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Prince Andrei Bolkonsky Analysis Essay

I first read War and Peace on a Greek island in 1987, the summer before I turned 15. Fed up with lugging an extra suitcase full of books on a two-week holiday, my mother had laid down the law: “No more than three books. Make sure you choose them well.”

Obviously I picked the biggest books and thus began the holiday armed with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions and Tolstoy’s epic story of Russian life during the Napoleonic wars, a new six-part adaptation of which, by Andrew Davies, starts on BBC1 on Sunday night.

As War and Peace was the longest of the three, clocking in at more than a thousand pages, I decided to start that first. While the rest of my family cooled off in the sea or dozed on loungers, I gorged on descriptions of snow-covered lands, warmly lit households and the chatter-filled balls and salons that left Prince Andrei Bolkonsky so terribly, desperately cold.

Tolstoy from the pages of the Guardian and Observer

Ah, Prince Andrei. To my teenage mind there had never been a more perfect hero. Later that summer, I would thrill to Rhett Butler’s refusal to give a damn and admire Ash Pelham-Martyn’s battle against prejudice and for his true love, but neither of them could hold a candle to Andrei. Yes, he might seem bored, a little arrogant and somewhat over-convinced of his own superiority, but beneath that languid façade beat a passionate heart. This Andrei, riven with doubt and hoping that glory won on the battlefield will lend his life meaning, was the man.

Had you asked me that summer what War and Peace was about, I would almost certainly have replied it was a book about a man named Andrei Bolkonsky who loses his heart when he least expects to. I probably would have mentioned there was a lot about the Napoleonic wars and thrown in a couple of other characters. But back then it was basically all about Prince Andrei.

I read War and Peace again almost a decade later. I was in my early 20s and living in Berlin with my university boyfriend, an experiment that was turning sour as rapidly as we were running out of money. While he diligently attended German classes, I spent my time bunking off at the cinema. Running out of fresh films, I found a second-hand copy of War and Peace and settled down for a comforting reunion with Andrei.

I discovered a different book. Caught in the throes of a dying relationship, I found that my one-time hero barely registered. Instead, my second reading of War and Peace was all about the impulsive Natasha Rostova, the heroine Tolstoy first introduces as a giggling girl of 13 desperate to gulp down all of life in great hungry bursts.

Natasha’s vitality courses through War and Peace – like that other wartime heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, she refuses to let tough times grind her down but instead rises splendidly to the occasion, treating the wounded, keeping up her family’s fading spirits, and confronting her complicated feelings for Andrei with a new-found maturity. More importantly, and rarely for the time, she’s allowed to make mistakes, most notably in her troubled relationship with the duplicitous Anatole Kuragin.

Natasha is both appealing and flawed and, as a frustrated twentysomething, I loved her passion for life: the famous scene where she is unable to resist dancing to a Russian folk song, the way in which she battles between her Russian soul and the European mindset of the society in which she moves, a world of delicately delivered barbs where the best witticisms come with a French accent and a bored acceptance of your lot is prized above all.

Reading War and Peace for the second time was all about falling in love with its heroine, while railing at Tolstoy’s idea of a happy ending: a tying up of loose ends and dampening of ardour that seemed then to do Natasha an injustice, as though even her creator needed to hold back the fires that burned within her.

“Russia is Ireland with an empire,” my brother jokingly remarked around this time, having just returned from a raucous Christmas in newly wealthy Moscow, in which men with machineguns guarded oligarchs in lavatories, bars were flush with the chatter of cash and fireworks flew sideways on New Year’s Eve in Red Square.

It was a throwaway line, but he had a point: much of 20th-century Irish literature is saturated with exile and loss from the self-imposed departures of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to the works of Brian Moore, John McGahern or Edna O’Brien.

By focusing on the years leading to the Decembrist revolt, Tolstoy shows us how and why the reformist movement occurred.

A similar longing for what might have been runs through Russian fiction and never more so than in War and Peace where Tolstoy’s dazzling recreation of a bygone age serves more as a warning than a celebration.

War and Peace was published in 1869, more than 40 years after the Decembrist revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. The officers who led that revolt had fought in the Napoleonic wars and seen the reality of life for those not born into luxury. Rejecting the stultifying rules of court life with its dances and dress codes, they formed alliances with the intellectual classes to push for reform and a new way of living. The uprising failed and the Decembrists were exiled to Siberia (those who were not well-born were sentenced to lashing before being exiled, if they survived).

War and Peace, then, is a historical novel that seeks to pinpoint why a moment in history happened. By concentrating on the years leading up to the Decembrist revolt, and not the revolt itself, Tolstoy shows us how and why the reformist movement occurred. Through a thousand tiny, delicately described moments, he builds up a panoramic picture of a world decaying from within.

The third time I read it I was 34 and on honeymoon in St Petersburg. My husband and I spent afternoons sitting in a cafe north of Nevsky Prospekt, drinking and reading and watching the world go by. This reading of War and Peace was a revelation, as Pierre, formerly something of a sidekick in my mind, possessing none of Andrei’s dash or Natasha’s vibrancy, came fully into focus. Stumbling Pierre, with his political convictions, his love of parties, his endless philosophising, is the backbone of the book. His faltering steps towards what it means to live life well – his turns as party boy and political assassin, reluctant soldier and prisoner of war – drive the novel. Pierre is not a traditional hero like Andrei, he doesn’t grasp life like Natasha, but he has something more, a steadiness at his core despite the vacillation that makes his fumblings towards adulthood both relatable and real.

Reading the book in my 30s, it was Pierre’s searching that resonated, his desire to forge an acceptable life on his own terms that rang true and, in understanding Pierre, I came also to understand that previously despised ending: the idea that life is about quieter pleasures as much as raging fires.

War and Peace is not a perfect book. It is wordy and prone to lengthy diversions. There will always be those who dislike Natasha’s final scene as much as I did 20 years ago, and those who are impatient with the endless essays about free will. Many will feel preached to and overwhelmed by Tolstoy’s desire to record the definitive account of this age. Yet these flaws are counterbalanced by the sheer strength of the central narrative, which allows us to feel the frustrations of a Prince Andrei, the vitality of a Natasha, the political conviction of a Pierre.

That’s the reason why this book, above all others, can stand up to multiple rereading. The reason why each reading produces something new and the reason why the BBC adaptation will no doubt entertain but cannot hope to capture the depth of the book’s appeal. For War and Peace is not just a love story, however much Davies tries to spin that, but rather a love letter to a still emerging nation.

I read it for the fourth time in my 40s, just before Christmas, this time slowing down to take in the lengthy battle scenes, to relish the wideness of Tolstoy’s vision and the detail. But even now it was the story, the sense that all humanity is trapped on these pages, that kept me reading, as addicted as I’ve ever been. I suspect it always will.

A War and Peace for our time


1915: Vladimir Gardin’s movie was the first Russian adaptation.

1956: War and Peace goes to Hollywood King Vidor’s three and a half hour epic starred Audrey Hepburn as Natasha and Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezukhov, and Mel Ferrer as Prince Andrei.

1966: Sergei Bondarchuk’s seven-hour epic took six years to make and remains the definitive take. In addition to directing the film, Bondarchuk also starred as Pierre.

1972: The last BBC version was this 20-part adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins as Pierre, Morag Hood as Natasha and Alan Dobie as Andrei.

2007 A European mini-series version starred the French actress Clémence Poésy as Natasha, Italian actor Alessio Boni as Andrei and the German actor Alexander Beyer as Pierre. Malcolm McDowell also appeared as Andrei’s irascible father.

Sample Essay 1. The Old Oak Tree Symbol

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace has a great deal of symbolism weaved into its intricate pages.  Such symbolism comes in the form of the old oak tree, a significant symbol that is meant to be a form of hope, despair, life, and death. Like the seasons of Andrei’s lives, the oak tree experiences transformation and causes Andrei to change a great deal as well.

Andrei is a serious young man, the eldest son of a stern and sometimes callous father. He feels he must prove himself in glory through battle, and initially he seems to think that love is a waste of time. In the beginning of the book, Andrei is married to Lise and is expecting a child. It seems that this is not enough for him, and indeed he advises Pierre to avoid marriage and even avoid any type of sexual relationship. Love does not seem to enchant Andrei, as he is set on finding an esteemed glory of being a hero. Such glory, however, is a romanticized notion that does not exist in real life. Andrei leaves to serve in the first war against Napoleon, leaving behind Lise with his family. He is wounded in battle, and returns to find his wife in labor, who dies from childbirth.

In book six of War and Peace, Andrei comes upon the “aged, stern, and scornful” oak tree (“War and Peace”). He is distraught from his war injuries and from losing his young wife. The oak tree, like Andrei, has been wounded. It has had its bark scarred, in the same way that Andrei has been wounded from battle. Despite this, the tree is resilient and continues to stand. The oak represents a degree of hopelessness, and yet at the same time, is pleasant. At this point Andrei realizes he must continue his journey and his life, not harming anyone or desiring for anything. Like the tree appears to, Andrei has given up on life and still continues to stand. Even as spring is budding and joyous around him, the tree represents a person being scarred and still continuing to live in a new season.

Eventually, Andrei meets and falls in love with Natasha. They quickly become engaged, but his father does not think it is a good match, and says they should postpone the marriage for at least a year. When he falls in love, he sees the oak tree in a new light. The tree changes and continues to grow: “Through the hard-century old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves sprouted such as one could hardly believe the old veteran could have produced” (Tolstoy, p. 371). Like Andrei, the tree, though it has suffered, gains new life and meaning. It continues to grow, despite everything that has happened to it. The true beauty of the oak is the seasons that it goes through; life and death, hope and hopelessness, and the connection that nature has to life. The characters in War and Peace are born, go through trials, have joy, and die. Though Andrei’s ending may not be seen as a happy one, it is authentic and real, much like the old oak tree.


Louise and Aylmer Maude. Ed. George Gibian. New York: Norton.
“War and Peace.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008.Encyclopedia.com. 6 Jul. 2016 http://www.encyclopedia.com.

Sample Essay 2. Rebuilding of Bald Hills

War and Peace is a unique work that is one of the best creations of world literature. The novel is probably known, without any exaggeration, to a lot of people from all over the world. Although War and Peace is called a novel, this term is not entirely suitable for this work because it has intertwined a huge number of genres, starting with the original notion of the novel and ending with the Gospel text. Tolstoy also puts forward his own view of religion in War and Peace, passing it all through a filter of his philosophy and synthesizing it from various beliefs. Yet, there are not a lot of hints in this work of him. Tolstoy conveys his ideas through the favorite method of all Russian writers which is symbolism.

Leo Tolstoy constantly emphasizes the role of divine thought, both in human destiny and in the history. Bolkonsky survived after a serious injury in a bloody battle thanks to the golden image that Princess Mary put on his chest before that. After the injury, Andrew reinterprets his idea of life; he imagines a quiet happiness of the family life in the Bald Hills. The name “Bald Hills” is very unusual and expressive. According to the opinions of some researchers, the Bald Hills are associated with Mount Calvary on which Christ was (Moser 298) crucified. Bald Hills are endowed with the meaning of sacred space. This name indicates the “Christlike” feature of Prince Andrew Bolkonsky as a (Moser 298) martyr. Prince Andrew, who does not escape the grenade on the Borodino field and sacrifices himself, is like Christ willingly receiving the death on the cross. The sacred aureole of the Bald Hills is also shown in the depiction of the manor as a shelter for the “people of God.” Princess Mary constantly takes in pilgrims and whacky (Moser 298) people.

Despite the deep thoughts and valuable arguments concerning the following symbols, there are a lot of researchers that undermine mentioned above interpreting. First of all, there is nothing exceptional about the wound of Colonel Bolkonsky: the regiment of Prince Andrew is on reserve at the Semenovsky ravine, on the line of Russian positions, which was in fact subjected to the most powerful artillery (Feuer et al. 138) fire. The real event of the Battle of Borodino is reflected in the description of the shelling to which the regiment of Prince Andrew is subjected. This is the shelling of Preobrazhensky and Semenov guards regiments that were in reserve, in the second line of Russian (Feuer et al. 138) defense. “At the Borodino field, Semenovsky and Preobrazhensky regiments were put in reserve behind Rayevsky battery. At first, they stood under the gunfire of the enemy artillery, then under the Infantry for fourteen hours, and they withstood that ordeal steadfastly, with an unflappable equanimity which should have had just the best troops” (Feuer et al. 142). Secondly, the reluctance of Prince Andrew to hide from the grenade is a consequence of pride; it is motivated by the officer’s honor. The feelings nurtured in Bolkonsky’s soul before the battle are far from all-forgiveness, from Christian equanimity, from detachment from the world and its temptations, from the state of mind that must be inherent in martyrs. He does not believe in the eternal life and on the eve of the battle he notices that Princess Mary said that this is a trial sent from the (Feuer et al. 143) above. Yet, he does not understand for what is this test when it is no longer exists and will never exist; there will be no one (Tolstoy Vol. 3, Part 2, Chapter XXIV, 212) else. The knowledge of the vanity of one’s own life and life in general, revealed to Prince Andrew on the eve of the Battle of Borodino, is a graceless knowledge. From now on, the life for Bolkonsky is poorly painted (Tolstoy Vol. 3, Part 2, Chapter XXIV, 211) images. He is not just disappointed with the public life, the glory, and the love of a woman but he refuses from the life itself, from its eternal source. After the wound, near to die, he will comprehend the higher meaning of being, but this will be another Prince Andrew.

Bald Hills in War and Peace are not a place in which holiness is concentrated. The life in the Bald Hills is far from righteousness; it is full of irritation and hidden unkindness. It appears what the attitude of the old Prince to the household is. Living in the Bald Hills is not only a temptation but also a sin (the readers must remember the relations of the old Prince with Mademoiselle Bourienne) (Feuer et al. 163). Certainly, behind the cruel ridicule and annoyance of Prince Nicholas is the love manifested to the daughter before his death. Yet, one way or another, Bald Hills is by no means a sacred place. Tolstoy could also associate Bald Hills with a clear sky (contemplated by Andrew the Austerlitz sky) (Feuer et al. 163). The name of the Bald Hills, like the name of the Rostovs’ estate, is not a coincidence but its meaning is rather ambiguous. The phrase “Bald Hills” is associated with infertility (bald) and with an elevation in pride (high place, mountains) (Feuer et al. 163). Both the old Prince and Prince Andrew can be distinguished by the rationality of pride and consciousness. Furthermore, the Bald Hills, apparently, is a kind of transformation of the name of Tolstoy family’s estate “Yasnaya Polyana” – “Bright Glade”: Bald (open, unshadowed) – Bright (clear); Hills – Glade (contrast – high place and lowland). It is known that the description of life in the Bald Hills is inspired by the impressions of the Bright Glade family (Massie 75) life.

Works Cited

Feuer, Kathryn; Feuer Miller, Robin; Orwin, Donna Tussing. Tolstoy and the Genesis of War and Peace. Cornell University Press. January 2008. Web. 25 Aug. 2017.
Massie, Suzanne. Land of the Firebird, the Beauty of Old Russia. Simon and Schuster, New York 1980. Web. 25 Aug. 2017.
Moser, Charles. 1992. Encyclopedia of Russian Literature. Cambridge University Press, pp.
298–300. Web. 25 Aug. 2017.
Tolstoy, Leo; Pevear, Richard (translator); Volokhonsky, Larissa (translator). War and Peace.
Vintage Classics; Reprint edition. December 2, 2008. Web. 25 Aug. 2017.

This War and Peace symbols analysis is dedicated to the symbol of the oak tree and the rebuilding of Bald Hills. Our writers have written these samples to help our readers cope with their writing assignments. These papers can’t be taken and turned in as an assignment by any of our customers. Just pay attention to the arguments that were used by the writers, their manner of supporting the ideas, and the paper formatting.

The symbol of the oak tree is inseparably connected with Andrei Bolkonsky, one of the protagonists in Tolstoy’s novel. This tree mirrors the fundamental changes in his life, and the transformations in his state and inner condition. Another symbol mentioned by the author is the Bolkonsky family estate Bald Hills. A writer described this place not as a sacred one, but full of family traditions and love, hidden behind irritation and severity.

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