Ivan Kramskoy. Portrait of Leo Tolstoy. 1873
Tolstoy also spelled Tolstoi, Russian in full Lev Nikolayevich, Count
born Aug. 28 [Sept. 9, New Style], 1828, Yasnaya Polyana, Tula province,
died Nov. 7 [Nov. 20], 1910, Astapovo, Ryazan province
Russian author, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Gary Saul Morson
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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
Princess Myagkaya (myag-ка'уэ), who likes to gossip and has a sharp,
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
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.
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.
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
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'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
WAR AND PEACE
Type of work: Novel
Author: Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Type of plot: Historical romance
Time of plot: 1805-1813
First published: Voyna i mir, 1865-1869 (English translation,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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