The Hunting Scene in War and Peace

In which Nicholas wants to show that he is a grown-up, but instead proves that he’s still a boy.

Financial problems

Nicholas Rostov has quit the order and clarity of the army and returned home to the chaos of family life, where his mother expects him to sort out the financial problems of the family. In order to save some money, the family has moved to their country estate. Because their financial struggles are partly his own fault for losing a fortune to Dolokhov, Nicholas makes a serious effort, but it soon becomes clear that he is as good with money and business as his father is, and he quickly gives up. He tries instead to fulfill his position as Count Rostov and eldest son in a more pleasant way.

Planning to go hunting

One fine morning in September he organises a hunting trip*. He summons the main huntsman Daniel and together they make a plan. Although this Daniel looks scornfully at Nicholas, Tolstoy reassures us that that’s just part of the hunter’s careless air and that Nicholas knows that Daniel is his serf. The first real flaws in his authority appear when he’s unable to stop Natasha and Petya from coming along on the hunt. The discussion he has with them in his study in front of the perplexed Daniel appears to come straight out of the nursery:

Nicholas, carelessly: We are going, but only wolf hunting: it would be dull for you.

Natasha, outraged: It’s not fair, you are going by yourself, are having the horses saddled and said nothing to us about it.

Petya, shouting: No barrier bars a Russian’s path – we’ll go!

And so the hunting party, consisting of around 130 dogs and 20 horsemen, they have to cut down on their spending, after all, sets off.

Uncle

They go to the Otrodnoe enclosure, where they intend to hunt an old wolf**. On the way there they meet ‘Uncle’, a neighbor and distant relative, who is also going hunting. They decide to join up. Uncle also doesn’t like to combine the serious business of hunting with frivolities: “Only mind you don’t fall of your horse, little countess”, he warns Natasha. Everybody is appointed a strategic position, Natasha and Petya are put somewhere where the wolf can’t possibly appear.

The old Count

The old Count Rostov has also come along, looking “like a schoolboy on an outing”. Although he knows the rules of the hunt very well, he’s not as obsessed as Nicholas. Sitting on his horse he starts to daydream about his children and how proud he is of them. Smiling he takes out his snuffbox. The wolf appears and he lets it slip by, much to the anger of Daniel. Now the Count looks like “a punished schoolboy”. The roles appear indeed to have reversed…

Nicholas prays

Although… Nicholas, meanwhile, is also prone to childish behaviour, praying to God to make the old wolf come his way and to let his dog catch the wolf. When the wolf does come his way, he forgets everything else, it’s just him, his horse, his dogs and the wolf and when they do eventually get the wolf, it’s the happiest moment of his life. He wants to kill the entrapped wolf, but Daniel suggests that they take it alive. The hunt is a success.

Good intentions

It is clear that Nicholas is not yet the man he so wants to be. He came home to sort out the finances, but gave up after the first hurdles, and instead of getting advice, he goes and spends more money. In that respect he is a lot like young Tolstoy himself: a lot of plans and good intentions that usually nothing comes from.

The hunting scene, in which the family relations, traditions and values of the Rostov family are underlined, is written by Tolstoy with a particularly loving hand and a lot of humour.

*The magnificent hunting scene in War and Peace was according to Maude very much influenced by a hunting trip that Tolstoy had made with a neighbor. I’m certainly no hunting expert, so I’m sticking to what I know from Russian literature and that describes basically two different types of hunting: the Turgenev kind; a man and a dog, sleeping rough and hunting mainly fowl for the dinner table; and the War and Peace kind (Tolstoy describes a Turgenev hunt in Anna Karenina): a huge party of noblemen, servants, grooms, horses and dogs, hunting for wolves, foxes and hares. In the first case the dogs retrieve and in the second they scent, chase and kill. The dogs used in the second kind, hounds and borzois, are often very expensive and highly treasured by their owners. In both cases the hunter needs to have a careless appearance, he’s preferably dressed in rags.

**In ancient Russian folklore the wolf symbolises darkness, evil and foreignness. Superstitious Russians were afraid to call the wolf upon themselves by saying its name, and called it by various nicknames like ‘shaggy’ instead. Here you could say that the wolf symbolises Napoleon. At this moment in the book Napoleon and Alexander are allies, so he is for now not a threat. In the book too, Napoleon is often not called by his name, but referred to as ‘the Antichrist’.

*****

Text and photos © Elisabeth van der Meer

 

War and Peace – Tolstoy, translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

 

 

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26 thoughts on “The Hunting Scene in War and Peace

  1. Great scene!

    And have you seen the movie “Peculiarities of the National Hunt,” directed by Aleksandr Rogozhkin? It’s about a Finnish writer who goes hunting with a group of Russians shortly after the fall of the USSR, and cuts back and forth between his fantasies of a hunt taken directly from War & Peace, and the shambolic reality of the present.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hey Elena, thanks, I hadn’t seen that movie, but I just watched it on YouTube and enjoyed it a lot! I also watched the winter version.
    Have a nice day, Elisabeth

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you very much, Dave, I’m happy to hear you enjoyed it. It’s a fantastic scene, and it proves that Tolstoy had a sense of humour 😊 Yes, the poor wolf, I wonder what they did with it, after they took it alive 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed this post, Elisabeth. It would make anyone want to read War and Peace.

    I feel what your blog illustrates is how pleasurable it is to appreciate and love literature for its own sake, without engaging in tendentious, boring criticism. So, we can revisit a great novel, a masterpiece, and SAVOR it. Rereading, so to speak, certain sections and passages in more depth. So different from boring criticism in which a professor or critic wants to prove a point and does not pay that much attention to content, but instead tries to prove some theory, such as Tolstoy is a precursor of romanticism, or whatever. Your blog is such a pleasure to read. And, it stimulates and reawakens enthusiasm for great literature, rather than killing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you so much, Roger, for your kind words. I do try to bring across my enthusiasm, and as you say, sometimes to really saviour a certain section. For that, War and Peace is of course a real treasure trove.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I lost your posts in my reader – I have no idea what happened. Anyway, I checked out your twitter feed and found that you had published a couple of posts. How wonderful to be back at your “place.” This passage reminded me of one of my favourite childhood musical: Peter and the Wolf – a ‘symphonic fairy tale for children’, a musical composition written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936. Now that I have taken a closer look. This work was commissioned by Natalya Il’inichna Sats. Her father, Ilya Sats, was a protege of Leo Tolstoy. It is a small world! Another wonderful post, Elisabeth!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. At least you found me again 😊 It’s a small world indeed, I didn’t know about the connection between Prokofiev and Tolstoy. I often listen to classical music while writing and thinking about my posts, and I listened to Prokofiev while writing this one!
    Good to hear from you, Rebecca, and thank you for your kind and interesting comment.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m pleased to find such a devoted student of Tolstoy, as well as a span of literature I don’t know. Thanks very much for visiting Under Western Skies and my paltry appreciation of War and Peace. FYI, I had read his Sevastopol stories while waiting for W&P to become available at the library, and was extremely pleased to have a wider appreciation of his wartime storytelling.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for sharing such kind of nice and wonderful information about. We would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this post. Thank you.

    Like

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