Reading for Sunday, June 7

I can’t remember where I read it, but I’m pretty sure that I heard that Tolstoy, in his later years, freed all his serfs on his family estate. Whether I imagined it or not, it feels very much like this chapter, where we read about Nikolai and how he manages his peasants, is very much Tolstoy’s view of how they should be treated.

Treat them like humans, put their welfare first, and lo and behold, you have well-managed estates.

Oddly enough, this is starting to be the mantra in the world of employment as well. Treat your employees well, and they just might make your business profitable.

But only Nikolai would pretend that he’s not doing this for any humanitarian reasons at all. Anyway, I must run, it’s time for church.

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One thought on “One-Year War and Peace E1.7 – Nikolai as Tolstoy?

  1. I’ve often wondered just how much of Tolstoy is in his characters – and I’m pretty sure, you’re right, Matt, that Tolstoy himself freed his serfs at some stage. But wether Tolstoy was injecting something of himself into Nikolai here or not, the telling of it certainly feels very right, not only in terms of the sort of master Nikolai has become, but also the way that Marya reacts to it all. Nikolai has something of his father humanitarian goodwill, but he also has his own streak of aristocratic arrogance and pride, which has always been uniquely his. I particularly love the way Tolstoy describes Marya’s inability to understand Nikoalai’s joy in an connection with his farm – in describing her own failure to comprehend it, we get a glimpse into the simplicity of Nikolai’s joy in it all. But Marya’s connection is, as always, with the people and her heartfelt compassion for their needs which is as incomprehensible to Nikolai as his joy in the farm is to her.

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