonsky family. In his senility, Count Bolkonsky finds her alluring and sympathetic.


The Story

In 1805, it was evident to most well-informed Russians that war with Napoleon was inevitable. Austria and Russia joined forces at the battle of Austerlitz, where they were soundly defeated by the French. In the highest Russian society, however, life went on quite as though nothing of tremendous import were impending. After all, it was really only by a political formality that Russia had joined with Austria. The fact that one day Napoleon might threaten the gates of Russia seemed ridiculous. Thus, soirees and balls were held, old women gossiped, and young women fell in love. War, though inevitable, was being waged on foreign soil and was, therefore, of little importance.
The attraction held by the army for the young noblemen of Russia was understandable enough, for the Russian army had always offered excellent opportunities for ambitious, politically inclined young men. It was a wholesome release for their energies. Young Nikolay Rostov, for example, joined the hussars simply because he felt drawn to that way of life. His family idolized him because of his loyalty to the czar, because of his courage, and because he was so handsome in his uniform. Natasha, his sister, wept over him, and Sonya, his cousin, promptly fell in love with him.
While young Nikolay was applauded in St. Petersburg society, Pierre Bezuhov, a friend of the Rostov family, was looked upon as something of a boor. He had just returned from Paris, where he had studied at the university, and he had not yet made up his mind what to do with his life. He would not join the army, for he saw no sense in a military career. His father gave him a liberal allowance, and he spent it frivolously at gambling. In truth, he seemed like a lost man. He would start long arguments, loudly shouting in the most conspicuous manner in the quiet drawing rooms, and then suddenly lapse into sullen silence. He was barely tolerated at soirees before his father died and left him millions. Then, suddenly, Pierre became popular, although he attributed his rise to some new personality development of his own. He was no longer sullen but loved everyone, and it was quite clear that everyone loved him. His most dogged follower was Prince Vassily Kuragin, the father of a beautiful, unmarried daughter, Helene, who was recognized everywhere as a prospective leader of St. Petersburg society. Pierre was forced into marrying her by the crafty prince, who knew a good catch when he saw one. The marriage, however, was never a success.
Pierre Bezuhov's closest friend was Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, an arrogant, somewhat cynical man who also despised his wife. Lise, the "Little Princess," as she was called, was pregnant, but Prince Andrey could endure the bondage of domesticity no longer. When he received a commission in the army, he left his wife at the family estate, Bleak Hills, in the care of his sister Marya and his tyrannical old father, and he went off to war. During his absence, Princess Lise bore him a son but died in childbirth. Prince Andrey returned after the battle of Austerlitz to find himself free once more, but he enjoyed no feeling of satisfaction in his freedom. Seeking Pierre, Prince Andrey turned to his friend for answers to some of the eternal questions of loneliness and despair that tortured him.
Meanwhile, Pierre had joined the brotherhood of Freemasons and through this contact had arrived at a philosophy of life which he sincerely believed to be the only true philosophy. Had Pierre realized that the order had initiated him solely because of his wealth, he would never have adopted their ideals. In true faith, however, Pierre restored some of Prince Andrey's lost courage by means of a wild if unreasoning enthusiasm. In the belief that he was now an unselfish, free individual, Pierre freed his peasants and set about improving his estate; but having absolutely no sense of business administration, he lost a great deal of money. Finally, with his affairs in almost hopeless disorder, he left an overseer in charge and retired to Bleak Hills and Prince Andrey's sane company.
Meanwhile, Nikolay Rostov was in the thick of the fighting. Napoleon had overcome the Prussian forces at Jena and had reached Berlin in October. The Russians once more had gone to the assistance of their neighbors, and the two opposing armies met in a terrible battle at Eylau in February, 1807. In June, Nikolay had entered the campaign at Friedland, where the Russians were beaten. In June of that year Nikolay naively thought the war was over, for Napoleon and Czar Alexander signed the Peace of Tilsit. What the young officer did not know was that Napoleon possessed a remarkable gift for flattery and had promised, with no intention of keeping his word, that Russia would be given a free hand with Turkey and Finland. For two years Nikolay enjoyed all the privileges of his post in the army, without having to endure any of the risks. Napoleon had gone to Spain.
After having served in minor skirmishes as an adjutant under General Kutuzov, leader of the Russian forces, Prince Andrey returned to the country. He had some business affairs to straighten out with Count Rostov, marshal of his district, and so he went to the Rostov estate at Otradnoe. There Andrey fell almost immediately under the spell of Count Rostov's lovely young daughter, Natasha. He fancied himself in love as he had never loved before. Once again he turned to Pierre for advice. Pierre, however, had experienced an unfortunate quarrel with his wife, Helene. They were now separated, and Pierre had fought a senseless duel with an innocent man because he had suspected his wife of being unfaithful; but at the sight of Prince Andrey, so hopelessly in love, Pierre's great heart was touched. He had always been fond of Natasha, whom he had known since childhood, and the match seemed to him ideal. With love once more flowing through his heart, he took his wife back, feeling very virtuous at his own generosity. Meanwhile he encouraged Prince Andrey in his suit.
Natasha had ignored previous offers of marriage. When dashing and wealthy Prince Andrey came upon the scene, however, she lost her heart to him instantly. He asked her parents for her hand, and they immediately consented to the match, an excellent one from their point of view. When Prince Andrey broke the news to his quarrelsome and dictatorial old father, however, the ancient prince said he would not give his blessing until a year had elapsed. He felt that Natasha had little money and was much too young to take charge of Prince Andrey's home and his son. Marya, Prince Andrey's sister, also disapproved of the match. She was jealous of her brother's fiancee.
Natasha was heartbroken but agreed to wait a year; Prince Andrey kept their betrothal a secret, in order, as he said, to let her have complete freedom. Natasha went to visit a family friend in Moscow. There her freedom was too complete. One night at the opera with Pierre's wife Helene, who was now recognized as an important social leader, she met Helene's disreputable brother, Anatole. Unknown to Natasha, Anatole had already been forced to marry a peasant girl, whom he had ruined. The young rake now determined to conquer Natasha. Aided by his unscrupulous sister, he forced his suit. Natasha became confused. She loved Prince Andrey, but he had joined the army again and she never saw him; and she loved Anatole, who was becoming more insistent every day. At last, she agreed to run away with Anatole and marry him. Anatole arranged with an unfrocked priest to have a mock ceremony performed.
On the night set for the elopement, Natasha's hostess discovered the plan. Natasha was confined to her room. Unfortunately, she had already written to Prince Andrey's sister asking to be relieved of her betrothal vows.
When Pierre heard the scandal, he forced Anatole to leave town. Then he went to see Natasha. Strangely, he was the only person whom she trusted and to whom she could speak freely. She looked upon him as if he were an older uncle, and she was charmed with his gruff, friendly disposition. Pierre realized that he felt an attraction toward Natasha he should not have had, since he was not free. Nevertheless, he managed to let her know his affection for her, and she was pleased over his attentions. She soon began to get well, although she was never again to be the frivolous girl whom Prince Andrey had loved.
Prince Andrey had suffered a terrible blow to his pride, but in the army there were many engrossing matters to take his attention away from himself. By 1810, the Franco-Russian alliance had gradually dissolved. When France threatened to free Russia of responsibility for Poland, the czar finally understood that Napoleon's promises meant little. The dapper little French emperor had forsaken Russia in favor of Austria as the center of his European domination, had married Marie Louise, and in 1812, with his eyes unmistakably fixed on Moscow, had crossed the Nieman River. From June to August Napoleon enjoyed an almost uninterrupted march to Smolensk.
In Smolensk he found burned and wrecked houses. The city was deserted. By that time Napoleon began to run into fierce opposition. Old General Kutuzov, former leader of the army of the East and now in complete charge of the Russian forces, was determined to halt the French advance. Oddly enough, the tactics he had chosen actually kept the Russians from a decisive victory. If he had not attempted to halt the French but instead had drawn them deeper and deeper into Russia, lengthening their lines of communication and cutting them off in the rear, the Russians might have won their war earlier. It was odd, too, that Napoleon, in attempting to complete his march, also lessened his chances for victory. Both sides, it seemed, did the very things which would automatically ensure defeat.
Battle after battle was fought, with heavy losses on both sides before Napoleon finally led his forces to Borodino. There the most senseless battle in the whole campaign was fought. The Russians, determined to hold Moscow, which was only a short distance away, lost nearly their whole army. The French forces dwindled in proportion, but it was clear that the Russians got the worst of the battle. General Kutuzov, bitter and war-weary, decided, against his will, that the army could not hold Moscow. Triumphant Napoleon marched once more into a deserted city.
Prince Andrey was gravely wounded at Borodino. The Rostovs were already abandoning their estate to move into the interior, when many wagons loaded with wounded soldiers were brought to the house for shelter. Among these was Prince Andrey himself. Natasha nursed him and sent for Marya, his sister, and his son, Nikolushka. Old Prince Bolkonsky, suffering from the shock of having French soldiers almost upon his doorstep, had died of a stroke. Nikolay managed to move Marya and the boy to safer quarters. Although Prince Andrey welcomed his sister, it was evident that he no longer expected to recover. Natasha nursed him tenderly, and they once more declared their love for each other. When his wound festered, Prince Andrey knew at last that he was dying. He died one night in his sleep. United in tragedy, Marya and Natasha became close friends, and young Nikolay found Prince Andrey's sister attractive.
Meanwhile, Pierre Bezuhov had decided to remain in Moscow. Fired with thoughts of becoming a national hero, he hit upon the plan of assassinating Napoleon. Pierre, however, was captured as a prisoner of war when he attempted to rescue a Russian woman who was being molested by French soldiers.
Napoleon's army completely disintegrated in Moscow. After waiting in vain for peace terms from the czar, Napoleon decided to abandon Moscow and head for France. A ragged, irresponsible, pillaging group of men, who had once been the most powerful army in the world, gathered up their booty, threw away their supplies, and took the road back to Smolensk. Winter came on. Pierre Bezuhov, luckily, was robust and healthy. Traveling with the other prisoners, he learned from experience that happiness could consist of merely being warm and having enough to eat. His privations aged and matured him. He learned responsibility and gained courage. He developed a sense of humor at the irony of his plight. His simplicity and even temperament made him a favorite with French and Russians alike.
On the road to Smolensk, the French forces became completely demoralized. Cossacks charged out of the forests, cutting the lines, taking countless French prisoners, and rescuing the Russian captives. Many Frenchmen deserted. Others fell ill and died on the road. Pierre, free at last, returned to Orel, where he fell ill with fever. Later he learned of the deaths of Prince Andrey and his own wife. Helene had died in St. Petersburg after a short illness. These shocks, coupled with the news of the defeat of the French, seemed to deprive him of all feeling. When he finally recovered, however, he was overwhelmed with a joyous sense of freedom of soul, a sense that he had at last found himself, that he knew himself for what he really was. He knew the sheer joy of being alive, and he was humble and grateful. He had discovered a faith in God that he had never known before.
Pierre returned to Moscow and renewed his friendships with Marya Bolkonskaya and the Rostovs. Once more Natasha charmed him, and Pierre suddenly realized that she was no longer a child. He loved her now, as always, and so when the opportunity presented itself, he dutifully asked her parents for Natasha's hand. At the same time, Nikolay Rostov entertained the thought of marrying Marya. Natasha and Pierre were married and were very happy. Natasha was an efficient wife who dominated her husband, much to the amusement of their friends, but Pierre loved her and respected her because she knew how to take charge of everything. She managed his estates as well as her household.
Nikolay, though not entirely sure that he loved Marya, knew that to marry her would be a wise thing. The Rostovs were now poor, since the old count had left his affairs in a deplorable state. At the insistence of his mother, Nikolay finally proposed to Marya, and the two families were joined. The union proved happier than Nikolay had expected. They adopted Prince Andrey's son, Nikolushka.
After eight years of marriage, Pierre and Natasha had four fine children, of whom they were very proud. Although society thought that Natasha carried her devotion to her husband and children to an extreme, Natasha and Pierre were happier than they had ever been before, and they found their lives together a fulfillment of all of their dreams.


Critical Evaluation

Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace is a panorama of Russian life in that active period of history known as the Napoleonic era. The whole structure of the novel indicates that Tolstoy was writing a new kind of book. He was not concerned with plot, setting, or even people, as such. His purpose was simply to show that the continuity of life in history is eternal. Each human life holds its influence on history, and the developments of youth and age, war and peace, are so interrelated that in the simplest patterns of social behavior vast implications are recognizable. Tolstoy seemed to feel a moral responsibility to present history as it was influenced by every conceivable human force. To do this, it was necessary for him to create not a series of simple, well-linked incidents but a whole evolution of events and personalities. Each character must change, must affect those around him; these people in turn must influence others, until imperceptibly, the whole historical framework of the nation changes. War and Peace, then, is a moving record of historical progress, and the dual themes of this vast novel—age and youth, war and peace—are shown as simultaneous developments of history.
War and Peace and Anna Karenina (1875-1877), two of the greatest works of fiction in Russian literature—or any literature—were both written when Tolstoy was at the height of his powers as a writer. He was busy managing his country estate as well as writing; his life had a healthy, even exuberant, balance between physical and intellectual activities. War and Peace, in particular, reflects the passionate and wide-ranging tastes and energies of this period of his life—before domestic strife and profound spiritual conversion brought about a turning away from the world as well as from art. The novel is huge in size and scope; it presents a long list of characters and covers a splendid variety of scenes and settings. It is, however, a carefully organized and controlled work— not at all the vast, shapeless "monster" many readers and some writers have supposed.
The basic controlling device involves movement between clusters of characters surrounding the major characters: Natasha, Kutuzov, Andrey, Pierre. The second ordering device is thematic and involves Tolstoy's lifelong investigation of the question: What is natural? This theme is offered in the first chapter at Anna Scher-er's party, where readers encounter the artificiality of St. Petersburg society and meet the two chief seekers of the natural, Andrey and Pierre. Both Andrey and Pierre love Natasha, who is an instinctive embodiment of the natural in particularly Russian terms. Kutuzov is also an embodiment of Russian naturalness; only he can lead the Russian solders in a successful war against the French. The Russian character of Tolstoy's investigation of the natural or the essential is the main reason one speaks of War and Peace as a national epic. Yet, Tolstoy's characters also represent all men.
Natasha's group of characters centers in the Rostov family (the novel is, among many things, a searching study of family life). Count Ilya Rostov, a landowning nobleman, is a sympathetic portrait of a carefree, warmhearted rich man. His wife is somewhat anxious and less generous in spirit, but they are happily married and the family as a whole is harmonious. Natasha's brothers and sisters are rendered with great vividness: the passionate, energetic Nikolay; the cold, formal Vera; the youthful Petya; the sweet, compliant Sonya, cousin to Natasha and used by Tolstoy as a foil to her. Natasha herself is bursting with life. She is willful, passionate, proud, humorous, capable of great growth and change. Like all the major characters, she seeks the natural. She is the natural; her instincts are right and true. All of book 7, particularly chapter 7 when she sings and dances, dramatizes the essential Russianness of her nature. Her nearly consummated love affair with Anatole Kuragin, her loss of Andrey, and her final happy marriage to Pierre show how intensely life-giving she is. One of the great experiences of reading War and Peace is to witness her slow transition from slim, exuberant youth to thick-waisted motherhood. For Tolstoy, Natasha can do nothing which is not natural and right.
Kutuzov stands above the generals who cluster about him. Forgotten at the start of the war, he is called into action when all else seems to have failed. Unlike the other generals, many of them German, Kutuzov knows that battles are not won in the staff room by virtue of elaborate planning but by the spirit of the soldiers who actually do the fighting. Kutuzov alone knows that one must wait for that moment when the soldiers' spirit is totally committed to the battle. He knows that the forces of war are greater than any one man can control and that one must wait upon events and know when not to act as well as when to act. His naturalness is opposed to Napoleon's artificiality. A brilliant strategist and planner, Napoleon believes that he controls events. His pride and vanity are self-binding; he cannot see that if he invades Russia, he is doomed. Kutuzov's victory over Napoleon is a victory of the natural and the humble, for he is, after all, a man of the people. Furthermore, the figure of Kutuzov is very closely related to Tolstoy's philosophy of historical change and necessity.
The characters of Andrey and Pierre probably represent two sides of Tolstoy: the rational-spiritual versus the passionate-mystical, although these labels are far too simple. Andrey's group of characters centers in the Bol-konsky family; the merciless, autocratic, but brilliant General Bolkonsky, Andrey's father, and his sister Princess Marya, who is obedient, pious, and loving and who blossoms when she marries Nikolay Rostov. When readers first see Andrey, he is bored and even appears cynical; yet, like Pierre, he is searching for an answer to life, and he undergoes a series of awakenings which bring him closer to the natural. The first awakening occurs when he is wounded at Austerlitz and glimpses infinity beyond the blue sky; the second occurs at his wife's death; the third occurs when he falls in love with Natasha; and the last when he dies. In all of these instances, Andrey moves closer to what he conceives of as the essential. This state of mind involves a repudiation of the world and its petty concerns and passions. In all but one of these instances, death is involved. Indeed, Andrey's perception of the natural is closely related to his acceptance of death. He comes to see death as the doorway to infinity and glory and not as a fearful black hole. Death becomes part of the natural rhythm, a cycle which promises spiritual rebirth. Pierre's group is composed of St. Petersburg socialites and decadents: the Kuragin family, composed of the smooth, devious Prince Vasily; his son, the rake Anatole, and daughter, the beautiful, corrupt Helene, Pierre's first wife; the rake Dolokhov; and finally, in Pierre's third or fourth transformation, the peasant Platon Karataev. Unlike Andrey, Pierre's approach to life seems almost strategically disordered and open—he embraces all forms of life passionately and hungrily. Compared to Andrey's rigorous and discriminating mind, Pierre seems hopelessly naive and chaotic.
Pierre, however, even more than Natasha, is capable of vital and creative change. As Andrey seems fitted to perceive intimations of essences beyond the world, Pierre seems fitted to find his essences in the world. He shucks off his mistaken connection with Helene and her family and experiences the first of his own awakenings in the conversion to Freemasonry (one of several interesting "false" conversions in the novel, one other being Natasha's after she is rejected by Andrey). He, too, learns from death, both in his duel with Dolokhov and in his observations of the battle of Borodino. His two most important awakenings, however, occur in his love for Natasha and in his experience as a prisoner of the French. In the latter instance, he encounters the peasant Karataev, who teaches him to accept all things—even death—in good grace and composure of spirit. When Natasha encounters Pierre after this experience, she rightly recognizes that he has been transformed. All that is superficial and nonessential is gone from him. Their marriage is a union of two vital human beings tempered by suffering. At the end, there is more than a hint that Pierre is involved in efforts on the part of the aristocracy to modify the ossified system of government under the czars.
War and Peace, perhaps beyond any other work, shows the advantages of the long novel. After reading the book, the reader feels a sense of space and a sense of change through the passage of time which are impossible to transmit so vividly in shorter fiction. This great novel reveals the beauty and injustice, the size and complexity, of life itself.



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