Pierre Bezukhov

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Yes, yes, finally another War and Peace blog post! This time about Pierre Bezukhov. Last night I dreamed that I heard on the radio that thanks to a new technology Leo Tolstoy was able to have more children now. As if he didn’t have enough children when he was still alive!

Anna’s salon

In the first chapter of War and Peace Tolstoy’s brainchild Pierre wanders into the fancy Petersburg salon of Anna Pavlovna. It is immediately clear that Pierre is different: He has only just returned from his education abroad, he is larger than the other people there, and he is the illegitimate son of one of the richest men in Russia. This is his first appearance in society; Anna Pavlovna is right to be a bit worried. Pierre is enormously interested in the intelligent conversations that he hears all around him, but he blunders about like a bull in a china shop. 

Kuragin and Dolokhov

In spite of his good intentions we find him a few hours later with his ‘friends’ Anatole Kuragin and Dolokhov. He clearly feels more at home at the wild drinking-bout that they’re having. It ends with the three of them tying a policeman to a bear and throwing them into the Moyka*. The gossip about Pierre’s misbehaviour reaches all the way to Moscow…

Count Bezukhov

Although Pierre clearly is the the nail in his already dying father’s coffin, he is his father’s favourite child. The old Count has only illegitimate children, so many that he has lost count, but rumour has it that he has sent a petition to have Pierre made legitimate, so that Pierre can inherit his fortune and title. And indeed, as feared Pierre becomes the new Count Bezukhov and the most desirable bachelor in Russia.

Hélène

Pierre does not change with the change in his fortune, but some of the people around him do. Anatole’s father, Prince Vasili, had hoped that the petition would not be sent or granted, in which case he would have inherited through his wife. Now his only hope is to marry off his children well. He cleverly arranges it so that Pierre marries his daughter Hélène, who did not even glance at Pierre before his good fortune. Pierre is easily seduced, even though he already knows that it’s probably not a good idea. At the very least he knows what Anatole is capable of and he knows of the rumours about the relationship he has with his sister. Of course the marriage ends in disaster and a duel with Dolokhov. 

But what is there to say about me? What am I? An illegitimate son!…

Karataev

Pierre struggles with not having a clear function in life; he has no career, no family, no direction. His failed marriage makes this all the more clear. His search brings him to the Freemasons, but there he does not find the answer. He goes to his estate and tries to improve the situation there for his serfs, but does not succeed there either. At some point he even wants to murder Napoleon. It is 1812. He is already on his way to the French quarters in occupied Moscow, but gets arrested on the way. The turning point in his life comes during his imprisonment: the famous potato scene with a simple peasant named Karataev, a fellow prisoner. From Karataev Pierre learns to saviour a simple hot potato as if it’s the greatest delicacy and particularly to live and be happy in the moment.

Like all of us at various stages in our lives, Pierre is looking for answers. He finds them when all has been stripped away from him. He has grown from an influenceable young man into a strong personality. His honesty and good nature make him one of the most sympathetic characters in War and Peace. 

*Yes, the same river that that Russian professor fell into when he drunkenly tried to dispose of the body parts of his murdered girlfriend.

*****

Text © Elisabeth van der Meer 2019

Illustration from War and Peace by A. Nikolayev

32 thoughts on “Pierre Bezukhov

  1. I was just looking up quotes from War & Peace on “Pierre.” Who said, “Pierre was right when he said that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and I now believe in it. Let the dead bury the dead, but while I’m alive, I must live and be happy.” I especially liked your insightful thought: “Like all of us at various stages in our lives, Pierre is looking for answers.” Perhaps that is what gives us the momentum to explore, to discover. And your blog is a great place to explore and discover. With much thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. A brilliant and illuminating post: about War and Peace, about Tolstoy and his characters, about the human dilemma. It makes me want to read War and Peace again. Pierre is a complex, very human character, no doubt with much Tolstoy in him, who has always fascinating me. I have a book that I have only skimmed so far: “Tolstoy’s Pierre Bezukhov: A Psychoanalytic Study” by Daniel Rancour-Laferriere.

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  3. That’s a wonderful quote that sums up War and Peace. While writing this post it also struck me that the novel is very much about life going on, no matter what happens. Thanks, Rebecca, for your insightful comments 😊

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  4. Thank you very much, Roger! I also think that there is a lot of Tolstoy in Pierre, even though he is for instance very different from Anna Karenin’s Levin, who is generally assumed to be autobiographical. Pierre is all about the good intentions and the search for answers, which played a huge part of Tolstoy’s life. The book you mention sounds fascinating!

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  5. Thanks Elisabeth: Re your reply: “I also think that there is a lot of Tolstoy in Pierre, even though he is for instance very different from Anna Karenin’s Levin, who is generally assumed to be autobiographical.” You are right that Levin is the Tolstoy character who is clearly autobiographical.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My favorite Pierre scene has to be when he “proposed” to Helene, or at least when he was peer pressured into pretending that he had. He didn’t have the strength to follow his gut and say no thank you! It was so funny and sad at the same time. That woman was almost the death of him!

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  7. Absolutely! He had no idea how to deal with the situation! Instead of being honest and listening to his intuition he took the easiest way out and married her…

    Like

  8. Yes! That’s one of the funniest scenes in the entire book — makes me laugh every time.

    PS: Is there a post dedicated to Prince Andrey yet? I’m Team Andrey all the way . . .

    Like

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