Category: Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Pious women

by Andrea Elizabeth

Dickens and Tolstoy differ in their portrayal of women who forsake the world for a life of prayer. In War and Peace Natasha is very blessed to stay with her pious aunt who attends daily services. Dickens describes Esther’s aunt in Bleak House as pretty bitter and angry, and Arthur’s mother who constantly reads prayers holed up in her room in Little Dorrit as downright cruel.<

These negative characters are seen as greatly relishing the passages about God’s judgement and wrath. It fuels their indignation towards those who have personally wronged them. If there are such negative examples in real life, I believe it is because such people, in addition to not loving their enemies, misdirect those passages externally instead of internally. We are to take no pity on our own sins and to dash any part of ourselves that is unfaithful to God against the stones.

Perhaps the last The End

by Andrea Elizabeth

Another aspect of Tolstoy’s theory is that in the present an action seems free, but the more time elapses after the event and the more is known what lead up to the event, the less free it seems, till it becomes inevitable that the event occurred as it did. In another sense we can see that this is true in that the past had to occur as it did for us to have this present. To acknowledge free will, one has to acknowledge that an alternate present is equally possible.

I believe it is taught that when Christ became incarnate he willed not to know some things. My recent reading of Psalm 76 (77 in Protestant Bibles) points to the Psalmist, and possibly Christ, not knowing if God would deliver him, and if he would be forsaken forever. Therefore the possibility of two outcomes is acknowledged, not the inevitability of one. It is unthinkable for us to consider that the Father could have left the Son’s soul in hell, but I guess there was a certain risk given the dynamics of the situation. This is perhaps the anguish of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There’s another verse (maybe a hymn) about Christ not being tempted by death. He could possibly have given up his own soul.

Back to alternate realities. Acknowledging that things could have been different displaces the inevitability of things, including sin, and can make us more thankful that Christ and others chose wisely. However, it seems we can only vaguely and for the briefest of instants consider what things would have, should have, or could have been otherwise. It becomes speculation laced with fantasy thinking if we dwell on it. All we can do is try to live deliberately and righteously now with what we’ve got.

The End II

by Andrea Elizabeth

Here’s the part about the sun standing still,

To the people who fought against the emerging truth of physical philosophy it seemed that, if they were to recognize that truth, faith in God, in the creation of the firmament, in the miracle of Joshua, son of Nun, would be destroyed. To the defenders of the laws of Copernicus and Newton – Voltaire, for instance – it seemed that the laws of astronomy destroyed religion, and he used the law of gravity as a weapon against religion.

In the same way now it seems that we need only recognize the law of necessity and the notions of the soul, of good and evil, and all state and church institutions based on those notions will be destroyed.

In the same way now as with Voltaire in his time, the uninvited defenders of the law of necessity use that law as a weapon against religion; whereas – exactly like Copernicus’s law in astronomy – the law of necessity in history not only does not destroy, but even consolidates the ground on which state and church institutions are built. (p. 1214)

I guess he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. The Church is necessary – so how could it exist by our free will? I believe the Orthodox would say it exists by disproportionate synergy between God and man. Throughout history there have consistently been people who willed that the Church exist. The fact that there have been no gaps would point to predestination, but this does not have to mean that man’s will was necessarily overcome to make it so. Was so willing by man a natural consequence of his past? When a person looks back at why they are a Christian, they can point to Sunday School teachers, parents, and other witnesses of the faith, and feelings about either needing (as a result of deprivation) help, love, or a better explanation than science provides for the universe. In a Christian society, they will get a Christian answer, in other societies they will get a Buddhist or other answer. There are probably atheists in all societies who do not believe in a higher power or cause, I don’t know about every case. But Tolstoy’s saying that if you had enough perspective, you would see why even the atheist was lead in that direction. But this takes away the individual, free soul of a person. Tolstoy is saying to ignore this disruption in our perception of how things are. I think we can see tendencies that fit what he’s saying, but that is because freedom is voluntary, and oftentimes a heavy responsibility that Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor exposes, along with people’s aversion to it.

Nevertheless we honor the people who have influenced us and lead us along the true path, but in so honoring we have to recognize their freedom in leading us and encouraging us to choose thusly.

The End

by Andrea Elizabeth

except for the Author’s Note.

In the last part of the Epilogue, Tolstoy outlaws freedom! Where he puts God in the course of human events is uncertain. He pretty much says that science has killed God, so bringing God into the equation is not acceptable. I don’t think he believes that, but he is playing by their rules regardless. Whether the inevitable course of events is destined by God or pure science, perhaps decreed by God, is immaterial to his explanation.

His contrasts of freedom and/or necessity, consciousness and reason, and causes and/or laws is quite fascinating. The part that seems to contradict his conclusions is the lack of an “or” between consciousness (where we believe ourselves free) and reason (which defines things according to existing laws). No, he is consistent in that at the end he says we have to believe what we do not feel, the same as we have to believe the new revelation that the earth is moving even though we don’t feel it.

On one hand I think his conclusions, research and observations are very valuable. There are certain laws that govern human behavior. I think he pretty much nailed the inevitableness of why people go to war and how women are dependent on men. But these are the laws of the fallen universe. And these are the laws by which I think we need to understand dysfunctional behavior so that we don’t judge others. However, there is a way out. Female monasticism demonstrates freedom from dependence on men, pacifism (apparently Gandhi was very influenced by Tolstoy) demonstrates freedom from dependence on the urge to dominate, and the higher levels of monasticism demonstrate freedom from anything except the Lord’s Supper. All three are healings of the original Curses. While reading, I was going to argue for when the sun stood still for Joshua, but then he mentions it without me understanding where he thinks that fits in. I’ll reread that part in a bit and make an edit if I understand better.

Christ shows us that God, the author of laws, is not subject to them. This is the basis for miracles, which are really evidence of how we are intended to live. We are meant to be free from laws. But initially we have to choose negatively. Fasting teaches us freedom from the law of necessity. Choosing to die as true, not prideful, martyrs also frees us from this law.

Like I say I don’t understand why he mentions the one miracle, or how we are made in God’s image, when he seems to otherwise stick with his thesis.

[2nd addendum of the day: This is the part where I thought he talked about man being made in God’s image, but I was wrong. “Man is the creation of an almighty, all-good, and all-knowing God. What then is sin, the concept of which follows from the consciousness of man’s freedom? That is a question for theology.” (p. 1202) I guess he takes the Calvinist’s answer to that.]


by Andrea Elizabeth

“Acceptance” in my last post is too forced. “Connection” would be better. Finding the person and connecting with who they really are instead of what you want them to be.


by Andrea Elizabeth

There have been four rare occasions where I have seen a certain phenomenon among people whose body is failing them. One was due to illness, two to a birth defect, and one to physical deprivation. Three in person and one on a medical profiling show when we had “cable”. These individuals had displayed a certain anxiety and tenseness, I think mainly due to their awareness that they were causing their caretakers grief. This grief was not selfish on the part of the caretakers, they were empathetic, but they were desperately trying to fix the problem. Perhaps the fixing became more important than the person.  In each of these cases though, the “patient” became very happy and relaxed in the presence of a stranger who was able to see, understand, and accept them in the midst of their problem. Someone who did not expect more from them. This relaxation and happiness is what I’m saying is rare.

This is not to say that recovery should not be sought for, in one case (deprivation) the situation was reversed. I think there is a problem though when we look on others to exist for ourselves and to supply our needs for healthy company, or for children we can be proud of. Parents sometimes need to be seen as helping their child, and thus the child has the burden of proving that they are being helped, when sometimes being accepted is what they need. This can lead to a pendulum swing of its own where the focus is on relieving the child’s (or other relation’s) guilt for not living up to the parent’s needs. Some caretakers enjoy the role of martyr or savior.

In most other cases of people whose bodies have failed them, I see more of a sense of self in that the person is mainly concerned with how the pain, realization of death, or limitations are affecting them and how they can cope with it. They aren’t as caught up in their care-taker’s experience. This allows the caretaker to perform the tasks without a lot of angst or need to motivate the person to do what is necessary to either get better or sustain their life.

Not that the first scenario demonstrates unhealthiness in the patient. There are very sensitive people, even babies, who are very aware of how they are affecting others. Perhaps they take too much responsibility on themselves, but perhaps in living for their caretaker, they force a reaction from their caretaker.

Before Prince Andrei’s turn for the worse, it is later revealed that right before then, he had indirectly asked Natasha if she wanted to be his caretaker if he did not improve. He interpreted her reaction as negative. Maybe it was at the time, but I think it is implied that she hadn’t worked through the problem yet. She was still in help him get better mode. There is a motivation issue here. Sometimes it is necessary for a person to decide to get better. And oftentimes parents and caretakers have to convince a person to want to get better and go through the pain of rehabilitation. Each case is different, but I do wonder at the ones who refuse to let the person go.

It is surprising for me to learn that many of those who participate in Ironman competitions overcame serious physical infirmity. In a few of the cases it was their parents who demanded that they do. I have mixed feelings about that. Is it an unhealthy fear of death and infirmity on the parent’s part, or is it a fear of a painful life on my part? I do believe that it is sometimes better to let someone go. I don’t know if a parent realizes what they are asking their child to go through. Instinctively I think the parent does realize it and it adds to their guilt and their need to constantly reaffirm to their child that they are so glad they kept their fighting spirit. At the end of the race, the parents are always there to cheer on their now 30 or 40-something-year-old overcomer. Where’s the spouse?

Both of these situations points to a healthy balance of overcoming and healthy mutual appreciation. Not appreciation in the sense of thanks for going above and beyond, but of seeing the person as an unworking whole. Who they are in stillness, even with their limitations of activity. Whether they can overcome their infirmity and find something “worthy” to do (like paint with their mouth), or not.

Relationships shouldn’t be based on guilt. Not that people should always be venting their frustration either. The goal is peace, and sometimes that is harder to accomplish than fighting.

Okay, I forgive you

by Andrea Elizabeth

Tolstoy and I have made up. He won me back with Part 1 of the Epilogue. Napoleon and his enablers are chastised, women are logical, verbal, and valued, men learn to love themselves, and neglected children are noticed. All is right with the world. Looks like the last part is more about Napoleon, so I don’t know if I’ll have much more to say about War and Peace.

Another instance of Absolute Divine Simplicity in Tolstoy?

by Andrea Elizabeth

I did what he says to do in this passage with my last post, but I can’t with this one.

Now, as he told it all to Natasha, he experienced that rare pleasure which is granted by women when they listen to a man – not intelligent women, who, when they listen, try either to memorize what they are told in order to enrich their minds and on occasion retell the same thing, or else to adjust what is being told to themselves and quickly say something intelligent on their own, worked out in their small intellectual domain; but the pleasure granted by real women, endowed with the ability to select and absorb all the best of what a man has to show. Natasha, not knowing it herself, was all attention: she did not miss a word of Pierre’s not a waver in his voice, not a glance, not the twitch of a facial muscle, not a gesture. She caught the not-yet-spoken word in flight and brought it straight into her open heart, guessing the secret meaning of all Pierre’s inner work. (p.1117)

The following is about my fifth reaction to the above, which means he pushed a button.

The responsive listening Tolstoy describes above is that by which a woman listens to something she loves and respects. Rapt attention. But this is not always the response a woman has to what she hears. And in the latter instance, I very much resist the expectation by men, and I’ve heard it plenty of times before, to silently absorb all that they are dishing out. When a woman disagrees or is upset by what she hears, or even has an improvement, shocker of shockers, she should be allowed to say so. Now of course she can go too far with it – balance, always balance – and sometimes she should be silent. Tolstoy would hate most of my posts on this book, but the reason I’ve posted so much is because I do respect his work. My temperament is more along with Dostoyevsky’s than his, but I still respect this effort. It’s a bit kitchen sink for me as well, but all the elements contribute to greater understanding of Russia’s engagement with Napoleon’s forces during the nine years described. They also contribute to an understanding of human proclivities of baser and more elevated sorts.

His continual emphasis on self-emptying and our inability to determine causes and reasons for human events gives me mixed reactions. On one hand, losing self-consciousness while lovingly focusing on another is nice and to be sought for. But it’s a bit too detached audience for me. I pointed out before that I think things should be more reciprocal. I think it can spoil another person to make them the sole emphasis. Love your neighbor as yourself. Plus the more responsibilities a person has, the more they have to be careful with themselves. I remember having no fear of heights before I had kids, then when first pregnant, having a definite foreboding when at the top of a not too steep, nor tall boulder. Prince Andrei never considered his relationship to his son, nor his wife for that matter, and Pierre was childless with his first wife, who obviously did not desire anything for or from him. It’s easy to feel detached in those cases.

As far as causes of human events goes, I like the humility, broadmindedness, and willingness to consider his enemy’s point of view. I also pointed out before that at the same time he was deterministic, so while not assigning blame to individuals, he does seem to blame God, which I think he should back off from as well. In both of the above points, I think Tolstoy is right about when others are behaving wrongly. It is better to back off from judging them and to consider their point of view and its separateness from your own. He also seems to advocate a certain withdrawal from those who treat one ill, which is most of the time the best self-protective course of action, imo.

I think Tolstoy in the above two points advocates good listening, but even then, War and Peace is his interpretation, filtering, and diagnosing of Russia and the French during the early 1800’s, which I respect and appreciate.

Tolstoy on freedom and happiness

by Andrea Elizabeth

Now that I’ve reached the Epilogue, I’d like to share a few of the previous passages that are sticking with me.

In captivity, in the shed, Pierre had learned, not with his mind, but with his whole being, his life, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfying of the natural human needs, and that all unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity; but now, in these last three weeks of the march, he had learned a new and more comforting truth – he had learned that there is nothing frightening in the world. He had learned that, as there is no situation in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so there is no situation in which he can be perfectly unhappy and unfree. He had learned that there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom, and that those limits are very close; that the man who suffers because one leaf is askew in his bed of roses, suffers as much as he now suffered falling asleep on the bare, damp ground, one side getting cold as the other warmed up; that when he used to put on his tight ballroom shoes, he suffered as much as now, when he walked barefoot (his shoes had long since worn out) and his feet were covered with sores. He learned that when, by his own will, as it had seemed to him, he had married his wife, he had been no more free than now, when he was locked in a stable for the night [ouch]. Of all that he, too, later called suffering, but which at the time he hardly felt, the main thing was his bare feet, covered with sores and scabs. (Horsemeat was tasty and nutritious, the saltpeter bouquet of the gunpowder they used instead of salt was even agreeable, there were no great cold spells, and walking in the daytime always made him hot, while at night there were campfires; the lice that ate him warmed his body pleasantly.) One thing was painful at first – his feet.

On the second day of the march, when Pierre examined his sores by the campfire, he thought it would be impossible to step on them; but when everybody got up, he went along limping, and then, having warmed up, walked without pain, though by evening his feet were still more frightful to look at. But he did not look at them and thought of other things.

Only now did Pierre understand the full force of human vitality and the saving power of the shifting of attention that has been put in man, similar to the safety valve in steam engines, which releases the extra steam as soon as the pressure exceeds a certain norm. (p. 1060)

Tolstoy’s vision of Absolute Divine Simplicity?

by Andrea Elizabeth

From Pierre’s dream:

“Life is everything. Life is God. Everything shifts and moves, and this movement is God. And while there is life, there is delight in the self-awareness of the divinity. To love life is to love God. The hardest and most blissful thing is to love this life in one’s suffering, in the guiltlessness of suffering.”

“Karataev!” Pierre recalled.

And suddenly a long-forgotten, meek old teacher, who had taught him geography in Switzerland, emerged in Pierre’s mind as if alive. “Wait!” said the old man. And he showed Pierre a globe. This globe was a living, wavering ball of no dimensions. The entire surface of the ball consisted of drops tightly packed together. And these drops all moved and shifted, and now merged from several into one, now divided from one into many. Each drop strove to spread and take up the most space, but the others, striving to do the same, pressed it, sometimes destroying, sometimes merging with it.

“This is life,” said the old teacher.

“How simple and clear it is,” thought Pierre. “How could I not have known before?”

“In the center is God, and each drop strives to expand in order to reflect Him in the greatest measure. It grows, merges, and shrinks, and is obliterated on the surface, goes into the depths, and again floats up. Here he is, Karataev, see, he spread and vanished. Vous avez compris, mon enfant?” said the teacher. (War and Peace, p. 1064)