It won’t have escaped the attention of Russian literature fans that the BBC has made a brand new drama series based on War and Peace, currently airing on BBC1. Immediately after the first episode ended, there was a commotion on Twitter: an incestuous relationship between brother and sister Anatole and Hélène Kurágin?! Surely that wasn’t in the book!
Brother and sister have sex
As I seemed to remember that there was something the matter with them, I decided to investigate. And guess what.. the BBC is right! Obviously there is no sex scene between brother and sister in the book, unlike in the series, where Hélène is lying naked in bed, Anatole gets in bed with her, kisses her and touches her under the sheets, but Tolstoy nonetheless clearly suggests that something is going on.
Why Pierre marries Hélène
One of the main characters, Count Pierre Bezúkhov, is all of a sudden an ideal marriage candidate when he inherits the largest fortune in Russia. Prince Vasili Kurágin is short of money and wants to find a rich marriage partner for his youngest children, the both beautiful and stupid Anatole and Hélène. Obviously Pierre is the perfect candidate for Hélène. Together with his friend Anna Schérer he suggests to Pierre that he should marry his daughter.
Until then Pierre has never seen Hélène as anything else but a beautiful young woman. After the visit to Anna Schérer he suddenly sees her in a different light. Apparently this exquisite beauty could be his, Pierre’s, wife. He tosses and turns in his bed. But she’s stupid. And wasn’t there something wrong with her? He remembers a story he once heard:
“There is something nasty, something wrong in the feeling she excites in me. I have been told that her brother Anatole was in love with her and she with him, that there was a scandal and that’s why he was sent away.”
Nevertheless he puts his mind to ease. After all if everyone thinks this marriage is a good idea, why should he not marry her? They get married and of course it doesn’t take long before the trouble starts. Hélène doesn’t love Pierre, she’s only interested in her title and money. She has several affairs, with the ambitious Boris, that Natásha was in love with, and also with the notorious scoundrel Dólokhov. When Pierre find out he challenges Dólokhov to a duel. After the duel Hélène is furious with Pierre, why shouldn’t she have affairs, it’s none of his business. And Anatole is still in the picture too:
“Anatole used to come to borrow money from her and used to kiss her naked shoulders. She did not give him the money, but she let herself be kissed.”
There is another hint of incest concerning the brother and sister. Hélène has invited a famous French actress to her house to recite some French verses. About the guilty love of a mother for her son. During this soirée Anatole tries to seduce the confused Natasha again.
Aylmer Maude confirms it
Here translator, biographer and personal friend of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, makes the following note: “in the first drafts of the novel, Tolstoy made it plain that Hélène and her brother had been in guilty relations with one another, but afterwards he altered this so that only some hints remain.”.
Clearly Tolstoy really intended the incestuous relationship between Hélène and Anatole, but left only the suggestion because of the strict censure of the time. What makes it particularly peculiar is the fact that it takes place with mutual consent.
-Photo from the BBC
-War and Peace by Tolstoy, translated by Aylmer Maude