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Friday, 20 June 2014

The male characters in "War and Peace"

Volume I part III chapter 9. 
War and Peace, in spite of its 'reputation', is in fact very accessible and easy to read. At 1st, one is overwhelmed by the number of characters (with their confusing Russian names), later they become more vivid and distinguishable. 
So far I like Andrey Bolkonsky. Intelligent, thoughtful, strong, straightforward, calm. Ambitious, but not a social climber like Boris Drubetskoy, nor a blind nationalist like Nikolay Rostov. He has that tranquility that earns respect, and at the same time, authority. At home, i.e in the peace parts, Andrey seems tired, disillusioned, fed up with his silly wife Liza and his tedious life; he yearns for more. In the army, he becomes a different person, or it's more like, in doing duty and being useful, he can feel at home and do what he wants to do. 
However, he probably doesn't have a sharp eye for people. One doesn't know why Andrey gets married to a beautiful but silly, superficial and frivolous woman like Liza, but one can see this in the way he sees Nikolay and Boris. The moment these 2 characters appear together for the 1st time, one notes the difference- Nikolay is quiet, a bit awkward, in this scene slightly like Pierre, whereas Boris feels at ease and begins talking right away. Later, Boris wins Andrey over whereas Nikolay creates a negative impression, as it often happens in real life with these 2 types of people. Nikolay, as Tolstoy describes, 1st appears as a nationalist unaware of all aspects of war, who shouts that Russians must win or die in the attempt, then in battle falls of his horse, sprains his arm and runs away in fear like a baby and meekly asks for help, then over a bottle easily slips into falsehood and boasts about his own heroism, yet overall he's a nice, good-natured person. Boris, on the other hand, is ambitious, calculating, insincere, and a social climber just like his mother Anna Mikhaylovna Drubetskaya. He's the kind of person whose tongue never slips. Dishonest, unreliable. 
If there's a scale for insight, then I suppose that Andrey's in the middle. On 1 side would be Pierre, the socially awkward, passive, easily swayed, easy-to-take-advantage-of guy who notices nothing, and on the other side would be Andrey's father, the old prince, who sees through everyone and everything. 
I like that old prince. 
Prince Vasily Kuragin is in some ways like a male version of Anna Mikhaylovna, choosing shortcuts, taking advantage of contacts and persuading people to do what he wants. The difference is that Anna Mikhaylovna focuses on career, whereas Vasily focuses on marriage. 
His son Hippolyte hasn't created much of an impression on me (except that once he tells a bad joke to distract people from a heated discussion at Anna Pavlovna Scherer's place), but his other son, Anatole, is a fascinating character. A dashing, handsome young man, who has power over women even in silence, and very aware of it. Similar to Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, but apparently without the artistic side. The scene of Anatole at the Bolkonskys is brilliant. The next scene, in which Tolstoy describes that Anatole drops off the moment he gets into bed whereas 3 women- the pious Marya Bolkonskaya, the French girl Mademoiselle Bourienne and the married, pregnant Liza, as well as the old prince Bolkonsky, struggle to sleep, is reminiscent of a scene near the end of Madame Bovary, after Emma dies, in which both her current love Léon and former lover Rodolphe easily fall asleep, without sadness or bad conscience. Anatole seems to be the same kind of person as them.
There are 2 other guys who are also interesting. 1 is Zherkov, always joking, incapable of seeing when it's appropriate, when not. The other is Dolokhov, bold and fearless to the point of irrationality and madness, even rather psychopathic.
I suddenly think of a list I saw a while ago: http://thisrecording.com/today/2009/8/3/in-which-these-are-the-100-greatest-writers-of-all-time.html Such lists are, as everyone can see, problematic, but one that ranks Tolstoy as 56 and fails to include Jane Austen, I can't take seriously. I wonder if the people behind this list have read both War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

1 comment:

  1. I can't help thinking you're being a bit hard on Lise. She is no intellectual, it is true, but she is a good and decent person. And the way she is treated by the Bolkonskys is shameful.

    Andrey and Nikolay both go to war hoping to win glory, butAndrey is clearly more mature, and more intelligent. Andrey is not a social climber, as Boris is, and this is because Andrey is already at the top of society: he is a Bolkonsky, and he doesn't forget it. Even though the weight of family expectations crushes him, he is still proud of being a Bolkonsky.

    (Ps the list is silly, as all such lists are.)

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