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War and Peace

War and Peace


by Leo Tolstoy

Prince Bolkonsky

Character Analysis

An aging politician who is out of favor with the court of Alexander, Prince Bolkonsky is a controlling and abusive father to Andrei and Marya.

We've talked a lot about how many of this work's characters do a 180-degree (or at least 120-degree) turn somewhere in the middle of the plot and emerge as the kind of adults they are going to be. Well, this character seems to have both of the before and the after in his personality at the same time. (Maybe it's because he's too old to grow?)

On the one hand, we've got Prince Bolkonsky, the really-good-at-his-job administrator and forward-thinking father of a daughter. After all, once he starts dealing with the countryside militias being organized to fight Napoleon, he really gets everyone's act together. Also, he is clearly really into the idea that Marya needs to be taught math and the hard sciences, which was pretty unusual for girls at that time.

But on the other hand...oh, that other hand. There's no good way to say it – the guy is just a vicious monster. He terrorizes his daughter just for the sake of it. He's mean and nasty and hurtful specifically because she doesn't have the power to resist him. Apparently Tolstoy based Marya on his mother, and Prince Bolkonsky is a dead ringer for his grandfather. Boy, what a way to grow up. Poor old Leo.