Written for Slavic 90A: Introduction to Russian Civilization – Spring 2013. Read more of my previous notes on “War and Peace” here.
We’re finally finished!
Part One of the Epilogue of “War and Peace” starts off by recounting the actions of Napoleon and Tsar Alexander during imperial France’s failed campaign into Russia. Then the aftermath is shown. Lev Tolstoy reveals the faiths of the novel’s characters seven years from where he last left off in Book Four. Two main marriages occur.
In 1813, Natasha and Pierre get married. The union is described as a paralleling “last happy event in the family of the old Rostovs” after the sad death of the elder Rostov (1225). This match between Pierre and Natasha seemed appropriate, since they are both characters who have both matured considerably over the progression of “War and Peace”. Pierre has found his peace with his spiritual search through surveying religion and Russian patriotism, while Natasha has settled out of her childish ways and capricious whims for the love of a man.
The marriage is happy and satisfying, as demonstrated in Pierre’s feelings: “After seven years of marriage Pierre had the joyous and firm consciousness that he was not a bad man, and he felt this because he saw himself reflected in his wife. He felt the good and bad within himself inextricably mingled and overlapping.” (1246) Tolstoy wrote that Pierre’s emotions were inexplicable, something outside “logical reasoning”, because Pierre for the most part, ignored the bad parts of himself and the marriage (ibid.).
Furthermore, a second harmonious union happens. The marriage between Nikolai and Princess Marya starts joyfully, because Nikolai is able to restore honor and wealth to his family. Here, Tolstoy portrays a realistic truth in his writing, an endeavor which should be applauded, since often authors often deliver an easy, straight and narrow path in their character’s romances. Instead of ending up with his cousin and childhood love Sonya, Nikolai marries Marya. The diversion shows that life does not follow a singular path as one often sees in the simplest literature and fairytales, instead in adulthood, choices have to be made; old loves have to be dropped.
Tolstoy asserts that things eventually work out well for those who persevere. A clear example of is shown in the case of the romance between the ever-so patient Marya and the family-loving Nikolai. So, whether it is the collective events of history or the life of one individual, Tolstoy argues that such moments and their “ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension” (1225).
Additionally, Tolstoy explicates his views of history once more. In Part One, Tolstoy looks at the bee from the point of view of a child, poet, bee-keeper and botanist. Each person has his own opinion on the bee, all taking in different experiences and understanding of the bee itself (1224).
Then, in Part Two of the Epilogue, as done before, Tolstoy extrapolates the science of history to the fields of natural science. From comparing historical writing and biographies to paper currency and coins (1281), historians to botanists (1282) and humans to animals (1285), Tolstoy reiterates: History is subjective, with no rights or wrongs, but only the will and movement of the masses forcing action into place. After the events, we humans put things into context to the best of our understanding of a mysterious and incomprehensible truth.
Reading War and Peace was a joy. Although, its massive length was at times discouraging, and admittedly, it would have been easier to skim the chapters…we have at least won the bragging rights of having read a great Russian classic. Lastly, the novel has imparted immense knowledge and insight into early 20th century Russian society to us. In my opinion, the time spent reading was worth it!
Works Cited: Tolstoy, Leo, Louise Maude, Aylmer Maude, and Amy Mandelker. War and Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.