The Who’s Who of War and Peace

There are about 580 individual characters in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Most of them have long and confusing Russian names and titles, and this is probably the most often heard reason, after the length, that people hesitate to read War and Peace

Therefore I have compiled a list of the 73 most frequently recurring characters, in alphabetical order, by the name by which you are most likely to encounter them. I also give a short description, trying to avoid any spoilers. Please note that the spelling of the names may vary per translation. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a handy downloadable and printable PDF. I have also provided links to individual character posts.

The Characters

(Tsar) Alexander I; the Russian emperor (real).

(Princess) Aline Kuragina – Prince Vassili’s wife.

Alpatych, Yakov Alpatych – a member of staff on the Bolkonsky estate Bald Hills. 

Anatole; Anatole Kuragin; Prince Anatole Vassilievich Kuragin – the eldest son of Prince Vassily, handsome, but, as with his sister Hélène, the outside does not match the inside. Close friend of Dolokhov.

(Prince) Andrei; Andrei Nikolaevich Bolkonsky – Marya’s brother, Lise’s husband, and the son of the old Count Bolkonsky. Spends most of the novel on the Russian front. Can come across a bit cold-hearted. 

Anna Mikhailovna; Princess Anna Mikhailovna Dubretskaya – Boris’ mother, and a good friend of the Countess Rostova. She’s always trying improve her son’s position. 

Anna Pavlovna Scherer; Annette – although the novel opens with her, she’s a minor character. A socialite and rather conservative. 

Arakcheev; Count Alexei Andreevich Arakcheev – general and statesman who had a violent temper (real).

Bagration – a Russian general (real).

Bazdeev; Osip (Joseph) Alexeevich Bazdeev – a Freemason and acquaintance of Pierre.

Berg; Alphonse Karlovich Berg, Vera’s husband, officer in the army. 

(Count) Bezukhov; Kirill Vladimirovich Bezukhov; the old count – Pierre’s father, one of the richest men in Russia, already on his deathbed when introduced.

Bilibin – a diplomate with a clever reputation, moves in the highest circles.

(the old Prince) Bolkonsky; Nikolai Andreevich Bolkonsky; old Bolkonsky – the father of Marya and Andrei, an old-fashioned and strict man.

Boris; Prince Boris Dubretskoi – Nikolai’s friend, nice, but a bit calculating.

(Mademoiselle) Bourienne – a French woman who has been hired as a companion for Marya.

Catiche; Princess Catiche – one of the three nieces of the old Count Bezukhov, she tries to secure at least some of his inheritance.

Daniel – the head huntsman at the Rostov’s country estate.

Denisov; Vaska; Vassily Dmitrich Denisov; a hussar officer who becomes friends with Nikolai, a real good guy, can’t say the letter ‘R’.

Dmitry Vasilevich – Count Rostov’s estate manager. 

Dolgorukov; Prince Yuri Dolgorukov – general in chief.

Dolokhov; Fedya; Fyodor Ivanovich Dolokhov – an officer who becomes friends with Nikolai. He can be cruel and mean. 

Dorokhov – Lieutenant-General in the Napoleonic wars (real).

Dron – the village elder at Bald Hills, the Bolkonsky estate. 

Esaul Lovayski the Third; Mikail Feoklitych; the esaul – an ‘esaul’ is a Cossack captain.

Ferapontov – an innkeeper.

Hélène; Princess Elena Vassilievna Kuragina; Countess Bezukhova – Prince Vassily’s daughter, very beautiful on the outside, but not always on the inside.

(Prince) Hippolyte; Ippolit; Ippolit Vassilievich Kuragin – the youngest son of Prince Vassily, not the brightest of the family. 

Ilagin – a rich neighbour of the Rostovs who likes to go hunting. 

(Count) Ilya; Ilya Andreevich Rostov; Count Rostov; the count – the head of the Rostov family, very good-natured and generous.

Ilyin – a young officer, Nikolai’s protégé. 

Julie; Julie Karagina (not to be confused with the Kuragins), Marya’s friend and, like Marya, an eligible wealthy heiress. 

Karataev; Platon Karataev – a peasant soldier who is held prisoner by the French together with Pierre.

Karay – Nikolai’s favourite hunting dog together with Milka.

Karp – a peasant at Bald Hills, the leader of a small revolt after the old Count Bolkonsky has died.

Kozlovski – an aide-de-camp of Kutuzov.

Kutuzov – commander in chief, played a crucial role in the battle of Borodino (real).

Lavrushka – the orderly who looks after Denisov and Nikolai while they are on duty in the army.

(the little Princess) Lise; Liza; Elizaveta Karlovna Bolkonskaya –  Andrei’s wife, she has a protruding, downy upper lip, and is overall very sweet and charming.

Mack; Baron Mack von Leiberich – the commander of the Austrian army (real).

Makar Alexeevich Bazdeev – the half insane and alcoholic brother of Pierre’s Freemason friend Bazdeev.

Mary Hendrikhovna – the wife of the regiment’s doctor.

(Princess) Marya; Marya Nikolaevna Bolkonskaya; Masha; Mary – Andrei’s sister, often referred to by Tolstoy as plain looking with large eyes, a bit nervous and very pious. She adores her brother Andrei.

Marya Dmitrievna; Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova – family friend of the Rostovs, known as “the terrible dragon”, she always speaks her opinion. 

Mavra; Mavra Kuzminishna – a servant in the Rostov household.

Mikhail Ivanovich – an architect.

Milka – Nikolai’s favourite hunting dog together with Karay.

Morel – Captain Ramballe’s servant.

Napoleon Bonaparte; the French emperor (real).

Nastasha Ivanovna – the ‘buffoon’ at the Rostov’s country estate, a man dressed in woman’s clothes. It was apparently still normal to have a jester at Russian country estates in the beginning of the 19th century. 

Natasha; countess Natalya Ilyinichna Rostova; countess Rostova – the youngest daughter of the Rostovs – pretty, she has a strong intuition, rather reckless, good-hearted like her father, but less compliant.

Nesvitski; Prince Nesvitsky – an officer, acquainted with Nikolai, Denisov and Dolokhov, described as stout and usually laughing.

Nikolai; Nikolai Ilyich Rostov; Rostov; Count Rostov – the oldest son of the Rostovs, cheerful, good-natured and well respected, a bit reckless and a brave hussar.  

Nikolenka; Prince Nikolai Andreevich Bolkonsky – the son of Andrei and Liza.

Pelageya Danilovna Melyukova – one of the Rostovs’ neighbours.

Petya; Count Pyotr Ilyich Rostov – the youngest member of the Rostov clan, overenthusiastic and reckless like Natasha and Nikolai. 

Pierre; Pyotr Kirillovich Bezukhov; Count Bezukhov – the illegitimate son of old Count Bezuchov who has been acknowledged just before the old Count died and is now his heir, making him the most eligible bachelor in Russia.

(Captain) Ramballe – a French officer whose life is saved by Pierre.

Rostopchin – governor of Moscow. Rather than giving up Moscow to the French, he had all the inhabitants evacuate and let the city be burned to the ground, so that Napoleon found the city empty and burning (real).

(Countess) Rostova; Natalya; the Countess – Ilya’s wife and the mother of Vera, Nikolai, Natasha and Petya, carer of Sonya.

Shinshin, Pyotr Nikolaevich – Countess Rostova’s cousin.

Sonya; Sophia Alexandrovna; Sophie – she is the ward of the Rostovs, an orphaned relative. Very pretty and Natasha’s closest friend. 

Speransky; Count Mikhail Mikhailovich Speransky – secretary of state (real).

Taras – the Rostov’s cook, a serf who had learned to cook from a French chef. Aristocratic Moscovites, like the Rostov’s, enjoyed giving lavish dinner parties, and having a good cook was a matter of personal pride.

Telyanin – an officer who steals Denisov’s purse

Tikhon – the personal manservant of the old Prince Bolkonsky. 

Tikhon Shcherbaty – a peasant who joins Denisov’s regiment.

Timokhin; Captain Timokhin – an officer.

Tushin – Captain Tushin – an artillery officer.

Uncle – a distant relative of the Rostovs and one of their neighbours.

(Prince) Vassily; Vassily Kuragin; Kuragin – the father of Anatole and Hélène, who does his utmost to make sure his children marry well (meaning wealthy).

Vera; (Countess) Vera Ilyinichna Rostova – the oldest Rostov child, not always popular with the others because of her rather prim attitude.

Zherkov – a hussar cornet, he used to be a part of the group of friends in Saint Petersburg that Dolokhov lead.

Click here for the Who’s Who of Anna Karenina.

*****

Text and photos © Elisabeth van der Meer 2020

37 thoughts on “The Who’s Who of War and Peace

  1. Oh these are excellent study guides, and I’m sure you relished every moment creating them 🙂 Thank you very much, Elisabeth! Anna Karenina was a fantastic novel, but War and Peace wasn’t doable for me. Maybe this guide will help me endure the war segments.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth. This is such a good list. I’ll print it out to read with a Modern Library edition of Constance Garnett with nary a list or a footnote!

    On Fri, Nov 27, 2020 at 11:04 AM A Russian Affair wrote:

    > elisabethm posted: ” There are about 580 individual characters in > Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Most of them have long and confusing Russian names > and titles, and this is probably the most often heard reason, after the > length, that people hesitate to read War and Peace. T” >

    Liked by 3 people

  3. A really clever idea for a post, Elisabeth, and very useful. Your post should be widely circulated. I managed to get through War and Peace, but everyone seems to comment upon the difficulty of keeping the names straight. And, reading your post is informative in bringing the plot and structure of the novel into clearer focus. I like the way you distinguished between which characters were real and “historical” and the fictional ones, many of whom were in essence sketches or persons in Tolstoy’s family and his life. Tolstoy had such genius for transmuting fact into fiction. His novels feel so “real.”

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Kat – In my humble opinion, Constance Garnett’s translation is the best, most readable. I have not checked out carefully the more recent ones, but Garnett’s prose brings the novel alive.
    s t

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you, Mary Jo ☺️ I understand that War and Peace is not the easiest novel to get started in, especially the war segments. I think most people kind of speed-read through them 😉 Hopefully you’ll give War and Peace another try some day!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thank you, Roger. I just downloaded the unabridged “War & Peace” audible which is 61 hours, before I read your comment about Constance Garnett. I am thrilled that the audio that I chose IS Constance Garnett’s translations. I am very excited.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Elisabeth – your post is timely for me. I have downloaded your PDF file, and have taken a huge breath because I am going to take the leap into the unknown for me and read War & Peace in 2021. Many man thanks!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you. Since you already have purchased the audiobook, this comment may be moot, but I have a complete audiobook of War and Peace read by Frederick Davidson. It was produced and sold, I believe, by Blackstone Audiobooks, which I believe is now out of business, but you can find such audiobooks on line (perhaps at Amazon.com). My reason for mentioning this is that Frederick Davidson is an outstanding reader of classics — all of them unabridged. It may be the case (as was true for me) that the best option is to try to find a set of CDs of the audiobook for purchase. I did that and then uploaded the CD’s to my computer. I have listened to Davidson readings of Paradise Lost, Dickens, Balzac, Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island), Keats, William Blake, Orwell, Robinson Crusoe, and other works.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I am thrilled to tell you, Roger, that I have the Frederick Davidson audiobook. Sometimes life just leads you to the right decision. Now I’m going to look for Frederick Davidson’s Paradise Lost narration. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. That’s great! I couldn’t get into Paradise Lost in an English course on poets such as Milton and Spenser that I took in my junior year. Then, years later, I purchased the Frederick Davidson recording, and I was engrossed. I got Milton and his genius. Davidson’s readings of Keats had the same effect. Thanks for responding.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Ah, this is great — I always love to see a post on “War and Peace”, which is one of my favourite books!! It was actually the novel that helped me fall in love with Russian literature in the first place . . . a sort of gateway drug to russophilia! One of the most impressive things about it is how, in spite of the sheer number of characters, they are all such memorable and finely-drawn individuals, regardless of whether they have major or minor roles in the story . . . I don’t know of any other writer who can create characters as vividly as Tolstoy does.

    And on that note, Prince Andrei is one of my most favourite characters in all of literature — am I alone in this camp?! I could never figure out why Pierre seems to get more attention and affection, at least from the readers I’ve known . . . 😛

    I recently started dabbling with reading “War and Peace” in my still-shaky second language, and it is such a strange experience to see some of these familiar characters turning up with slightly different names from what I’m used to! But it’s like getting to experience the novel for the first time all over again, so I can’t really complain.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Couldn’t agree more with you, Roger — Garnett’s translation is simply magical! I feel that she is quite underrated as a translator of Tolstoy, and I could never quite understand why it seems to have sometimes become fashionable to dismiss or criticise her translations in recent years. She is so elegant.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Thank you so much for your thoughts on War and Peace. It’s one of my favourites too! And there will probably be many more War and Peace posts on this blog 😄

    And agree wholeheartedly that Tolstoy created such memorable characters, that it is as if you know them yourself, even the minor ones.

    And it’s also a testimony to his talent in creating characters so lifelike, that we all have our own preferences. My favourite is Natasha, although I do think that Tolstoy could have given her a more distinguished future 😄

    Are you reading it in Russian now?! Bravo! I have only read fragments of it in Russian, and it is indeed like a new experience.

    Happy reading!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I feel that there is a trend in general to dismiss and critisise translators. It is of course a matter of preference, but surely they all put in a huge amount of love and effort. I agree about Garnett, her translations are elegant and very readable, especially her Turgenev translations. I have read War and Peace in the Aylmer and Maude translation, which is also excellent, with very useful notes too. But, being Dutch, I read mostly Dutch translations.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Did you ever find it a little odd that Natasha ends up with Pierre? For some reason I could never quite buy into the idea of them ending up together . . . but yes, there is something a little jarring regarding how she is depicted at the end, although I guess that really was the fate of most women at the time!

    And no, unfortunately, I can’t read Russian — not yet, anyway! My second language is Portuguese. Russian will hopefully be my third language! I would be really interested in seeing a post from you regarding what it’s like to read a master like Tolstoy in the original . . . maybe one day? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I certainly did find that odd; in fact when I read the novel for the first time some 30 years ago, I thought until the end that I must have remembered it wrong, the Natasha – Pierre relation. But you’re right, that was the faith of women those days, and Tolstoy certainly agreed with that!

    So Portuguese is your second language, also impressive of course! Thank you for the good suggestion for a blog post 😊 It’s probably something that people wonder about when reading translations. Or something that even prevents them from reading translations altogether.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. It is a mix. There is one dutch publisher, van Oorschot, who decided one day in the fifties that we needed a Russian library, like there already was in France. Thanks to him we have well translated collected works of most major Russian writers. Now they are updating their translations with a new generation of translators.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. One of the greatest classical novels of all time with 73 characters! and yet writers are criticised if they have more than 5 characters for readers to follow. Crazy.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s