Natasha’s Russian Dance at Uncle’s House

In which Natasha shows that she has pure Russian blood running through her veins

At Uncle’s

After the hunt the young Rostovs come along with Uncle to his authentic Russian wooden house. Uncle isn’t married and from an impoverished branch of the family. He lives alone with his serfs. As soon as he gets home, he changes into a Cossack coat, blue trousers and boots. Nicholas and Natasha are so full of expectations and in such a happy mood, that they can only look at each other and burst out laughing. Now that the hunt is finished, Nicholas can act normally again with his sister. Petya has fallen asleep on the sofa. The housekeeper Anisya brings in the most delicious dishes, all prepared by herself. From her countenance Natasha and Nicholas soon conclude that she is not just Uncle’s housekeeper.

The young Rostovs savour the local dishes while someone in the background is playing on the balalaika. Uncle asks Anisya to bring his guitar and it turns out that he can play very well. His Russian notes hit Nicholas and Natasha straight in the heart. Every time a song finishes, Natasha begs Uncle to play another. The music becomes livelier, and Uncle gets up and challenges Natasha: he expects her to dance Russian style. But Natasha was raised by a French governess and learned to dance at Iogel’s*…

Nonetheless she dances as if she has always danced like that, conveying with every movement that Russian feeling, that is inimitable, that you have to have inside you, and that Natasha apparently breathed in together with the Russian air, in spite of her foreign upbringing. Anisya, who is watching from the door opening with the rest of the staff, is moved to tears. “Well, little countess, that’s it – come on!” cries uncle with his favourite expression. After the dance there’s more singing, but soon, much too soon, the carriage arrives to take the Rostovs home.

On the way home Petya is still sleeping, and Natasha and Nicholas discuss their evening at Uncle’s and both agree that it was an excellent evening. Nicholas thinks that that Natasha of his is his best friend, and that he wishes that she wouldn’t get married and that they could stay together forever. Natasha thinks that that Nicholas of hers is a real darling.

Domestic happiness and being authentic

This scene revolves around two main themes: domestic happiness and authenticity. Uncle shows the young Rostovs that happiness doesn’t mean having a lot of money and status. Real happiness can be found in a pleasant home, comfortable clothes, simple but excellent Russian food, Russian music and dance, and even in a relationship with a simple housekeeper. All those frills that Nicholas and Natasha were raised with don’t really matter.

Natasha likes being unconventional: she has been on horseback the whole day, like a man, and at Uncle’s house she has shown her true Russian spirit. And although Uncle, Nicholas and Anisya all adore her like this, it remains to be seen if Andrew, her fiancé, appreciates this deeply rooted aspect of her character. Natasha enjoys her position in the Rostov family very much. She realises only too well that the happiness that she feels now won’t last and that she has to enjoy it now. At the same time she dreams of her future happiness, but it’s the circumstances of her engagement that make her doubt: she is separated from Andrew by the war, and his despotic father is against the marriage. It seems that Nicholas isn’t a fan of Andrew either. The Rostov family is close knit and warm; the Bolkonski’s (Andrew’s family) are distant towards each other and live according to strict protocol.

Most readers will have understood immediately that Natasha won’t fit in, but we can certainly understand her getting carried away and thinking perhaps that she can change him. During the course of the novel we follow Natasha from being a thirteen year old to being a married woman with children. There are many defining moments in her young life, but we can be sure that she’ll always remember this evening with particular fondness.

This is definitely one of my favourite scenes in War and Peace. What’s yours?

*Iogel was a famous dance teacher who held popular balls for the young people. Natasha is one of his favourite pupils, but she certainly didn’t learn any folk dances from him.

*****

Photos and text © Elisabeth van der Meer

Tolstoy’s War and Peace as translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

 

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29 thoughts on “Natasha’s Russian Dance at Uncle’s House

  1. This one is certainly a great scene in the novel, and you have summarized it here with much grace, to the point of making me feel like reading it again. I also like a lot your photos to illustrate the post; they are lovely ! 💐 ✨

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, Li! It’s good to hear that we agree on this scene. Is Natasha your favourite character too? I’m glad you like the photos, I payed special attention to them this morning, using fresh berries from the garden. Hugs and kisses 🌹

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re very welcome, Elisabeth !
    And, yes, Natasha is one of kind, “a treasure” like Pierre says often. I was only disappointed by her change, and lose of all her charm at the end, as Pierre’s wife :/ I also like Pierre Bezukhov, anyway. I think Tolstoi identifyied much with him, and he obviously loved Natasha !! Hugs back and Kisses back !! 💙

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I love this scene, and your vivid prose makes me want to reread it. Hm, what is my favorite scene? Maybe when Nicholas saves Marya, or Mary, or whatever she is called in the various translations, and orders the servants to take her away from the estate before the French get there. But really all the scenes are my favorites…

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  5. A wonderful scene, Elisabeth, and so relevant to our time. The universal theme of happiness featured in this passage, reminds us that happy moments occur unexpectedly – and when they do, there is a profound recognition that the memory of that specific time will be forever embedded in our memories. When we find ourselves in distress and uncertainty, we will recall that marvelous memory and feel its power to comfort and give courage. Another excellent post. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you, Rebecca, for your insightful comment , I agree with you wholeheartedly. We must cherish the happy moments, and when life is not so happy we can indeed gain comfort from them. Have a good day, Elisabeth

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, that is definitely a memorable scene, Kat. Also a defining moment, Marya really is suffering, her father just died and she is not used to taking charge. And Nicholas is a real hero for saving her! Although I always was convinced that Nicholas would marry Sonya, I do think that Marya is a better match for him.

    Like

  8. We are having a heat wave on our side of the world. Remembering the cold winter chill – and now I feel cool again. Have a great day – thanks for making mine extra special.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Brilliant analysis! Whatever we do we must come back to our roots. At one point or the other we realise that we are a tiny bead in the thread that runs through generations as culture and civilisation. Home is always at our hearts. And it is there we find everlasting happiness. This is encapsulated splendidly by Tolstoy in this scene. Love the teapot..!😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so very much! I agree, Tolstoy wants to tell us that we must be true to our roots in order to find true meaning and happiness. Uncle personifies Russia and Natasha shows her Russian roots with the dance, wonderfully executed. It’s a beautiful scene.
    I’m glad you like the teapot too 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Such a beautiful scene! Definitely one of my favorites. It really revealed so much of the heart behind the novel and of Natasha’s free spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a beautiful scene indeed. I think Andrew would love to see her dance like that because he had feelings for her, he chose her the way she was. I feel so sorry for him. If married, they would have challenges for sure, but eventually their marriage would develop into something beautiful. I don’t understand why Tolstoy killed him 🙂 Pierre is a sweetheart, but i think he is not a match for passionate and rebellious Natasha 🙂

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  13. Oh, that’s an interesting view! Andrew does seem to like Natasha’s pure innocence and perhaps Natasha would have succeeded in making Andrew a bit more human. Interestingly Tolstoy claims that Natasha became a bit fat and boring after her marriage with Pierre 😄
    As for Andrew dying; there is apparently another version of War and Peace, an 1866 version, that Tolstoy changed into the book as we know it in the three following years (something to do with it first being published in magazine issues and Tolstoy wanting it published as a whole), anyway, Andrew stays alive in the 1866 version, that was translated into English in 2007 by Andrew Bromfield.

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  14. So interesting! I have never heard about another version. But he isn’t married to Natasha anyway, I guess 🙂
    I am sure Natasha and Andrew would have a happy marriage if they were real people, but they are the characters. Would their happiness benefit the book? 🙂 Tolstoy knew better what fate is suitable 😀

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  15. I didn’t know about it either until recently. It’s a bit controversial. I haven’t read it, but I don’t think Andrew marries Natasha. I think the happiness of Natasha and Andrew would depend on wether they were living at Bald Hills with the grumpy old Bolkonsky. If not, then their marriage could have been happy 😄 The book is perhaps better as it is, because of the surprise effect. I don’t know about you, but you become completely convinced they will marry, and when Natasha let’s herself be seduced by Anatole, I was gasping for air 😄

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  16. Yes, it was an unexpected twist indeed. Tolstoy gave us much more than we expected, the genius he was. Not everything that seems good for the real people is good for a novel 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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