Finding Inspiration in Tolstoy's War and Peace
Tolstoy depicts a vast array of characters from all walks of life. Each character is remarkably real and irreducibly individual. In fact, Tolstoy's realism has had such a lasting impact that even today an ordinary Russian can usually recall in colorful detail how her favorite character in War and Peace speaks, dresses and behaves, as if they were someone from her own life.
Pierre Bezukhov: War and Peace has several heroes. One of the most famous is this illegitimate son of a wealthy Russian count. At the beginning of the novel, Pierre unexpectedly inherits a large fortune and is thrust into a world of conflict and responsibility. Like Levin in Anna Karenina, Pierre is naïve and socially awkward, and he is on a passionate quest for meaning. He is seduced by and marries the beautiful, immoral Helene Kuragin—a union which ends bitterly. Pierre then tries Freemasonry but becomes disillusioned. He attempts social reform on his estate with disastrous financial results. He even believes at one point that he is destined to end Napoleon's rule. The fraught hero ultimately finds happiness in the family he creates with Natasha Rostova.
Natasha Rostova: One of Tolstoy's best known female characters, Natasha is similar to Kitty in Anna Karenina. Natasha represents the purity of the Russian soul. At the beginning of the novel she lights up other peoples' lives with her childlike spontaneity and her creative energy, and she eventually matures into a calm, responsible adult. Some readers are disappointed that Tolstoy has Natasha lose her delightfully impulsive nature by the novel's end, but Tolstoy believed that this process had to happen in order for Natasha to embrace her noblest calling of all: to become a loving wife and mother.
Prince Andrew Bolkonsky: He is another of the novel's prominent characters and is Pierre's closest friend. Prince Andrew's cold, mysterious nature is in stark contrast with Pierre's warm, free-flowing spirit. At one point Andrew is engaged to Natasha, but uncontrollable events intervene. The fact that Prince Andrew's closest friend will eventually marry Natasha demonstrates Tolstoy's belief in the strong interconnectedness of human destinies.
The big picture