Monday, May 17, 2010

Your Hero

Film still from the 1967 Communist Russia adaptation

Now that many of the characters have been introduced, I am wondering where our readers' sympathies lie. A 19th century book, and therefore more plot- than character-driven, it is nevertheless vital that readers in it for the long haul find someone in whom they discover a particular respect, if not outright affection. As The Secretary wrote in the last post, we've been introduced to a multitude of characters and it can be difficult to differentiate the Annas and Nikolays if one's attention wanders or misses a few days' read. As was posted yesterday, we witness them in soirees and feasts and their public face seems to fall in accordance with regiphilia and patriotism. Princes and princesses, they represent the very economic apex of Russian society. What I'm interested is how a 21st century (mostly American) reading audience reacts to their antiquated fetishization of monarchy and relative obliviousness to the big, bad world outside their gilded doors.

I have to say so far my sympathies thus far are with Pierre, though reluctant they are. And though he has operated very much as a counterpoint to the philosophies to his peers and elders, I am willing to imagine his character will be transformed by his coming inheritance. Besides that, it's hard to judge that his viewpoints are anything more than a childish wish to play the Devil's Advocate. Tying up a policeman to a live bear can seem anti-authority if you're generous but it betrays a mischievous immaturity below the worldly facade and declaration of support for Napoleon's egalitarian proclamations.

Anyone else want to share their sympathies thus far...?


  1. I also find myself interested in Pierre, though his behavior in our current section (as he visits his father on his deathbed) is a bit troubling and off-putting.

    I am sympathetic to Prince Andrei, even though he seems like kind of a jerk. He seems like a lost soul, in the middle of life, unhappy with his circumstances, looking for purpose. Tolstoy seems to endow him with a certain type of dignity, even as he makes clear to us that Andrei is usually an insufferable prick. But in reading about the parties and social circles Andrei must travel in, the reader may share some of Andrei's boredom and disgust at the vacuity and emptiness of the aristocratic set. His relationship with his father, which we read about in this week's section, is very interesting and gives us good insight into Andrei's worldview.

  2. You're right about Pierre. His behavior at his father's deathbed is somewhat oblivious. He seems put out by the efforts required of him and seems in his self-absorption rather incapable of intimate love. And perhaps your translation's epithet of 'fat' is a namecalling revealing the author's prejudice (and disgust) with a character she finds appalling.

    At prima facie, Prince Andrei seemed a bit of a misogynist, though we should grant his attitude towards his wife and frivolity of women with a little context (it is the 19th century and more importantly, it is Russia). Whereas many of the characters are just talkers, Prince Andrei at least is following his convictions to fight the war and in spite of his harsh words regarding his wife's insecurities and his absence, his final conversation with his father reveals his concern for his family's welfare. It will be interesting to read how war changes him.

  3. I'll post later on Tolstoy's comments about his characters, but this is from the Troyat biography: "[T]he two heroes, Andrey Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezukhov, are the two parts of Leo Tolstoy. Into one he put his appetite for life, his pragmatism, his brutality, and into the other his aspirations toward ideal peace and charity, his naivete, his awkwardness, his hesitation." (TOLSTOY, at p. 321.)