Oh, Russian literature. What most Americans know about War and Peace is that the book is really big, and if you’ve ever cracked it open, the names are horribly long. Russian is not easy to translate, which may be why so few Americans even attempt to read what is arguably some of the best literature ever written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In fact, if I were going to edit a translation (my Russian isn’t good enough to do the translation myself), I would do away with the damn awkward patronymics (a device that is far more foreign to western readers than the stories being told around the characters whose names inevitably trip us up) and just replace them with simple names. So, rather than dwell on whether or not Tolstoy’s magnum opus deserves to be in the literary bracket, let me break it down for you.
War and Peace is about two men in love with the same woman. Yep, it’s all about a love triangle, and we all know how those tend to turn out.
But before we get to all of that, there’s a whole lot of war going on. And bad marriages (Tolstoy had lady issues, so say the least). Prince Andrew joins the war against Napoleon in order to escape his vapid wife. Pierre struggles to gain his inheritance only to be “played” by one of the biggest harlots in all of Russia. Eventually Natasha (the hypotenuse of this particular triangle) grows from silly girl to silly young woman, gaining the admiration of Prince Andrew. When Pierre enters the fray, all hell breaks loose, literally! It is war, after all.
While both men are flawed as “heroes,” they’re even more so as suitors. However, there’s a certain weakness to Pierre that isn’t particularly attractive. He goes for the floozy because he seems to lack some fundamental confidence one would expect from a man (particularly a titled man of 19th Century Russia). He’s easily played and must go through many trials before he earns the “right” to pursue Natasha. Prince Andrew is dashing and brave and all those things that a young woman wants in her life. It’s no suprise then that young Natasha falls for him, whereas mature Natasha (the one who would rather make babies than go to ballroom dances) prefers Pierre.
Who would be better for the long haul? Tolstoy definitively chooses Pierre. But for this literary boyfriend round, I’d choose Prince Andrew. Flawed or not, the guy’s a babe.
Prince Andrew wins with a TKO.