War and Peace Notes – Tolstoy on Hunting as a Pastime

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Written for Slavic 90A: Introduction to Russian Civilization – Spring 2013. Read more of my previous notes on “War and Peace” here.

Russia includes many different ethnic peoples, who gather around a rich collective culture. Besides music, one of popular hobby during Tolstoy’s time was hunting.

In Book Two Part IV of War and Peace, Tolstoy toys with the idea of a mysterious and undefinable Russian spirit calmed by music and beloved hobbies. Uncle’s singing and balalaika playing captures young Natasha’s attention. In spite of Natasha’s elite social status and French-influenced education, she connects to the folk music in the same way as Russian common-folk do. Natasha dances gracefully with such movements that “were inimitable and unteachable Russian ones”; she is “able to understand all that was […] in every Russian woman and man” (549). Tolstoy demonstrates that traditional folk music is one way to touch that enigmatic Russian soul.

Evidently, we also see how Russians prize the hunt as a favoritr past-time in Part IV. Here we understand that like horses, who also have names in Chapter 4, borzoi* were important companions to the Russians during the hunt. In the start of Chapter 4, the Rostovs head off to hunt wolves with no less than 54 of their dogs (530). The relationship between hound and humans seemed quite natural, since Tolstoy writes: “Each dog knew its master and its call. Each man in the hunt knew his business, his place and what he had to do” (ibid.).

Impressively, Tolstoy devotes such great detail to these hounds. Nikolai Rostov and his neighbor Illagin show tremendous interest in their borzois Milka and Erza. Milka is favorably described as “a black-spotted bitch with prominent black eyes” (528). Illagin’s borzoi Erza has a particularly beauty “of a small, pure bred, red-spotted bitch” and “muscles like steel, a delicate muzzle and prominent black eyes” (540). The introduction of Erza’s beauty amplifies how she rivals Rostov’s dog Milka in physical appearance and hunting ability.

*Wikipedia Entry on Borzoi: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borzoi)

Works Cited: Tolstoy, Leo, Louise Maude, Aylmer Maude, and Amy Mandelker. War and Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.


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