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Tolstoy, Liberal and Pluralist: On "Personality" and the Protagonist in War and Peace

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Tolstoy's first large-scale narrative which helped him reach maturity as an author, War and Peace also sheds light on the evolution of Tolstoy's political ideals in the post-Reforms period. One of the original conceptions of this novel was shaped around the figure of the first-generation Russian liberal and future Decembrists Pyotr Labazov, who in the final version was transformed into Pierre Bezukhov. I argue that Pierre's personality, which evolves throughout the novel and shapes it as a Bildungsroman, constitutes one of the thematic and formal kernels of War and Peace. When read against the background of Tolstoy's early pedagogical essays, this emplotment suggests that Tolstoy supported the liberal understanding of the "personality" (lichnost') and wanted Pierre to serve as a model liberal hero. However, as his project grew in terms of intellectual and historical scope, Tolstoy began to develop a broader, more organicist perspective, which made room for a variety of political, social and cultural emanations of "personality." I suggest that the competition for the role of the leading hero among several crucial characters in War and Peace attests to Tolstoy's shifting and increasingly pluralistic or heterogeneous vision of Russia's modernization.

Affiliations: 1: University of Chicago

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