Monthly Archives: December 2015

18% done with War and Peace


Rostov embodies the spirit of any inexperienced young man in battle: he will preform his duty even if it means riding straight into the enemy’s fire. He wouldn’t dare to think to disobey his orders because of the danger, in fact the more dangerous the more likely he is to carry it out. Yet it never occurs to him that he’s on a fool’s errand, that his efforts are in vain and meaningless. He is being used.

17% done with War and Peace


“How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanity, all falsehood, except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing, but that. But even it does not exist, there is nothing but quiet and peace. Thank God!”

This is the moment the novel opens up to what Tolstoy wants to talk about – the BIG questions.

Andrei is a hero on a losing battle.

17% done with War and Peace


Mostly this is just a chapter setting the stage for battle with Kutuzov being surly and almost disrespectful to the Emperor. This is interesting, however, in that we see a power struggle of sorts – the youthful (though recently ill) Emperor against the tired and cynical old General. Kutuzov knows this battle will be lost and he’s putting himself in a position where he can be blamed for it, too.

17% done with War and Peace


Here we get a visual chapter on the battlefield: the Russians stuck in the fog (literally and figuratively), and Napoleon on the high ground looking down and assured of victory. We get the last half of the chapter from Napoleon’s vantage point (though not his thoughts). Artistically this is exquisite writing – the color of the mist the sun, the glittering bayonets, the blue sky above. The danger awaiting.

17% done with War and Peace


The “Natasha… sabretache” scene is a very modern piece of writing – it’s almost stream-of-consciousness and it mimics exactly what it’s like to be thinking of something while falling asleep while trying to stay awake.

Interesting how Napoleon refers to the Russians as “hirelings of England” – language is important just as previously they referred to him as only “Head of the French Government”.

16% done with War and Peace


The chapter ends with the peasants mocking each other, “Go, Tit, thresh a bit!”. This sets the scene for how it would be impossible to carry out any battle plan – the men will do what they will do in whatever circumstance lends itself and no plan will change that. Tolstoy is carefully building up the failure of Russia at Austerlitz and making his case for only God running man’s fate.

16% done with War and Peace


We get a bit more insight into what Andrei wants when we listen to his thoughts on how badly he wants glory and the love of people he’ll never know. He wants to be Napoleon. This is symbolic in the since Peter the Great’s time Russia wanted to be European, but now that Europe was at their door, they were in for a bad deal.

After the disposition with Weyrother Andrei feels uneasy- the weather is foggy.

16% done with War and Peace


Here we get a glimpse of the older generation believing their own b.s. Only Kutuzov knows Austerlitz will be lost because he’s a realist. Yet the plans move forward independent of everyone and there is no stopping it, much like the scene on the bridge on the first battle where nobody can cross because there are too many men already moving. Here we see what Tolstoy is teaching us slowly reveal itself.

15% done with War and Peace


Soon we’ll get Tolstoy pontificating about the idiocy of the Great Man of History theory, how no man can really influence events other than react as best he can to them. But for right now we see how blind the youthful loyalty is to Alexander, and a glimpse of the result of that fervor with the bleeding soldier being seen by the tsar.

War is terrible as the tsar comments.

15% done with War and Peace


Boris is an overlooked character in the book. He is the mirror of Dolokhov in that he is ambitious and even a little cold, but he’s not a bad man. He understands he must make his way in life by himself and by his wit, but he’s not immoral like Dolokhov. He plays by the rules, Dolokhov breaks the rules – and gets people killed. Yet we remember Dolokhov more because there is something to remember about him.

15% done with War and Peace


A little later on we learn of a scene where some French soldiers all worked up at the sight of Napoleon leap into a river and all drown while the emperor does not even notice their stupid sacrifice. Here, when Nikolai is in awe of his Emperor we learn how powerful that draw is.

We no longer live in a world where any one thing captivates us as a group – not music, or TV show, or a book brings us together.

15% done with War and Peace


(much) Later we learn how Nikolai is quick to use his fists and hit a man who angers him, and this causes tension between him and Marya. And here we see his anger growing in him, how impetuous he can be (much like Natasha, Petya, and his father are in their way). This contrasts to Andrei who is calm and superior and even to Berg who is calm and banal. Tolstoy never falters with these characters.

15% done with War and Peace


Mostly this is a family chapter focusing on how the Rostov family reacts to their son’s letter, but it still follows the theme of perception. Implied is that Nikolai carefully crafted the letter for his family and though we don’t read the letter we can deduce what he has and has not told them (the purse incident, for example).

This scene mirrors Petya’s much later.

6000 rubles. that’s a lot even today.

14% done with War and Peace


While by today’s standards some might see it as barbaric, at the time for a father to allow his daughter to choose to marry or not a suitor is liberal. And her choosing not to is quite the snub, but a win from out point of view since Vasili is such an opportunist. And she retreats to God, forgiving Bourienne’s passion, and only looking to make others happy. She is Tolstoy’s true yet realistic Christian.

I mean it’s not a mistake her name is Marya, Tolstoy is hitting this one on the head pretty bluntly. Yet for as good as she is, Tolstoy writes her realistically in that she’s not without sin or superhuman, she also suffers from passion and pride, but she’s about as good a person as is probably possible.

And that makes her decision not marry Anatole so interesting because on the one hand you could say her lonely father is manipulating her (and he is), but on the other you could say she and Anatole could not possibly me married, they are two different species and she knows that. So her choosing not marry him is not so clear obvious.

And this is what Tolstoy does better than anyone: he presents all the possible “realities”, all the possible ways of looking at a situation, all possible perceptions, and then (and here’s the love him or hate him aspect of Tolstoy) swings the ax down on all the wrong possibilities and tells us what is actually right.

14% done with War and Peace


Mostly just a chapter about the interplay between old Prince Bolkonsky, scheming Vasili, out of place Marya, scheming Bourienne, and idiot Anatole who doesn’t even know where the unit he’s attached to is. I like that Tolstoy doesn’t give us Anatole’s thoughts – we just get an assumed impression and how the women react to him. All this banal drama will help us understand why Marya choose not to marry Anatole

14% done with War and Peace


The one character who does not change through the entire novel is Marya, but this is not because she is a poorly drawn character, just the opposite! The world of the novel changes around her and her belief, faith, and strength are what sees her though to eventual happiness. But right now we can see how difficult her life is, how actually changing into a pretty dress does nothing for her, yet she endures it.

14% done with War and Peace


The thing about the military – something Nikolai will appreciate after he loses all that money later in the book – is the structure it provides. There is no guesswork to figuring out what you are supposed to do, you just follow orders and all will be well. Mostly. And for the unimaginative. Yet in society while there are rules, it is a lot more ambiguous for someone who is weak willed like Pierre.

13% done with War and Peace



Tolstoy is concerned with the idea of a person having a moral center that influences all of their actions. People who do not have a center, such as Pierre, are easily manipulated, whereas someone like Hélène has a corrupted center and can only cause trouble. She is described always by her physical beauty followed by Pierre remarking how she is otherwise rotten. He is learning to judge people. Slowly.

Tolstoy implies Hélène had an incestuous relation with her brother Anatole.

13% done with War and Peace


It’s impossible for me not to get emotional during these chapters – the absolute beauty of what Tolstoy is writing is only equal to a symphony by Beethoven or the Sistine Chapel. You can literally hear the camp fires, the men moving about in the night, the soldiers carrying the body and tripping, the snow visible just over the fires. And Andrei speaking up for Tushin before the staff.

God, I love this novel

13% done with War and Peace


(chapter 20, book 2)

This is, in my opinion, the first of the great chapters of the novel. What starts with the General more concerned that he might get in trouble because his troops are not following orders, end with Tushin standing his ground despite being told to retreat. Tushin full of energy leads as finely as Alexander the Great, and only when Andrei offers him his hand in friendship does he cry.

12% done with War and Peace


Rostov’s first battle mirrors the hunt at the halfway point of the novel. But here the hunted is Rostov, not a fox. Yet when we get to the hunt we can sympathize with the feeling the poor animal must have as well as how the dogs felt, too. The thrill and terror of war.

I love how Rostov is incredulous that the French would want to kill him, whom everyone loves. And really, who wouldn’t think this?

12% done with War and Peace


Just imagine, spectators at a battle. That had actually been the norm for centuries, now everyone is a combatant.

The accountant spectator mirrors what happens later with Pierre when he too, in a white suit and white hat, is a spectator for the great battle.

Bagration is the very image of the perfect commander. He is calm, the men respect him, and he takes credit for everything without giving any orders.

12% done with War and Peace


Tushin is Tolstoy’s invention to get us to see the Russians as humans, not just as cannon fodder. He is small, maybe even weak looking, but smart and curious, and quite unlike what we think of as military types. He stands out and he’s our calm anchor to the storm about to blow, we care about this unusual little man. Tolstoy even narrates saying “we” and “our” for the first time in the novel. Tushin is our captain.

11% done with War and Peace


Captain Tushin, my favorite minor character. Tolstoy is genius with Tushin: we first meet him with his boots off and being scolded for it. Yet we never see him upset, he just smiles as if everything is OK. In fact the closer we get to the front the more orderly and “fun” everything is, we even get Dolokhov arguing with the French followed by the fake French pantomime. But it’s all serious. The guns remain.

11% done with War and Peace


More trickery! This time we see what an opportunist Kutuzov is, but also how smart Napoleon is (in not falling for the truce ruse). Tolstoy does not throw Napoleon many bones so this is about the only compliment we get.

This chapter’s narrative is unusual in that it’s getting closer and closet to what will eventually Tolstoy speaking (preaching) directly to us. He’s leading up to his philosophical musings

11% done with War and Peace


Kutuzov as Tolstory writes him is the only one who really sees what’s going on (the observation about his empty eye-socket a none-too-subtle irony on seeing). Yet Kutuzov does see better than anyone, even near silently getting Andrei to come with him knowing the young man wants to be a “hero” otherwise.

He asks a few questions, eventually leading to talking of the ladies: the important things for all men.

10% done with War and Peace


Everyone is fooling everyone and nobody seems to know it, except the Sargent who wanted to fire on the French at the bridge but was instead arrested because he didn’t follow Austrian discipline. And in this calamity Andrei thinks he will save the Army.

France takes the bridge while the royalty party. Typical.

We end with Bilibin jokingly, yet still correctly (in Andrei’s mind) saying Andrei is a “hero”.

10% done with War and Peace


This chapters serves to show us how foolish all these hangers-on diplomat types are. In fact it os only Andrei whom has been invited to see the emperor. And when Bilibin hears this he tells Andrei to tell the Emperor how well Bilibin responsibilities are going (supplies and food, I assume anyway) which is, of course, totally untrue since it’s not going well and Andrei says so. Perception, lying, gaming. Fool

* Emperor Francis I of Austria

10% done with War and Peace


Tolstoy indulges on Bilibin, a character we only meet once. Part of this is to show how pretentious Bilibin is, but also to act as a foil to the Russian belief they have won an important victory. Truth is as Austria sees it Russia is full of looters and is good for little. Again it’s perception, yet it ends with Andrei dreaming about how it all did happen as he happily remembers it – damn Austria’s interpert

9% done with War and Peace


Here we’re shown through Prince Andrei how ones perception changes given the circumstances, even very minor ones. True, Andrei is sensitive to these things, but we’re all susceptible to these shift of emotion, be it the smile of a pretty girl that suddenly cheers you up, or a perceived slight from your boss who doesn’t notice your hard work. Andrei internalizes, Rostov externalizes. Both are self-centered.

9% done with War and Peace


We also get a narrative shift where Tolstoy (as narrator) talks about how just beyond an imaginary line on the battle field lies danger, and beyond another lies peace and safety. And Rostov looks up at the sky and this narrations talks about crossing that line of death we must all pass. But it’s a line we can’t actually see, though we know it’s there. This chapter is about seeing and about preservation.

9% done with War and Peace


Who hasn’t imagined what Rostov imagines? That everything revolves around them, that the people around you are actually paying attention to you and not to just themselves? Tolstoy shows us the soldiers looking at each other as the cannon flies over to see how the men react to this danger. Everyone is trying to see how everyone is seeing them, but nobody is looking. Everyone is just trying to stay alive.

9% done with War and Peace


We see the troops as a somewhat disorganized and emotional herd, their sexualized banter towards the German girls revealing how base they, and war is. There is also a bit of class jealousy between the fine Hussars and the infantry – infantry being conscripted serfs mostly – yet the infantry men are not shy to poke a little fun at their “betters”, and you feel see the smug superiority of the Hussars. Snapshot

9% done with War and Peace


Notice how Tolstoy uses distance and perspective in this chapter – the diagonal rain, the nunnery in the distance, the enemy beyond that. When they shoot the cannons he describes the smoke as milky white, then we hear the sound. When the Russian playfully fire their cannon, the ball flies over the heads of the troops and lands in a little cloud of smoke. The perspective follows Rostov’s perspective shift too

9% done with War and Peace


A person’s personal honor is not bigger than the group’s, and it’s not honor anyway if you’re being stubborn. Even Rostov says he can’t describe the feeling even though everyone else recognizes it as being obstinate. And the chapter ends with news they will actually go into battle instead of dealing with these trivial matters – the war is bigger than them all – but what’s bigger than the war? Tolstoy knows.

The Russian Peasantry 1600-1930: The World the Peasants Made: Read from November 21 to December 17, 2015

This is an incredibly well balanced overview of the Russian peasantry, that is divided up into 10 main chapters covering each of the following headings:

Population, where we learn about death and birth rates as well as how geography plays a major role in population;

Environment, where we get a deeper look at the geography of Russia and how that played a part in migration of peasants as well as how Russia grew during this period;

Exploitation, in which Moon attempts to balance the assumption that serfs were very badly treated (something the Communists were attempting to teach) against the more complicated reality of the interplay between landowner and serf;

Production, where we learn what was grown, harvested, and sold as well as why Russian peasants never advanced beyond the technology level of 16th century peasants in the rest of Europe;

Households, where we learn about the large, multi-generational households that were common and why they persisted;

Communes, wherein we learn about how the community of peasants was a vital factor in managing the estate, keeping order, and keeping everyone alive;

Protest, where we learn about the 4 major rebellions that took place before the 19th century;

Consumption, What the peasants ate and bought, and by inference how they lived day-to-day and what their interests were;

Continuity, where we learn not what changed for the peasants but how their culture survived, thrived, and was kept intact even when families were split apart, or entire communities moved thousands of miles;

Change, where we take a closer look at the myth that peasant society was static (see Production and how the peasant farming techniques did not change much).

This is a book designed for someone who wants a good introduction to Russian peasant society, overall Russian history, and a look at how different political influences can shape how we look at the data present. Moon does an excellent job of being very fair to not only the peasants, but also to the landowners (and even the tsarist’s government itself) by presenting the complexity of the issue of serfdom. While there are a few “evil players” here and there – Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, for example – the interplay of power between the serf and the elite was dynamic, subtle, complex, and not nearly as black and white as the American slave plantations.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about this period in history, especially if you are a lover of Russian literature and wish to gain a keener insight into the novels of the great Russian masters who so often included serfs in their stories.

The Russian Peasantry 1600-1930: The World the Peasants Made: Additional Notes on the Text

Additional notes from my notebook I didn’t enter into Goodreads:


Chapter 1: Population

First census was on Jan 28, 1897 (A poll tax census was a head count of males)

  • Included occupation, place of birth, age, marital status, religion, education, (the typical things found on a census).
  • Enumerators (people who did the counting) were clergy, teachers, estate stewards, clerks
  • There was a lot of cultural mistrust and disdain towards the people being counted. Many people heated their homes with manure which smelled terrible
  • Census counted 969 million peasants out of a total population of 125.6 million = 77.1%, roughly ¾ of the population were peasants.

Defining exactly who was a peasant was not straightforward, though it can commonly be defined as someone exploited by the elite and living in a rural area. Since the 14th century the word for peasant was “krest’yanin’ = one who has been christened. Another term is ‘Muzhik’ = little man.



Nobility = literate

Peasants = oral tradition

From 1705 right up until the revolution there were annual levies of recruits into the Army and the poll tax was carried out from 1724 – 1883.

Serfdom ended 1861. For the previous 200 years the nobility (and even Russian Orthodox Church) owned serfs.

Peasants had virtually no representation. Hunters, gatherers, and nomads were not considered peasants, but they too had no rights.

Gogol’s Dead Souls was published in 1842 so the 1833 census is the closest census describing the serfs in that novel:

  • 13,944,824 peasants
  • 16,303,966 total male population
  • Equals 85.53% of the population living in serfdom at this time

1762 saw the highest % of serfdom to population at 93.7% (7,971,843 serfs to 8,507,901 total population (male only?).

Before 1860 there were 2 categories of peasants:

  • Seignioral peasants who lived on nobels estates
  • Appanage peaants who lived on state owned land

Between 1762-1857 peasants declined from 93.7 to 83.7 because of transfers from estate to other social estates (see chapter 3).

Birth rate in firth ½ of 19th century was at 44.3 per thousand (40 per 1000 in 1811-1820, 49.7 per 1000 in 1840’s). These numbers might actually be higher since the church was lax on reporting the number of births of girls.

Today’s birthrate (2010-2014):

  • US= 13-14 per 1000
  • Russia = 12-13 per 1000 (which is roughly in line with all other developed nations)
  • Nigeria, Congo, and Tanzania = 40 per 1000 (as high as 46 per 1000) which is in line with 19th century Russia

Women married in their late teens and on average gave birth to 7 children during her fertile years (15-47)

Death rates in the European section of Russia from 1866-1900 was 25% – 30% of all infants dying before 1 year old. 50% did not live to 5 years old. These numbers are probably representative of the entire century. Death rates for everyone else could have been as high as 38 per 1000 annually (2 per 1000 lower than the birth rate).

Life expectancy at birth was 24.8 for females, 29.8 for males, though if you reached your teens you would probably live to your 50’s or 60’s.

Main causes of death were diarrhea, dysentery, influenza, measles, smallpox, syphilis, and typhus. Crowded houses contributed to this as did eating mouldy rye (rye was a staple food) and this caused toxic aleukia.


Chapter 2: Environment

Until the late 17th century most Russians lived in the forest regions and not so much in the steppes.

Under Ivan the Terrible in the 1550’s, the Russians threw off the ‘Mongol Yoke’, left the forests, and began stelling the steppes which were now clearing of Mongol hordes.

Russia had been (and you could argue continues to be) a nation of people who had been ruled brutally.

Crimean Tartars – armed by their allies the Ottomans – were not conquered until the late 18th century.

To subjugate these steppe peoples, the Russians continually shifted alliances and played local faction against each other in order to protect their peasant farmers. This could explian the vast territories controlled by the Russian estates.

Peasants migrated and settled only when it was either necessary (Aksakov writes about how his serfs didn’t like leaving their land – Tolstoy examines this, too with Mary and her serf troubles) – or because they were moved by the government to the latest frontier:

  1. The state sends militarized settlers to defend the garrisons from nomadic attacks
  2. Some settlers are granted land
  3. Some military move on to the next frontier
  4. Those who remained the state granted land to noble landowners who were encouraged to move their peasants from the old estates to the new (again, see Aksakov).

The Russian state was doing something similar to what the American’s did by persuading settlers from the lower orders (not serfs, however) to move to the ever expanding frontiers. They encouraged this with land grants, loans, exemptions from taxes and military service for the peasants.

It was not uncommon for peasants to run away to the far off frontier because of a bad harvest, an epidemic, or to escape prosecution from the state or a cruel landowner.

Settlements could often look like larger villages “that take advantage of high river banks with commanding views, or concealed settlements in patches of dense woodland”

Because steppe soil was not always very fertile, peasants supplemented their income with handicrafts and other non-agricultural activities.


Chapter 3: Exploitation


Serfdom is the legal expression of one of the means by which the ruling group in a peasant society makes sure that they get as big a share as they can of the product of peasant labor.” R.E.F. Smith and Rodney Hilton, The Enserfment of the Russian Peasantry, Cambridge, 1968, pg.3

Peasant = members of a subordinate stratum of rural society

Serf = category of peasant = a seignorial peasant and were legally bound to a plot of land and to the person of the landowner. They were subject to his (or her) administration and judicial authority, and who passed their servile status on to their children.


How it worked:

Before mid 16th century peasants living on noble lands were free tenant farmers. They could leave the land two weeks per year around St. George’s day (late November, early December).

1649 the law code said that peasants were not only tied to the land but to the land in perpetuity (forever).

By the 18th century landowners could buy and sell the serfs, move them to other estates, and demand obligations from them

Slave/Serf = A slave is personal property, a serf is considered a citizen of the state and so the state does have some authority over the serf.

Russia did have slaves up until 1723 (10% of the population)

How did peasants become serfs?

  • Some say it was landowners loaning money that could never be paid back, but this seems unlikely on the large scale (everyone would have had to have done it).
  • In times of crisis court cases (such as in 1592/93) banned the peasants from leaving on St. George’s Day. Gradually these “emergencies” led to the outright stripping of rights on 1649.

The state will give you land IF you serve:

  • The state needs cavalrymen for the year
  • The state can’t pay the cavalrymen but needs their loyality
  • The state paid in plentiful land (you had to serve and was not based on heredity ownership, so if the grandson sits at home the state could take the land)
  • Labor for the land was scarce
  • The state bound the peasants to the land to ensure the new landowners (whom had served; aristocrats and boyars) made money.


Land and money:

A lot easier to collect taxes and perform a census (part of the tax process anyway) if the peasants don’t move around

Serfs either performed labor or paid dues – sometimes both

Landowners set aside part of their estate to be cultivated then allowed the serfs to use the rest of the land.

Landowners who did not live on their estates required the serfs to transport the fruits of labor to the landowner.

In the early 19th century the amount of and the serf was required to work for the landowner was equal to 4 days labor per week. This is about 7-8 acres. The other 3 days were allowed for the serf. However, they had to perform certain tasks – not just “work” 4 days a week. For example they might be tasked with plowing X amount of land today or Y amount of sheaves needed to be reaped: a task list.

Some landowners were so harsh a serf might only have nights, Sunday’s, and holidays to work their “own” land.

1839-41: 3.5 Paper Roubles = 1 Silver Rouble. 1 Paper Rouble = .286 Silver Roubles.

By 1853-56 during the Crimean War the currency began to lose value.

Dues paid to a landowner in 1850 = 30%-38% of a peasant’s income (this is disputed and could have been 20%-30%). Had been 18%-21% in the 1790’s. You can see how the state burdened the serfs with its finances. Elites and the clergy did not pay a poll tax – the majority of peasants did.

The state had a monopoly on items such as salt and vodka and they marked up the prices and the burden of paying this fell on the peasants. In 1812 this was no longer the case with salt, but distilled alcohol continued to be treated thus until 1863. 33% of the state’s revenue had come from distilled alcohol = that’s how important it was to Russian society. In the late 18th century a peasant averaged 2 paper roubles per year on vodka (twice their poll tax).



Peter The Great used peasants to build St. Petersburg, work the mines, and build the Navy, but they were forced slave labor.They did receive a plot of land but were never-the-less highly exploited.

Conscription – regular conscription began during the Thirteen Years War with Poland: 1 recruit was taken out of every 20-25 households. Peter The Great, on the eve of the Great Northern War with Sweden implemented military service for life. In 1793 it was lowered to 25 years. Nobles were also required to serve for life (as officer, of course) until 1762.

Between 1720-1867 7.25 million men had been conscripted.

Most men conscripted did not return home to their estate meaning they did not produce more children which was a drain on the population.

In 1719 Peter The Great introduced internal passports and so peasants could not leave their place of residence without these documents.

The Russian army was usually billeted in peasants homes (to maintain the cost of a standing army). These peasants were exempt from the poll tax but had to live under military discipline. In 1831 a revolt broke out because of the military’s harsh treatment.

War usually meant a higher burden on the peasants.


Treatment thereof:

In the last century of serfdom, “it can tentatively be concluded that Russian peasants were compelled to hand over to the ruling and landowning elites half of the product of their labor.”

Peter The Great: “The husbandmen are the arteries of the state which is nourished by them as the body is fed by the arteries. For this reason they must be cared for and not burdened to excess but rather protected against all assault and damage” (this theme was echoed by others in power, too)

The elites had a self-interest to not harm/abuse/over-exploit the serfs. This obligation was very one-sided, obviously. The state did struggle to get the landowners to actually look after their peasants

The tsar saw himself as a paternal figure who cared for all Russians as if they were family. (very general statement)

Starting with Peter The Great the state tried (not very successfully) to limit or end the sale of peasants separately from the land. Remember that peasants were allotted their “own” land (in return for dues to their landowner) and this land was granted to the landowner as a favor for service to the state.


Between 1834-1845 3000 landowners were tried for mistreating their peasants. 630 were convicted.

  • Estates were taken away and managed by a trustee (usually another family member – imagine that infighting)


Times of crisis:

The state would postpone or reduce taxes in years of famine or a crisis (Napoleon).

Landowners had no choice but to go along with the state when it reduced obligations from the serfs.

In difficult times in the late 16th and early 17th century, peasants would willingly become serfs in return for food and protection.



In the early 19th century after a number of bad harvests (such as, but not limited to after the dates of 1822, 1834) new measures were introduced for famine relief by creating reserve granaries which the peasants stocked as insurance against future shortages – scene in War and Peace when Mary tries to get the serfs to use this grain unsuccessfully since they fear she’s trying to take their rights away (they were not quite serfs in her case).

In 1819 Ivan Yakushkin offered to free his serfs and rent them the land. The peasants rejected it, called him ‘little father’ (batyushka), and said they preferred the old ways adding ‘we are yours, but the land is ours’

The government was not keen on freeing serfs because it would free landowners of their obligations to the serfs and could allow for a more cruel treatment of them thus depleting the workforce and hindering harvests. I would imagine that the government would see this as the nobles trying to end run around their obligations to the state, too.

Lev Alekseevich Perovski implemented reforms to better the lives of his serfs in hopes it would increase production and revenue all while not overburdening them. He implemented new methods of farming and introduced communal cultivation to stock grain reserves in times of need. He moved overcrowded peasants to lesser populated land. The results were mixed and even aroused suspicion in the peasants, but these were the models of reforms in the years to come.

Later state reforms by Pavel Kiselyov tackled the problem at the state level by restructuring the administration that oversaw serfs – he tried to get rid of corruption and tried to reward competence of good landowners. He saw education as a key to improving the serfs as well as providing quality medical care. He reformed conscription to stop the dregs of serfdom from going into the army (landowners could get rid of bad serfs this way). The quality of these reforms is uncertain.

8% done with War and Peace


I love Denisov.

This subplot about the purse, though proving to be part of a larger, moral lesson for Rostov, is a very common thing in the military. Thievery is very common which I always felt was the more baffling since we all had to live in such close quarters: we would know if you had stolen something. Yet it happened a lot. But Tolstoy is not unsympathetic; “poor” Telyanin may very well have needed it.

8% done with War and Peace


Kutuzov is an endlessly fascinating character. Putting aside if the real Kutuzov was anything like what Tolstoy makes him out to be, the General’s (and Tolstoy’s) philosophy mirror what the priest said in the room of the dying Bezukhov “The limits of human life… are fixed and may not be o’erpassed”. Andrei’s “faith” in the leadership, his blind obedience to Kutuzov and the emperor mirror these limits.

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Where BOOK 1 began with a dinner party and how society interacts, BOOK 2 begins with the military and what goes on there. There isn’t too much difference, to be honest. The first couple times I read this novel I did not like Dolokhov , and though I still don’t, I have come to understand him better. He’s a very clever man, but without compassion, an extreme version of the elder Bolkonsky.

7% done with War and Peace



This chapter could only have been written by someone who was actually in the military. The order to review the troops as they marched is, of course, interpreted to mean in parade uniform, which is exactly what the General does not want, but because every other time there is a review it’s in your best uniform. The reason for this the troops don’t know because they never know the why of anything.

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This is the last chapter of book 1 and it contrasts to the opening party. Here there is no fake society, all the feeling are genuine, nothing is held back, and it’s very touching. Even the father, hard as he is, you can tell how much he loves his son, but also how he desires hos son to keep the family name good; the father is very concerned with legacy because it’s all he has since he has no faith.

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Tolstoy though not an old man when he wrote the novel, understood how the young see the old and how the old are just as informed, and wiser then the young. We also get a good look at how complex the Napoleon issue is, even if Tolstoy is not actually impressed with the French general. We also get some more latent German hate. The family tree is interesting: the joke being the father going in for family hubris

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A lesser writer would say how the son and the old father were emotionless, and probably give some silly back story for their relationship, here Tolstoy shows us how they live and we are richer for it. We KNOW these people, we intuit the relationships between father, son, and sister. We also get a less subtle clue to the father where he says “God has nothing to do with it” before we learned he’s not superstion

6% done with War and Peace


Unlike Pierre’s father, Prince Bolkonsky has done everything he can to ready his children for the difficulty of life. It’s no accident the Bald Hills scene immediately follows the death scene. Julie’s letter to Maria talks of how she loves Nikolai; another case of one person loving whom the other will eventually marry. Pierre does what Maria preaches: he accepts whatever is given to him, but he has no guide.