Three wise lessons from War and Peace

Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.

“Лови минуты счастия, заставляй себя любить, влюбляйся сам! Только это одно есть настоящее на свете — остальное всё вздор.”

Above all War and Peace is a celebration of life. Tolstoy wrote it in the realistic era, and as such life is depicted in all it’s aspects: happiness and sadness, love and hate. The book makes you cry and it makes you laugh. And that is price wisely the effect that Tolstoy wished to have upon his readers.

Mikhail Shishkin's Letterbook (not yet translated into English) made me cry so much when I read it a couple of years ago, that I wondered why I liked it at all. I came to the conclusion that when we experience emotions with the characters in the book that we read, it has a cathartic effect on us. While reading we relive past sorrows, and brace ourselves for horrible things yet to come. It helps us to realise that no matter how bleak things may seem, there will be good times again. Because that’s what life is all about!

 

Drain the blood from men’s veins and put in water instead, then there will be no more war!

As the title* suggests, without war there is no peace. Life is full of contradictions, and that is what gives it it’s flavour. War does not only bring out the worst in people, it can also bring out the best in people. This is beautifully illustrated by Natásha. When the Rostòv family has to flee Moscow because Napoleon is approaching fast, she forgets about her own problems and convinces her parents to not only let wounded soldiers stay in their abandoned house, but also to leave material things behind in order to make room for some seriously injured soldiers and take them with them to the countryside. ”The eggs… the eggs are teaching the hen… muttered the count through tears of joy (…)”.

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.

True love conquers all. Our first love is rarely our true love. Most of us need to make a few mistakes first, so that we can really appreciate the one we end up with. This was particularly true for Pierre and Natásha. Pierre married the cold but beautiful Hélène, under social pressure. Natásha was first in love with Boris, then with Andrey, then (big mistake!) with Anatole, before realising that she had always loved Pierre.

 

While there is life there is happiness

We all make mistakes and we all struggle with certain life questions, but the trick is to accept that there isn't always an answer and to move on. Nicholas loses a lot of money to Dòlokhov, and for a briefmoment contemplates suicide. Hearing his sister singing when he returns home, reminds him that there are still things that can make you happy and he faces the music, tells his father and moves on. He never gambles again.

Natásha lets herself be seduced by Anatole, she is mortified, doesn't want to see anyone and is certain her life is over. But at the end of the novel there is no happier wife and mother than Natásha.

Pierre looks for answers with the free mascons, but he finally finds them when he is emprisoned by the French and left without his powers as a wealthy man. After he has been liberated, he returns home a new man.

Enjoy War and Peace and above all enjoy life!

 

 

*In Russian the word for peace ’mir’ also means world, giving the title a double meaning.

**Alle quotes are from War and Peace

Photo by moi

 

2 thoughts on “Three wise lessons from War and Peace

  1. Thanks so much for all your War and Peace information! I had wondered about Dolokhov – and about all the other Russian nobility that Tolstoy based his characters on. (There’s a Count Tolstoy in there who doesn’t come off very well.) And I wanted to know much more about the connection between Russian and French culture in the 19th century – your Turgenev/Tolstoy tour of Paris is great.
    I was intimidated by the size and reputation of War and Peace for decades, but once I read it the first time, I find I have to re-read it once or twice a year! As you point out, the wisdom in the book is remarkable and compelling. And in addition, I keep going back for: the historical facts about the operations of the Russian army are amazing to a modern person; the contemplation of Napoleon’s rise and fall, and his inspiration of the youth of that time (Pierre and Andrey/Andrew); the wonderful satire as we follow Berg, Boris, and the Kuragin family; the complex portrayal of virtue, love and abuse in the Bolkonsky family; the sympathetic portrayal of character development and family life among the Rostovs. The book’s compression of all this and more into the 1200 pages is an amazing feat. I wonder what would happen if all the people who read the Game of Thrones series started reading War and Peace instead. Maybe they already have!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Lara!
    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and reply. It makes me really happy to read that you enjoy War and Peace as much as I do! Sometimes I think I write too much about War and Peace, but it really is an endless source of inspiration for me!
    I too wondered about the count Tolstoy in War and Peace who is more concerned with his dinner than the battle. There were two Tolstoys who took part in the Napoleonic Wars. Count Peter Tolstoy (1769-1844) and Count Alexandr Ostermann-Tolstoy (1771-1857). They were distant relations and brothers-in-law. Ostermann-Tolstoy was a great eccentric ( https://arussianaffair.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/the-tolstoy-family-history-2/ ) and extremely brave. In spite of his extravagant character and wealth, his diet was modest, buckwheat kasha and tea were his favourites. Peter Tolstoy was a distinguished general who hated Napoleon wholeheartedly and he was known for speaking his mind. So neither of them fits the description really, and they were both war heroes to be proud of.
    War and Peace is a timeless classic and readers shouldn’t be intimidated by its length, it’s more like a soap opera, it goes on for a long time and there is the occasional cliffhanger too;-)
    Love, Elisabeth

    Like

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