Different types of admiration in War and Peace

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Here I have chosen to examine the relationships between certain characters and explain the reasons for which they admire each other. These examples include the admiration of children for parents, men for great leaders, and even the marvel of nature, between which parallels can be drawn and differences emphasised.

Although Andrei and Maria both acknowledge their father’s intelligence and extensive knowledge, only the son is willing to point out the defects of his character , while Maria sees him as an authoritative figure beyond reproach. For all her father’s harsh treatment of her, she cannot understand how Andrei can criticise him for his insensitivity, and constantly needs to assure others of what a kind man he is. As Maria is not married, and for most of the book accepts the fact that she most likely never will be, she must acknowledge that she has no choice but to stay with her father, so has to convince herself of his kindness to be able to bear his criticisms of her. When discussing her father, she doesn’t seem to follow the thread of what the other person is saying, but instead continues her own line of thought about what a good hearted and admirable man he is, as though this is something she often thinks about and reinforces whenever her father is brought up in conversation. She also says that she “does not allow herself to pass judgement on her father”, perhaps because if she were to acknowledge the injustice of his treatment of her, her situation would become unendurable. Unlike Andrei, Maria does not have a life outside of her father’s household, so although father and son are able to hold a conversation as equals whilst discussing the war, Maria is only able to learn from her father. With the exception of the church, all that she knows she has been taught by him, so will always know less than him, and admires him for the education that he has given her. The teachings of the church only encourage her feelings of gratitude and understanding that her father did care for her as he put so much effort into her schooling. During his outbursts, her father vents his frustration at her stupidity, so this constant beratement reinforces her feeling of inferiority compared to her father.

Young Nicolai is also in awe of his father, but for entirely different reasons. Having never met his father, he is able to invent an idealised figure to look up to. Before his nightmare, Nicolai had never imagined his father in the form of a person, instead seeing him in a way resembling a godlike presence, not taking on a human embodiment. The fact that Pierre, who Nicolai also worships, struggles to speak about his friend makes his father all the more of a mysterious figure for the young boy. Having probably been recounted the stories of his father’s heroism and great accomplishments by princess Maria, a desire was inspired in Nicolai to achieve what he did and more. In the same way as his father did at the start of the novel, Nicolai dreams of praise and greatness, of being loved by all, but especially of doing something that even his father would commend.

Even more of an irrational adoration is that of Nicolai Rostov for tsar Alexander. As he has never met Alexander, he is also able to idealise him as a heroic leader, the same way that young Nicolai Bolkonsky does his father. However, he may also be making up for an underlying lack of clarity as to why so many men, including himself, are sacrificing themselves under the orders of one man. Deep down he is unsure as to why he is risking his life in this war, however by convincing himself of the eminence of his tsar, he is assured that there is a higher authority that is worth dying for. His admiration of Alexander also unites him with the crowd, and he is enraptured by their shared mentality. Rostov reflects on how everyone around him is prepared to carry out whatever the Tsar orders, and as they cheer together this further intensifies his feelings of reverence. 

As Rostov admires Alexander, Andrei looks up to Napoleon for his military genius. However, while Rostov places his hero on an unattainable pedestal of glory, Andrei may also respect Napoleon because he desires for himself  the glory that Napoleon is showered with. Andrei acknowledges the unsettling truth that the only thing he wants is the love of people he does not know, that he experiences in reverse through his love for Napoleon. Nevertheless, once he comes to see the insignificance of greatness when faced with the proximity of death at the battle of Austerlitz, his admiration of Napoleon suddenly vanishes. No longer having any desire for glory, he sees Napoleon as a petty man full of vanity, who overestimates his own importance. 

At multiple points in the novel, the characters are able to appreciate the beauty of nature because it reflects in them a freedom from their previous way of thinking. As Andrei comes to realise the futility of glory, he is enthralled by the slow movement of the lofty clouds across the sky in comparison to the frantic human action around him. This image conveys to him the permanence of nature compared to fleeting human life, and the power of great leaders no longer seems so vast as nature will remain something that they are unable to control. Descriptions of the sky often mirror the philosophical enlightenments that the characters have undergone, such as when Pierre is enthralled by the comet which he describes to be “perfectly attuned” to his newly melted heart. They are comforted in the way that nature seems to reflect what they have uncovered, and feel distanced from those around them by what nature has chosen to reveal to them. The admiration of nature also provides a mental escape from the situation the characters find themselves in. Whilst the Russian army burns the bridge between them and the French, Rostov is able to distance himself from the horror of the overwhelming agony he witnesses by gazing at the river and sky. For the first time in the novel he reflects on what he has to lose if he dies in battle, and, similarly to Andrei, a feeling of gratitude and satisfaction arises in him for something as simple as the appreciation of a beautiful scene.

 We also see admiration between friends, such as shown by Pierre for Andrei. Pierre looks up to his friend for possessing those qualities that he himself lacks, such as willpower, since he is constantly succumbing to his own impulses. Interestingly, he does not see it as a flaw that Andrei lacks certain dispositions that are present in him, since only those that possess them can understand the negative aspects of those characteristics. Although Andrei is unable to dream like Pierre, he considers this to be a positive trait since he is not constantly lead astray (like Pierre often is, such as in his desire to help the peasants or assassinate Napoleon). 

Finally, admired by all is the charming Natasha, who is able to uplift those around her with her lively character. Her animated and energetic nature awaken a feeling of youthfulness in those she is around, such as the countess who is reminded of her own girlhood when watching Natasha at the ball. In the way that a child would, she romanticises the world as she imagines how she could fly into the night when sitting by the window with Sonya, which revives a feeling of freshness in the cynical Andrei. Not only does Natasha have a gift of being easily enchanted by what she sees, but she also wishes to share this appreciation with others, like when she begs for Sonya to come and admire the moon with her. Natasha’s sense of wonder often overwhelms her, but this unrestrained emotion only makes her appear more attractive. Her expressions reveal what she does not say in words, so she is unable to hide what she thinks, and therefore, in contrast to Helene, she is unable to use her charm to manipulate others. In a similar way she struggles to restrain what she says, for example when she asks Andrei whether he likes her singing, however this lack of filter makes her a character who is refreshing to be around. Furthermore, Natasha’s desire to care for others is pure hearted, which is illustrated when she spends the whole evening getting her mother and Sonya ready for the ball rather than herself. Like Maria, Natasha loves everyone, however this is something that comes completely naturally to her and that she finds joy in, rather than being a religious ideal that she strives towards, which in some ways makes it more admirable. As most aspects of her character are, her talents are also unrefined, such as her singing which had a sound of purity to it despite its imperfections. When performing the folk dance, the spirit of the dance comes instinctively to her, which makes it unique. Her unconventional character compared to the women of society is another feature that draws Andrei to her, and she stands out in many ways, for example being the only woman at the hunt. Andrei admires her all the more for the fact that her charm is distinctive, and does not captivate the attention of everyone the same way that Helene does with her indisputable beauty. 

Автор этого эссе англофон. На занятиях Creative Writing School будет интересно и слушателям, для которых русский не является родным языком. Редакции «Пашни» особенно приятно сделать исключение из русскоязычного контента журнала и опубликовать это эссе.