Sunday, April 19, 2015

Leo Tolstoy and His Great Epic War and Peace

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man's power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second.  - Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace)

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

According to E.M Forster, Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” (Voyna I Mir) is the greatest novel ever written. The French novelist Romain Rolland called it the most fascinating novel of all time.   William James stated  “War and Peace is a  perfection in the representation of human life”  In 1910 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin wrote: ‘succeeded in raising so many great problems and succeeded in rising to such heights of artistic power that his works rank among the greatest in world literature. For over a century, Leo Tolstoy has been one of the most famous and most widely read authors in the whole world (Yegorov, 1994). As indicated by Harding (2010) Leo Tolstoy is widely considered in the West to be the greatest writer of all time (Harding, 2010). 

War and Peace is a philosophical, historical and an epic novel that runs through time and space. In this novel Tolstoy narrates his social, political, philosophical, historical, aesthetic, ethical, religious and moral views. He analyzed the complex processes of historical reality, social dynamics and human behaviour. The ideals and meaning of human existence had been his central theme.  Over four hundred fictional and historical characters are illustrated in this unique novel and art of storytelling and meticulous realism are impressive in this masterpiece.

War and Peace is the personification of pre revolutionary Imperial Russia that never experienced an inborn Renaissance .War and Peace narrates Napoleon's invasion of Russia and the post war period that created weighty changes. Tolstoy shows the depth, ambiguity, and majesty of the human character in times of war and in times of peace. Tolstoy   remains an exceptional writer of genius who profoundly analyzed a variety of characters. His psychological insights, like his style, create in the reader a sense of intimacy with the characters (Simmons, 1968).

In War and Peace Tolstoy argued his own idiosyncratic theory of life. His Philosophy was complex. He found numerous conflictive struggles in his own life.  He was struggling between with his Christian ideals and his conflicts with lust and the hypocrisies. He was tormented between ideals. His struggles with his passions and his spiritual conflicts made him to write the greatest book in the history of literature. War and Peace is a question paper submitted to the reader. In War and Peace and in his other novels Tolstoy posed a question: how to lead a perfect life in an imperfect world?  In a way “War and Peace” represents Tolstoy’s conscious and unconscious mental conflicts.

Leo Tolstoy believed that the man has the ability to change positively and man is capable of search for meaning fulfilling his spiritual quest. He revealed the dialectics of the human soul. Tolstoy opens up psychologically credible -multi-faceted human character in times of war and peace.

He was deeply influenced by the French Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He strongly grasped Rousseau‘s expression: Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. Tolstoy believed that man is born pure but society corrupts him. He emphasized that civilization corrupts the natural man. He was against the organized religions. He saw corruption, deception and spiritual degradation in the religious institutions. He exceedingly criticized the Russian Orthodox Church. He was a spiritual anarchist as well as a spiritual revolutionary. The Church was offended by Leo Tolstoy’s critical writing, speeches and views and later he was condemned and excommunicated by the Church. However Tolstoy became the moral and spiritual exemplar of the Nation. Admiring Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: Tolstoy is one of the clearest thinkers in the western world.

Tolstoy debated about good and evil. He saw malevolence in war. Tolstoy identified that wars were one of the central problems in the history of mankind. According to Tolstoy peace is not only the absence of war but also the absence of hostility between people, communities and nations. In this novel Tolstoy highlights war between nations, war between institutions, war between classes, war between families, war between individuals  and internal war within one’s self. According Tolstoy Peace ought to be achieved by harmonizing external as well as internal factors. It is an individual as well as a collective effort.

Tolstoy discussed “Free Will” in his great novel.  Arguing about free will Tolstoy writes: “You say-I am not free. But I have raised and lowered my arm. Everyone understands that this illogical answer is an irrefutable proof of freedom”. Tolstoy believed that our unconscious dependence on hidden forces. He wrote: If we concede that human life can be governed by reason, the possibility of life is destroyed. Tolstoy's predispositions form metaphysical bedrock that constrains the philosophical approaches available for addressing the problem of freewill. His views of reason, laws, and reality spur each other on in such a way that one supposition necessitates the others (Thugushev, 2006). 

Tolstoy may have influenced by David Hume’s approach: free will via the notion of causality. But Tolstoy’s explanation of free will is unique and comprehensive.

Man's free will differs from every other force in that man is directly conscious of it, but in the eyes of reason it in no way differs from any other force. The forces of gravitation, electricity, or chemical affinity are only distinguished from one another in that they are differently defined by reason. Just so the force of man's free will is distinguished by reason from the other forces of nature only by the definition reason gives it. Freedom, apart from necessity, that is, apart from the laws of reason that define it, differs in no way from gravitation or heat, or the force that makes things grow; for reason, it is only a momentary undefinable sensation of life. (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

Tolstoy considered social evolution as a part of human existence. He was well aware of the socio economic conditions of his own society and realized that radical social changes would occur in Russia. Tolstoy expressed his sympathetic views and sentiments for the peasantry in the Pre Revolutionary Russia. He realized the magnitude of mass exploitations and inequalities that prevailed in the society. Although Lenin portrayed Leo Tolstoy as a mirror of the Russian revolution, Tolstoy was against any kind of terror against classes. He was against the violence imposed by society, social institutions as well as by individuals.

Tolstoy was a great reformer and an educator. He believed in the education of the masses. He had vast ideals of humanistic education.  He thought that via education social injustices and social ignorance could be eliminated. According to Yegorov (1994) Leo Tolstoy strove from an early age to play a practical part in the education of the people. The idea behind his first book “The four periods of development” is deeply symbolic. His intention was to describe in it the process by which the human character is formed, from very earliest childhood, when the life of the spirit first begins to stir, to youth, when it has adopted its final shape.  

He encouraged Gnoseology - the philosophic theory of knowledge:  inquiry into the basis, nature, validity, and limits of knowledge. In Tolstoy’s view, freedom in education was a gnoseological and moral principle that had to be put into practice; it was the antithesis of authoritarian teaching, and essential for a humane attitude to the pupil and respect for his or her dignity as a human being (Yegorov, 1994). Tolstoy ridiculed the insensitive and harsh educational methods that were used by the teachers of his day. In his novel he shows the unsuccessful educational methods adopted by the eccentric Prince Nicholas Bolkonski.

In War and Peace Leo Tolstoy did depth analysis of human soul. He frequently used internal monologues   to psychologically analyze his main characters. Tolstoy elegantly writes about the Emperors, Kings, Queens, and Aristocrats describing their lavish flamboyant life styles. He narrates their inner thoughts and interactions with each other. Also he writes about the downtrodden subjects of the Russian Imperial Society. He describes their non sophisticated but miserable lives. He reflects their thoughts and feelings.

The character analysis is exceptional in this great novel. There are several central characters that keep the narrative live and distinctive. Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrey Bolkonski. two fictional characters appear throughout the novel are remarkable for their static nature. They often regarded as being reflections of Tolstoy himself.

In addition there are a number of minor characters described in this great novel. They too influence the story line stylishly. Like the Emperors and Kings they too are heroes of special kind who demonstrated bravery and courage during the Napoleonic invasion.  

In War and Peace Leo Tolstoy illustrates a peasant soldier named Tikhon who is known for his courage and bravery. Another character is Lavrushka who is a cunning servant of the Captain Denisov. Lavrushka is famous for trickery and he operates behind the enemy lines. The reader meets another character called Alpatych who is a loyal servant of the Prince Nicholas Bolkonski. Although Alpatych is humble and extremely respectful in front of the old Prince Bolkonski he behaves like a pretentious master in front of the other servants. Pelageyushka is another insignificant character described in the novel. She is a pious old poor woman who travels across Russia.  Pelageyushka frequently visits the Princess Maria Bolkonskaya who gives her money and food. In addition Tolstoy splendidly writes about the inner thoughts of a small child - little Malasha who is peasant girl. She suddenly becomes acquainted with the General Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov- the Commanding Officer of the Russian Imperial Army and two of them become curious friends in the middle of the War. Little Malasha calls the Great Russian General Kutuzov – Dedushka (Grandpa). She curiously observes the challenging attitudes and arguments between the General Kutuzov and the General Bennigsen

Malasha looked down from the oven with shy delight at the faces, uniforms, and decorations of the generals, who one after another came into the room and sat down on the broad benches in the corner under the icons. "Granddad" himself, as Malasha in her own mind called Kutuzov, sat apart in a dark corner behind the oven. He sat, sunk deep in a folding armchair, and continually cleared his throat and pulled at the collar of his coat which, though it was unbuttoned, still seemed to pinch his neck. Those who entered went up one by one to the field marshal; he pressed the hands of some and nodded to others. His adjutant Kaysarov was about to draw back the curtain of the window facing Kutuzov, but the latter moved his hand angrily and Kaysarov understood that his Serene Highness did not wish his face to be seen. (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

The General Kutuzov and General Bennigsen were debating about the faith of the Moscow city. When the French forces are advancing General Kaysarov decides to burn the city and retreat. He knows that going for a direct military confrontation with Napoleon would be disastrous and it would perish the Russian Army. He has a different tactic- Let them chase us until they become exhausted. Give enemy nothing but the ashes. Let them wonder in the scorched earth. When no food is available the enemy would kill and eat their horses. When the enemy is enfeeble  it gives an opportunity to attack them. General Kutuzov’s intention is to feed the French Army hoarse meat. He did it to the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War in 1806.  But the General Bennigsen has a different plan. He wants to defend Moscow at all costs.

Bennigsen opened the council with the question: "Are we to abandon Russia's ancient and sacred capital without a struggle, or are we to defend it?"

A prolonged and general silence followed. There was a frown on every face and only Kutuzov's angry grunts and occasional cough broke the silence. All eyes were gazing at him. Malasha too looked at "Granddad." She was nearest to him and saw how his face puckered; he seemed about to cry, but this did not last long.

 "Russia's ancient and sacred capital!" he suddenly said, repeating Bennigsen's words in an angry voice and thereby drawing attention to the false note in them. "Allow me to tell you, your excellency, that that question has no meaning for a Russian." (He lurched his heavy body forward.) "Such a question cannot be put; it is senseless! The question I have asked these gentlemen to meet to discuss is a military one. The question is that of saving Russia. Is it better to give up Moscow without a battle, or by accepting battle to risk losing the army as well as Moscow? That is the question on which I want your opinion," and he sank back in his chair.
(War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

Tolstoy’s dynamic mind and duality of his personality were well represented in this enormous novel. Although he had a compassionate mind to understand the oppressions in his society once he stated :  I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means - except by getting off his back. He was conscious about the exploitations existed in his surrounding. 

The Count Tolstoy renounced the luxury of his aristocratic class and embraced the peasants’ life style. He saw peasant’s life style as an ideal way of life. Also he admired the working class.   He writes: “the simple working people all around me were the Russian people, and I turned to them and to the meaning they gave life” 

Leo Tolstoy’s life was full of contradictions. He wanted to renounce wealth but until his old age he could not make a precise decision. He preached that the money was evil yet he enjoyed luxuries, he said people should detach from their wealth and look after the poor. However in real life he had to arrest three poor peasants who illegally cut timber in his state and later to prosecute them. He was trapped in an unhappy marriage for a long time. At a time he was an egoless humane husband and the next moment he was furious man who was jealous and suspicious of his wife.  Leo Tolstoy’s shifting emotions were well documented in his novels and many are reflected through major characters.  

The Ideological crisis of the writer could be seen in certain parts of this vast novel. Although Tolstoy was against violence, in his novel he highlights justified cruelty which could have resulted by his patriotic enthusiasm. According to the novel when the Muzhiks (Russian peasants) see the retreating French soldiers who are now starving and exhausted and also weakened by the winter they attack them dreadfully. The Muzhiks massacre the Napoleon’s retreating remaining forces. Tolstoy glorifies the actions of the Muzhiks who attack the half dead enemy soldiers who are now in a vulnerable position in the steppes of Russia.

Family dynamics and parental influence were well described in this novel. Tolstoy lost both of his parents at the small age. But their warmth and spiritual touch lived with him. He immortalized their memory by creating two fictional characters in War and Peace. Nikolai Rostov (young brave Army officer who is a passionate lover fond of gambling and leads a reckless life but  later turns in to a responsible man) and Maria Bolkonskaya (Prince Andrey Bolkonski ’s sister who is a loving and a religious woman) were based on Tolstoy's own memories of his father and mother.

When Leo Tolstoy was a little child his mother Maria Nikolaevna Volkonskaya died. He was significantly impacted by the maternal deprivation syndrome following her death. For a number of years Tolstoy erroneously believed that his mother died as a result of childbirth. He portrays maternal death and maternal deprivation in War and Peace describing the death of Liza Meinen (Prince Andrey Bolkonski ’s wife) and further narrating the disheartening situation of her baby son Nicolas who subsequently becomes an orphan.

In the novel Liza dies while giving birth to her son. She was in pain and agony without her husband. When she needed her husband Prince Andrei he went to the War leaving her with his nagging father and helpless sister. Liza was seriously disappointed. Tolstoy vividly describes Liza’s death in War and Peace.

Prince Andrew turned to him, but the doctor gave him a bewildered look and passed by without a word. A woman rushed out and seeing Prince Andrew stopped, hesitating on the threshold. He went into his wife's room. She was lying dead, in the same position he had seen her in five minutes before and, despite the fixed eyes and the pallor of the cheeks, the same expression was on her charming childlike face with its upper lip covered with tiny black hair.
Three days later the little princess was buried, and Prince Andrew went up the steps to where the coffin stood, to give her the farewell kiss. And there in the coffin was the same face, though with closed eyes. “Ah, what have you done to me?” it still seemed to say, and Prince Andrew felt that something gave way in his soul and that he was guilty of a sin he could neither remedy nor forget. He could not weep. The old man too came up and kissed the waxen little hands that lay quietly crossed one on the other on her breast, and to him, too, her face seemed to say: “Ah, what have you done to me, and why?” And at the sight the old man turned angrily away (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

As indicated by Rancourt-Laferer (1998) in his unfinished "Memoirs" (1903 - 1906 years), Tolstoy admitted that he could not remember his mother, but he kept her memory intact as a spiritual image. In his perception, she was the embodiment of the ideal of the sublime that lived inside his soul. In later years Tolstoy converted his late mother as a goddesses like image and prayed. In old age Tolstoy confessed that he still idolized and prayed for his mother. The Psychoanalyst Nikolai Osipov wrote about Tolstoy’s fixation upon maternal image. In a sense, Tolstoy did not quite come to terms with the fact that his mother had died. This could have been a defense mechanism of the childhood years and it had been preserved for long years. 

During his childhood Leo Tolstoy struggled with Oedipal confrontation with his father. One noticing factor in  War and Peace is there are no ideal father figures. The three prominent fathers described in the novel are Count Vasili Kuragin (Helen’s Father who is a cunning and egocentric man) Count Kirill Bezukhov  (Pierre Bezukhov ‘s father who is a well-known  fornicator)  and Prince Nicholas Bolkonski  (Prince Andrey Bolkonski’s father who is an irritable and  nagging old man)  

Maria Bolkonskaya becomes Tolstoy’s ideal and fictional mother.  He enriched her character with gentle and humane maternal qualities. However his Oedipal confrontation is well pronounced describing Maria Bolkonskaya.
Unmarried young Princess Mariya Bolkonskaya lives with her old wretched father Prince Nicholas Bolkonski. Her father often ill treats and ridicules her. He gives special attention to Bourienne,  – Princess’s chambermaid in order to irritate Maria.  Bourienne is a French girl working in a Russian aristocratic family.   However Maria tolerates all the negativity that has been focused on her by the father and waits until her brother Prince Andry Bolkonski returns from the War. When Andry Bolkonski becomes a POW and family receives no information Maria relentlessly prays for his life. Tolstoy portrays Mariya Bolkonskaya as a silent sufferer. She reminds us Freud’ s famous case study Fräulein Anna O (Bertha Pappenheim) who repressed her biological urges and cared for her aging irritable father. 

Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrey Bolkonski look for father figures. The absence of ideal father figures leads both men (Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrey Bolkonski) to seek substitute fathers. Prince Andrey Bolkonski sees much of paternal qualities in the General Kutuzov and Pierre Bezukhov finds his symbolic father in Osip Alexeevich Bazdeev- a noted Freemason.

Pierre and Prince Andrei bear much resemblance to Tolstoy himself. Tolstoy was struggling with his passions and his spiritual conflicts. These unresolved mental conflicts were expressed via Pierre Bezukhov’s character.  According to the novel Pierre Bezukhov is an illegitimate son of the Count Kirill Bezukhov. Pierre is described as an ill-mannered non attractive socially awkward man who is fond of women, wine and gambling.  This portrait is much similar to young Tolstoy.

Young Tolstoy had a passion for gambling and had exhausted the family wealth. Like Pierre Bezukhov he found it difficult to integrate into the Petersburg high society. Tolstoy admitted himself as a non attractive ugly man. Likewise Pierre Bezukhov is narrated as a huge bear like person. Pierre was ignored and rejected by the high society until he inherits his father’s fortune. Once he becomes rich and famous Pierre was forced to get married to Helen Kuragina (Count Vasili Kuragin’s daughter). Consequently he was trapped in an unhappy marriage and searching for meaning in his life.  One time debauched and profligate man now becomes a philosopher who is searching for meaning in life. Pierre Bezukhov represents much of Tolstoy’s life philosophy.

Pierre Bezukhov was unhappy with his married life. He was troubled by his wife - Helen’s promiscuous behaviour. He suspects Helen is in love with his former friend Dolokhov. Dolokhov is a young reckless officer who was demoted for his disorderliness. However Dolokhov earns his rank fighting bravely in the first battle against Napoleon. Hence he was able to return to the St Petersburg high society. Aristocratic women adore Dolokhov’s bravery and his ability to gratify women.   

The unsolved problem that tormented him   was caused by hints given by the princess, his cousin, at Moscow, concerning Dolokhov's intimacy with his wife, and by an anonymous letter he had received that morning, which in the mean jocular way common to anonymous letters said that he saw badly through his spectacles, but that his wife's connection with Dolokhov was a secret to no one but himself. Pierre absolutely disbelieved both the princess' hints and the letter, but he feared now to look at Dolokhov, who was sitting opposite him. Every time he chanced to meet Dolokhov's handsome insolent eyes, Pierre felt something terrible and monstrous rising in his soul and turned quickly away. Involuntarily recalling his wife's past and her relations with Dolokhov, Pierre saw clearly that what was said in the letter might be true, or might at least seem to be true had it not referred to his wife (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

One time Leo Tolstoy was troubled by sexual jealousy. His famous work The Kreutzer Sonata" (1889) became a part of his biography. The protagonist Pozdnyshev suspects that his wife has a secret affair with the violinist Troukhatchevsky. His sexual ordeal leads to a sexual obsessions, sexual guilt and sexual jealousy. At the end Pozdnyshev kills his wife.

Tolstoy believed that if two married people stay together and their initial love is mostly filled with sensual pleasure and carnal love it can quickly turn into hatred. According to Tolstoy carnal love degrades the human spirit. In Kreutzer Sonata Tolstoy argued carnal love vs chastity. 

In War and Peace Pierre makes an attempt to attack his wife with a heavy marble bench.  It would have been a fatal blow if he had attacked her. Pierre’s initial thoughts were to kill his wife. He had adequate evidence to believe that his wife had a sexual relationship with the Officer Dolokhov. Pierre is intensely affected by sexual jealousy. His rage brings extreme fear to Helen. After this confrontation both are parted. Instead of killing his wife Pierre goes in to seclusion and search of meaning. Pierre redirects himself towards spiritual pursuits 

According to Melanie Klein-Austrian-born British psychoanalyst at an early stage of development the male child perceives his penis as a weapon of his sadism.  In normal development man overcomes the idea of destructiveness of the penis. Happy and satisfying sexual relationship with a woman convinces a man that his penis has valuable properties and cause a man unconscious belief that the desire to compensate the woman caused the damage before a success. This not only increases the sexual pleasure of his love and affection for the woman, but also causes a sense of gratitude and peace.  

In his young days Tolstoy was a compulsive gambler and a noted adulterer. Sometimes he tried to seduce the wives of his military colleagues. However in his old age he renounced sex and preached abstinence. Many youth during his era became followers of Tolstoyanism. His young private secretary Valentin Bulgakov embraced Tolstoyanism that had life principles such as pacifism, vegetarianism, non-participation in political activities and a high level of social activity based on Christian principles.

Tolstoy’s Philosophy irritated his wife Countess Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya leading to a marital distress. According to Parini (2009) Leo Tolstoy shaped his own version of Christianity, discounting its miraculous aspects. Worse, from Sofia's viewpoint, he threatened to give away all his property, including the copyright to his work, to the Russian people. A psychodrama emerged, with Sofia battling Tolstoy's disciples for access to his soul. Her diaries become increasingly frenzied in the 1880s and 90s, and the last decade of Tolstoy's life (1900-1910) makes for harrowing reading, as in this entry for 19 November 1903:

What I predicted indeed has come true: my passionate husband has died, and since he was never a friend to me, how could he be one to me now? This life is not for me. There is nowhere for me to put my energy and passion for life; no contact with people, no art, no work – nothing but total loneliness all day (  Parini, 2009). 

Tolstoy’s conflicts with his wife intensified in the later years. He left her and his native home. Hence metaphorically Leo Tolstoy murdered his wife by renouncing her. Following Tolstoy’s permanent departure his wife Sophia Tolstaya tried to commit suicide.  When he was in his final hours at the Astopovo station he refused to see his wife for the one last time. Tolstoy’s anger and resentment towards his wife entirely covered his Christian ideals of forgiveness.

One of the most notable convictions of Tolstoy was hostility towards sex. Sexual hostility was an uncommon feature among the other Russian writers such as Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn.  In 1888 Tolstoy stated that people should no longer engage in sexual love but later   admitted that he was dismayed for that conclusion. However he preached the superiority of abstinence ( Rancourt-Laferer, 1998).

Was Tolstoy a misogynist? This is a grim question. According to Rancourt-Laferer, (1998) Tolstoy expressed his hostility to women often in different occasions. Tolstoy quite openly expressed his misogyny.  Once he stated:  To marry a young lady means to accept all the poison of civilization." 

Tolstoy had largely met only two types of women in the pre-Revolutionary Russian society: aristocratic women who were known for their extravagant indulging lifestyle and the peasant women who were oppressed by the feudal system, patriarchy and by the Church. He witnessed the immoral behaviour of the women who belonged to the upper and the lower class. At the same time he saw love, compassion, empathy, charity etc demonstrated by the women of both two classes. He assumed that men and women are born pure and the civilization corrupt and poison them constantly.  

Tolstoy cannot be understood without taking the moral masochism in to consideration. For instance the suicide of Anna Karenina is a literary embodiment of Tolstoy’s desire to kill Anna or to punish himself for his lust, as well as his hatred for the woman who cheated her husband   (Rancourt-Laferer, 1998). In War and Peace Tolstoy punishes Helen Kuragina (Pierre Bezukhov’s wife) who bears a scheming and immoral character. After facing numerous scandals and humiliations Helen dies of Angina Pectoris. It was an undignified death that was imposed on Helen by Leo Tolstoy.  

Young Leo Tolstoy engaged in duels when he lived in the Caucasus. He had a fascination to kill his opponents which he later regrettably admitted. In War and Peace Dolokhov humiliates Pierre Bezukhov at a dinner party. Dolokhov’s disrespectful behaviour fuels Pierre’s anger. Pierre declares a duel. He wants to retaliate and quench his anger. He wants to kill the man who slept with his wife. Like Pozdnyshev (in Kreutzer Sonata) Pierre is tormented by sexual jealousy and ready to commit a murder.

In the duel Pierre wounds Dolokhov. Although Pierre was able to retaliate and partially fulfilled his desire to destroy Dolokhov his inner thoughts change rapidly. Pierre is repenting over his quick decision and wounding his opponent. Pierre leaves St Petersburg and starts his long spiritual journey. Pierre becomes a Free Mason thinking that it would help him to restore his pride and fill the existential vacuum. But soon he realizes the emptiness in their rituals. He dedicates his life to another mission.

Pierre Bezukhov wants to end the evil. He decides to kill Napoleon the Antichrist who unleashed evil upon Russian and French people. Pierre considers this as a sacred mission and he is ready to sacrifice his life. His sexual jealousy has converted in to a generalized anger and it has been focused on Napoleon.

Friedrich Hegel saw Napoleon as the world-spirit on horseback. However Tolstoy sophisticatedly presents the complex nature of Napoleon’s character that is filled with overconfidence, narcissism, selfishness, power hugeness, bravery, and cruelty. In contrast Tolstoy reveals how Napoleon’ cared for his soldiers who were dying of plague. However his   self-centeredness was well exposed during the Russian campaign. Napoleon abandoned his troops and escaped leaving his soldiers to die in the harsh Russian winter. Tolstoy too named Napoleon Bonaparte as the Beast. Tolstoy presents a verse from the Book of Revelation 13:18. – (This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.)Tolstoy identifies Napoleon Bonaparte as the Beast – the Antichrist.

According to Tolstoy Napoleon was an evil military genius but he could not break the will of the Russian people. Napoleon Bonaparte’s downfall occurred with his 1812 Russian campaign. Napoleon’s invincible Grand Army sustained many losses in the Battle of Borodino.    

To anyone who looks at the field of Borodino without thinking of how the battle was actually fought, this position, protected by the river Kolocha, presents itself as obvious for an army whose object was to prevent an enemy from advancing along the Smolensk road to Moscow....... The battle of Borodino was not fought on a chosen and entrenched position with forces only slightly weaker than those of the enemy, but, as a result of the loss of the Shevardino Redoubt, the Russians fought the battle of Borodino on an open and almost unentrenched position, with forces only half as numerous as the French; that is to say, under conditions in which it was not merely unthinkable to fight for ten hours and secure an indecisive result, but unthinkable to keep an army even from complete disintegration and flight. (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

Napoleon invaded Russia with over 680 000 soldiers. The Battle of Borodino becomes a turning point in the history. As Tolstoy narrates the Beast is seriously wounded. His Moscow invasion invariably becomes a fiasco. The General Kutuzov closely observes the movements of the beast. He uses three decisive weapons against Napoleon. Those are patience, timely retreat and the approaching Russian winter.   

The invading French army had to face periodical resistance by the Russian Imperial Army. The Cossack horsemen constantly attacked Napoleon’s supply lines. The enemy became impatient. Lack of food, desertion, disease, exhaustion weakened the Napoleon’s Army. He lost more than 500,000 soldiers during the invasion. Nearly 100,000 became prisoners of war.  Only 10,000 of them returned to France alive.

Tolstoy found that the historians seemed to agree; they asserted, as he puts it in his novel, that thousands of people went from west to east and killed each other just because a single man told them to. Even those historians interested in multiple causes never seemed to respect enough of them, thought Tolstoy. Great occurrences like the Napoleonic invasion happen not because one man dictates the movement of history, but because hundreds of thousands of motives and accidents and reactions occur at once; Tolstoy called this the "swarm -like life, where man inevitably fulfils the laws prescribed for him". He is really a kind of historical fatalist who spends the course of his novel searching for the laws of that fatalism. Napoleon and great men like him think of themselves as supremely free, but in fact they are the servants of history, as caught up in that "swarm -like" existence as the meanest hussar (Wood, 2014).

 Man's mind cannot grasp the causes of   events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man's soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: “This is the cause!” In historical events (where the actions of men are the subject of observation) the first and most primitive approximation to present itself was the will of the gods and, after that, the will of those who stood in the most prominent position- the heroes of history. But we need only penetrate to the essence of any historic event- which lies in the activity of the general mass of men who take part in it- to be convinced that the will of the historic hero does not control the actions of the mass but is itself continually ( War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

With a new plan Pierre Bezukhov decides to go to Moscow. There he witnesses the French invasion of Moscow. The great city of Moscow is in flames. In Moscow Pierre rescues a French officer and they become friends. The French officer was surprised by Pierre’s knowledge of French and his natural accent.

Pierre Bezukhov’s mission ends suddenly when he becomes a prisoner. The French Officers think that Pierre is a Russian spy. He had to join with the other prisoners. There he meets another prisoner named Platòn Karataev.     

The character of Platòn Karataev is relatively small but very inspiring. As the book describes Platòn Karataev is a peasant with simple and true qualities which Tolstoy admired most. The author becomes a prophet and a moral reformer who speaks to the reader directly.  Platòn  Karatheave becomes his mouthpiece.

Karataev embodies ultimate wisdom for Pierre: a sustainment of spirit in the face of adversarial, life-denying forces. Karataev idealized family life but he also is happy that his service in the army spared his brother’s family from losing his brother. Pierre’s example embodies both the values of a nurturing family and the value of committing one’s life to the greater good (Itriyeva, 2008).

All the prisoners were taken by the French Army in their long retreat. The prisoners walk with the French Army in harsh winter. Karataev and Pierre walk together.

During the long retreat the French soldiers shoot enfeeble Russian prisoners who cannot march further. Pierre helps weaken Platòn Karataev to walk but he becomes more and more exhausted.  Finally Platòn Karatheave was shot by a French soldier.  Pierre becomes puzzled by witnessing the dark side of human nature in a war situation.

But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country's inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy).

As an officer who saw active combat, Tolstoy knew in a battle who the real war heroes were. The real war heroes are the type of people that never blow their own trumpet. They do their sanctified military duty in the battle and they are not interested in military glory. Often they do not get the recognition. Those who cowardly evaded the battle field later become decorated war heroes. Leo Tolstoy tells the reader the irony of real war heroes unveiling the story of Captain Tushin.

According to the novel Captain Tushin is an artillery officer who fought bravely at the Battle of Schöngrabern. Prince Andrei Bolkonski witnesses the heroic efforts of Captain Tushin who commands his artillery battery.  Although other battery commanders withdrew their cannons and men when the attacks intensified Captain Tushin’s cannons are constantly sending deadly messages to the French forces. Eventually his battery ends up alone and unsupported. However Captain Tushin's counter attacks delay the enemy advance. This allows the Russian troops to withdraw successfully evading a major loss. Captain Tushin's effort becomes one of the decisive factors of successful withdrawal. 

Later that evening the Russian commanders gather together and discuss the events which occurred at the battle field. No one praises Captain Tushin's heroic efforts. Instead some staff officers who left the battle field cowardly blame the Captain Tushin for abandoning some of his cannons. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky listens to the staff officers and finally he tells the General Bagration that Captain Tushin and his men delayed the French advance saving the rest of the Army. 

All were silent. Tushin appeared at the threshold and made his way timidly from behind the backs of the generals. As he stepped past the generals in the crowded hut, feeling embarrassed as he always was by the sight of his superiors, he did not notice the staff of the banner and stumbled over it. Several of those present laughed. 

"How was it a gun was abandoned?" asked Bagration, frowning, not so much at the captain as at those who were laughing, among whom Zherkov laughed loudest.  Only now, when he was confronted by the stern authorities, did his guilt and the disgrace of having lost two guns and yet remaining alive present themselves to Tushin in all their horror. He had been so excited that he had not thought about it until that moment. The officers' laughter confused him still more. He stood before Bagration with his lower jaw trembling and was hardly able to mutter: "I don't know... your excellency... I had no men... your excellency." 
"You might have taken some from the covering troops." 

Tushin did not say that there were no covering troops, though that was perfectly true. He was afraid of getting some other officer into trouble, and silently fixed his eyes on Bagration as a schoolboy who has blundered looks at an examiner.  The silence lasted some time. Prince Bagration, apparently not wishing to be severe, found nothing to say; the others did not venture to intervene. Prince Andrew looked at Tushin from under his brows and his fingers twitched nervously. 

"Your excellency!" Prince Andrew broke the silence with his abrupt voice," you were pleased to send me to Captain Tushin's battery. I went there and found two thirds of the men and horses knocked out, two guns smashed, and no supports at all."

 Prince Bagration and Tushin looked with equal intentness at Bolkonski, who spoke with suppressed agitation. "And, if your excellency will allow me to express my opinion," he continued, "we owe today's success chiefly to the action of that battery and the heroic endurance of Captain Tushin and his company," and without awaiting a reply, Prince Andrew rose and left the table.
Prince Bagration looked at Tushin, evidently reluctant to show distrust in Bolkonski's emphatic opinion yet not feeling able fully to credit it, bent his head, and told Tushin that he could go. Prince Andrew went out with him.

"Thank you; you saved me, my dear fellow!" said Tushin.

(War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy).

One time Leo Tolstoy was an ambitious young officer who served in the Crimean War. He took part in the defense of Sevastopol. There he witnessed horror and despair and as a result of battle stress he gradually experienced a personality change. The climax of this personality change occurred many years after the war when he was traveling to buy an estate. He had to stay in a motel and in the middle of the night he walked up with a mortal fear. This could have been a sever anxiety attack and this incident made distinct changes in him.  Tolstoy was plagued by fear of death and mortal fear becomes one of the focal parts in the novel -War and Peace. Tolstoy   experienced persistent sorrow and emptiness (Clinical Depression?)Which he described in his autobiographical book “Confession

  I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain. I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants' toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat. Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder - there was not a crime I did not commit...Thus I lived for ten years."

 In his life a number of times Tolstoy went in profound depression and seclusion. This depression, which was melancholic in character, almost destroyed him and, once he had finished Anna Karenina, led him to want to renounce not only sexuality but also literary creation and material possessions. Like Leonardo da Vinci, Tolstoy turned away from his artistic work, declaring that 'art is not only useless but even harmful', and thereafter devoted himself to philosophical, political and religious writings (Anargyros-Klinger, 2002).

As illustrated by Bergner (1998) Tolstoy, at a point in his life when he was contemplating suicide, expressed the basis for his despair and crisis of meaning in the following way: "What will come from what I am doing now, and may do tomorrow?  What will come from my whole life? otherwise expressed--Why should I live?  Why should I wish for anything?  Why should I do anything?  Again, in other words, is there any meaning in my life which will not be destroyed by the inevitable death awaiting me."

Prince Andrei Bolkonski mostly represent Tolstoy’s military period. Prince Andrei portrayed as a cynical man who was tired of his wealth and family glory. He goes in search of a new life adventure.  Prince Andrew finds no meaning in his tedious but comfortable married life with Lisa. He wants to make history and to be a large part of it. He wants to be with new kind of heroes such as General Kutuzov, General    Bagration  , Napoleon Bonaparte etc. He was looking forward to find his greatness in the Battle of Austerlitz. 

When Andrei Bolkonski was wounded in the battle he sees the blue sky which represents the emptiness. Andrei’s NDE (Near Death Experience) makes him   more matured and finally he realizes military glory, encounter with his former hero Napoleon, making history etc all were insignificant empty attempts.  He realized the true meaning of human suffering. But he becomes more cynical and alienated.

Gazing into Napoleon's eyes, Prince Andrei mused on the unimportance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

After his wife’s death Prince Andrei Bolkonsky meets Natalia Rostova who is an innocent and a charming girl. She is the daughter of Russian Count Ilya Rostov and his wife, Countess Natalya Rostova.  Her character is often considered to be one of Tolstoy’s grandest creations, with her ability to live life to the fullest, with true joyfulness and great energy. Her character also has the ability to charm both the fictional characters in the novel and also people who read the book (Kingsley, 2013). Natasha Rostova becomes Tolstoy's heroine.

Although Prince Andrei Bolkonski and Natalia Rostova become engaged Andrei’s father imposes serious stipulations and it wrecks their friendship. This gives a fine opportunity to Helen Kuragin’s brother Anatoly Kuragin to enter in to Natalia Rostova’s life. Anatoly Kuragin is described as a debaucher and a fraudulent character. With Helen’s consent and fullest support Anatoly Kuragin seduces Natalia Rostova and destroys her relationship with Andrei Bolkonsky. When Natalia Rostova realized that she was deceived and betrayed by Anatoly Kuragin who was previously married she goes in to a serious form of reactive depression. However after a long time she meets Prince Andrei Bolkonski in a critical condition.   He is wounded in the battle and dying of peritonitis. Natalia Rostova cares for wounded Andrei until his death. After Andrei Bolkonski’s death Natalia Rostova goes in to a dramatic transformation. Eventually she becomes the wife of Andrei Bolkonski’s dear friend Pierre Bezukhov.  

Tolstoy illustrates the phenomenon of death in his great epic War and Peace. He wrote: Death, which will end everything and which must come today or tomorrow - in a moment, anyhow, compared with eternity. He vividly describes the deaths of Count Kirill Bezukhov (Pierre Bezukhov’s father) and Prince Nicholas Bolkonski. The Count Kirill Bezukhov dies slowly and Prince Nicholas Bolkonski suffers a stroke and heading towards death. The clinical detail employed in this case illustrates how Tolstoy used symbolic characters without sacrificing the realism of War and Peace (Albin, 1990).

The death of Prince Andrei Bolkonski is a central them in the book. Tolstoy shows death as an honest prospect.

 Not only did Prince Andrew know he would die, but he felt that he was dying and was already half dead. He was conscious of an aloofness from everything earthly and a strange and joyous lightness of existence. Without haste or agitation he awaited what was coming. That inexorable, eternal, distant, and unknown the presence of which he had felt continually all his life- was now near to him and, by the strange lightness he experienced, almost comprehensible and palpable... Formerly he had feared the end. He had   twice experienced that terribly tormenting fear of death- the end- but now he no longer understood that fear. He had felt it for the first time when the shell   spun like a top before him, and he looked at the fallow field, the bushes, and the sky, and knew that he was face to face with death. When he came to himself after being wounded and the flower of eternal, unfettered love had instantly unfolded itself in his soul as if freed from the bondage of life that had restrained it, he no longer feared death and ceased to think about it. ( War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy)

The centerpiece of Tolstoy’s world view is the belief that meaning cannot be found in the world as it is—a world in which one must die. In his view, the fact that both oneself and all of one’s efforts and accomplishments are ineluctably doomed to extinction renders them utterly pointless and futile. It was precisely this belief that brought Tolstoy to his deepest despair and to the brink of suicide (Bergner, 2010).
Later in life Count Tolstoy formulated a stereotype unique philosophy. Although he was criticized by the clergy and even excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church Tolstoy believed that philosophic principles can only be understood in their concrete expression in history.

 War and Peace reflects Tolstoy's view -that all is predestined. Tolstoy believed that history is determined by a number of facts and no individual can change the course of history. He writes no one controls events not even Napoleon or General Kutuzov Commander-in-chief of the Russian forces or the Tsar Alexander I. In his epic novel Tolstoy makes an attempt to explain the theory of how history works.

In his own words Leo Tolstoy states

"In historical events great men - so-called - are but labels serving to give a name to the event, and like labels they have the least possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity."

This philosophy was later grasped by many novelists and film directors. For instance in the movie Wind and the Lion (Starring Sean Connery Sean Connery) the nomad leader of the desert   Raisuli compares his place in the universe as a pawn in the chess game which he has no control . Tolstoy once said “man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity”

According to Itriyeva (2008) the ultimate wisdom of War and Peace ends in the ambiguous conflict of admitting ever-changing forces of history and exposing oneself to history while also attempting to create life-sustaining order.

Personal Communications
1)      Professor Raymond M. Bergner-Department of Psychology, Illinois State University

2)      Professor Guy Proulx - Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology -Glendon Campus York University Canada

Albin, R.L.(1990). Arch Neurol. 47(2):225-6.The death of Nicholas Bolkonski. Neurology in Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Anargyros-Klinger, A.(2002). The thread of depression throughout the life and works of Leo Tolstoy.Int J Psychoanal.  83(Pt 2):407-18.

Bergner, R .(1998). Therapeutic approaches to problems of meaninglessness.   American Journal of Psychotherapy, 52, pp. 1-16.

Bergner, R. (2010). The Tolstoy dilemma: A Paradigm Case 
Formulation and some therapeutic interventions. 

Harding, L. (2010).  Leo Tolstoy: the forgotten genius? The Guardian.

Itriyeva, I .(2008). An Examination of Free Will in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Retrieved from

Kingsley , H. (2013). Natasha Rostova from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy    Retrieved from

Lenin, V.I. Collected works, vol. 16, p. 323; see also Leo Tolstoy as the mirror of the Russian revolution,vol. 15, pp. 202-09.

Parini, J . (2009). The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, translated by Cathy Porter.The Guardian, Saturday 5 December.

Rancourt-Laferer, D. (1998 June 4). Presented at the 15th International Conference "Psychoanalysis, literature and art", St. Petersburg.
Simmons, E.J. (1968).War And Peace From Introduction To Tolstoy's Writings by Ernest J Simmons. Retrieved from /smartboard/shop/smmnsej/tolstoy/chap5.htm

Thugushev,N.( 2006).  Free Will in War and Peace. Aporia vol. 16 no. 2.
Tolstoy, L.(1982).  War and Peace. Trans. Rosemary Edmonds. New York: Penguin.

Tolstoy, L.(1984). The Kingdom of God is Within You. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Yegorov, S.F. (1994). PROSPECTS: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIV p. 647–60.


  1. Thanks, I Love the Book. Must read again. Long ago I have read the book.
    “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”
    ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace


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