“Heaven only knows where we are going, and heaven only knows what is happening to us – but it is very strange and pleasant, whatever it is.”
The Troika Ride
My absolute favourite scene in War and Peace (book 7, chapters 9-13) is the exhilarating troyka drive that the young Rostovs make at Christmas. This scene is described so well that you can actually hear the bells of the troika, and the irons of the sleigh swishing through the fresh snow. It's so full of life and it comes to life so well, perhaps only Tolstoy can achieve that.
In the next scene Nicholas Rostov seals his love for his (full!) cousin Sonya with a kiss. Sonya, who is dressed up as a Circassian, with black eyebrows and moustache, looks more attractive and sweeter than ever. Nicholas sees her in a new light and he can't get enough of her, he keeps looking back at her beaming face with those black eyebrows and that moustache, framed by a big fur collar. He is definitely convinced that Sonya is his future wife and happiness.
And yet it doesn't end up like that; Nicholas marries Mary. Excuse me?! A few weeks ago I went to sleep peacefully because Sonya and Nicholas were going to be happily married and now all of a sudden he's going to marry Mary? How?! Nicholas and Sonya belong together!
Nicholas meets Mary for the first time on the estate that she has very recently inherited from her father. She needs to escape from the French, who are invading Russia, and rapidly approaching her estate. But her staff is unwilling to help their new mistress. She is at her wits' end when completely coincidentally Nicholas arrives. He rescues her and naturally becomes her Prince Charming.
There is however a small obstacle. It was apparently no problem for full cousins to get married in 19th century Russia, but siblings-in-law was a different story. And Nicholas' sister Natásha had been engaged to Mary's brother Andrew. She had broken off the engagement and tried to elope with Anatole, which was luckily prevented by our sweet Sonya. But now Andrew had been seriously injured in the war and Natasha was looking after him, and their love was blossoming again.
Andrew dies, and after several complications Nicholas and Mary get married. They settle down on Mary's estate, with his mother and Sonya! That sweet Sonya! She accepts her fate and becomes a favourite aunt for the future children, not unlike Tolstoy's own favourite aunt Toinette.
Mary or Sonya
The marriage works surprisingly well. Nicholas may have saved Mary, but she has saved him too. Thanks to her fortune the whole Rostov family has been saved. Sonya could not have done that. But still, the reader is left with the feeling that Nicholas would have been happier with Sonya. On more than one occasion Tolstoy tells us that Nicholas can easily imagine a happy future with Sonya, their relationship is entirely natural, whereas his feelings for Mary needed time to grow.
In a way it was easier for Mary to present herself as a suitable marriage candidate, thanks to her title and money. Sonya had no money of her own and was completely dependant on the Rostovs. On top of that Nicholas' mother was against their marriage and Sonya was torn between loyalty towards the family as a whole and her profound love for Nicholas. It is only when the traditional roles are reversed, when she is wearing trousers and Nicholas is wearing a dress, that she dares to fully give in to her passion. Unfortunately the war interferes and Nicholas meets Mary.
War and Peace by L.N.Tolstoy
Quote by Nicholas
Photo from the BBC, Sonya, Nicholas and Natasha