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.
(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