Thursday, December 3, 2009

On "War and Peace"

I did it. I finished War and Peace the other day.

Whew. Talk about a load off my mind.

It was a great book, but one thing's been bugging me ever since.

I can't figure out who my favorite character is, or even if I really liked any of the characters.

Usually, that's a sign of a bad book (A Separate Peace, I'm looking at you!), but I adored W&P. I didn't want to put it down.

Here are some of the characters vying for the "favorite" position, but they all have some pretty big flaws that knocked them out of my good graces at some point or another.

Pierre: He starts out kind of ambivalent: He could be a good kid caught up in some bad stuff, or he could just be a rake. This all comes to a head when he challenges Dolohov to a duel over Helen.

Yeah, not the kind of man I would want to be married to.

Then, he kind of turns it around and joins the Masons, but doesn't really join the Masons. He still tends to act alright, and he's pretty good to Natasha (A character I despised all the way until the epilogue, BTW) and he's a solid friend to Prince Andre.

He does some pretty good stuff -- saving that kid from a burning Moscow -- and becomes a POW under the French. And then he's good again. But, still, something didn't sit right with him in my book.

Prince Andre: Now, here's a guy who started out really awful in my eyes (The way he treated his wife -- his pregnant wife -- made me want to vomit), but then turned it around. He was good to his sister, he was good to his son, he was good to his really nasty father. He even was pretty good toward the peasants on his estate.

Andre also did some valiant things in battle, tried to help the army out, but gave up when things didn't go his way. A quitter. Yay.

He turned out OK, though, even after his falling out with Natasha.

Nicholas Rostov: As sad as it sounds, I don't really remember Nicholas until the war started. And then, he was just kind of there, doing his job. Nothing really spectacular. He did feel awfully obligated to Sonya, which I thought was noble, but kind of foolhardy.

In the end, he turns out to be a really decent, albeit kind of controlling, guy who actually gets in and gets his hands dirty working for the money his estate earns. Unlike all the other men in the book, of course.

It's these differences in personalities, these extra sides to one person, that I think makes Tolstoy's book resonate as "the greatest novel of all time." If everyone was always good or always bad, it would just be Uncle Tom's Cabin on a really grand scale. A classic with memorable characters, but boring.

No one stays the same their whole lives, and since the book spans nearly 20 years in time, it shows how the characters evolve, much like real people do.

For those of you who've read the book, what do you think?

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