Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Using the major character of Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, I would like to try to clarify my view that moral feeling originates as an inner protest against the homosexual instinct, which may be suspected at some deep level but is misunderstood at the conscious level.

I analyzed another character of Tolstoy’s, the tragic hero of The Kreutzer Sonata, and I showed that sadism, as well as jealousy, are the consequences of this secret, insidious proclivity. There, too, Tolstoy was led to moral problems, and in a statement of moral postulates he denied and detested the erotic tendency and even rejected reproduction.

War and peace are in themselves a moral problem. Tolstoy in his lengthy philosophizing nearly failed to mention that problem. His main concern was the problem of free will. Does man act freely? Do the masses? Does the leader? Is their act the result of historical events?

This attempt is repeatedly developed in a contradictory manner. The leader’s free will is made fully dependent upon the least of his soldiers. It is a protest against the man who has usurped the historical mission for himself. It is a protest against tyrants, a venomous indictment of the subduer of many men.

These lone accusations in the philosophical chapters of the novel will reappear as illustrations in the characters of the novel, and the one who seems to bear the most autobiographical traits will surely be the one closest to Tolstoy’s heart.

Indeed: Count Pierre Besukhov prepares an attempt on Napoleon’s life in Moscow. Tolstoy made an ideological attempt, and his hero wanted to perpetrate it physically.

It is probably not at all surprising that the same Pierre Besukhov in the first chapters of the novel openly revealed his enthusiasm and his love for Napoleon. Tolstoy has explained nothing from his point of view why this change occurred. In the year 1805 Napoleon was precisely the same despot as in the year 1812. Pierre experienced a moral transformation; from a frequent visitor to bordellos, he was to develop into a seeker of the truth. What was at the root of this transformation? We will accompany Pierre over those seven years.

Pierre, an illegitimate son of an old count, comes to St. Petersburg from abroad, where he had been raised. He leads a dissolute life there and shares adventures with one Anatol Kuragin. Together they visit bordellos, and together they take part in nightly scandals. His father, an old courtier from the time of Catherine, is dying in Moscow. The son, who happens to be in the same city at that time, is summoned to him. While going there, he falls asleep in the droshka. This lack of interest softens only briefly at the sight of his dying father. After the death there are no questions of conscience, no changes of feeling: an emotional blockage such as we often find in neurotics. He is legitimized and becomes wealthy. He falls in love with Helena.

“But she is stupid, I used to say myself that she is stupid,” he thought. “There is something nasty in the feeling she excites in me, something not legitimate.”

Helena is Anatol’s sister.

I have been told that her brother, Anatole, was in love with her, and she in love with him, that there was a regular scandal, and that’s why Anatole was sent away. . . he was at the same time meditating on her worthlessness and dreaming of how she would be his wife . . . and how all he had thought and heard about her might be untrue. . . And again he told himself that it was impossible, that there would be something nasty, unnatural as it seemed to him, and dishonorable in this marriage. . . . and he was overwhelmed with terror that he might have bound himself in some way to do a thing obviously wrong, and not what he ought to do. But at the very time that he was expressing this to himself, in another part of his mind her image floated to the surface with all her womanly beauty.

Six weeks after Anna Pavlovna’s party, and the sleepless and agitated night after it, in which Pierre had made up his mind that a marriage with Helena would be a calamity and that he must avoid her and go away; six weeks after that decision Pierre had still not left . . . and felt with a horror that . . . he could not go back to his former view of her, that he could not tear himself away from her even, that it would be an awful thing, but that he would have to unite his life with hers. . . . An unconscious sense of the sinfulness of that impulse paralyzed his will. . . “it must inevitably come to pass. They all expect it so . . . that I cannot disappoint them. But how will it be? I don’t know, but it will be infallibly, it will be!”

Just what was perverse in a young man’s infatuation with a young woman of the same social standing? One might well say that the infamous infatuation of a brother and sister were “illegitimate” emotions. However, his emotion was “not legitimate” because he loved the brother in the sister. Tolstoy thought that the experiences between the brother and the sister were obstacles to his determination, but they were the causes of Pierre’s inclination and his marriage. Later in a similar situation with another girl the same Pierre will once again act similarly. Not only the handsome Anatol (Tolstoy will describe his elegant yet brutish beauty elsewhere), but another lecher, his and Anatol’s friend Dolokhov, will have an intimate relationship with his wife.

Dolochov had taken advantage of his friendly relations with Pierre in their old rowdy days, had come straight to his house, and Pierre had established him in it . . . cynically Dolochov had praised his wife’s beauty to him, and . . . had never since left them.

Every time his glance casually met Dolochov’s handsome, insolent eyes, Pierre felt as though something awful, hideous was rising up in his soul, and he made haste to turn away.

However, he has an ambivalent feeling about Dolokhov. He loves him, the conqueror and his atrocity. “He recalled the expression on Dolochov’s face in moments of cruelty.”

He tried to play the masculine role himself, whipping up his fury against the offender. He did not believe the anonymous letter that he received, but he challenged Dolochov to a duel and, having mortally wounded him, “hardly able to restrain his sobs,” he ran to the wounded Dolochov.

“I have been proud . . . of her unapproachability,” and one page later: “I knew she was a dissolute woman, but I did not dare own it to myself.” “And now Dolochov: there he sits in the snow and forces himself to smile; and dies . . . in answer to my remorse . . . . I am to blame.”

If Tolstoy were alive now, I would like to know his explanation the guilty feeling on the part of the deceived husband. The feeling of guilt came from the pander’s role and his feeling for Dolokhov. His self-deception, by which he wanted to believe in her untouchability, and his hospitality toward the infamous bachelor were means to his end. He tries to struggle against the feminine role in his homosexual attachments, he sulks, and he has the duel. His hatred belongs to the woman.

“I’ll kill you!” he shouted, and snatching up a marble slab from a table with a strength he had not known in himself till then, he made a step towards her and waved it at her.

Pierre felt the abandonment and the fascination of frenzy.

All this brings to mind various scenes in The Kreutzer Sonata, even in the details.

The homosexual instinct, if not overcome, can either follow the path of regression into sadism, or it can follow the path of sublimation, to the development of an ethical system. After emotion has freed itself in a sadistic manner, the opposite attempt is made, to overcome the impulse of his sublimation.

After the duel and estrangement from his wife, Pierre leaves. At the station in Torkhok he finds a traveler, an old man with drooping eyebrows. A servant accompanies him, a little old man without beard or moustache, which had not been shaven off but seemed never to have grown on him. This apparently arbitrary description by Tolstoy is symptomatic. Pierre is turning into a disciple. And what is the spiritual difference between a disciple and a youth? “Pierre began to feel an uneasiness and a sense of necessity, of the inevitability of entering into conversation with the traveler.”

Pierre wanted to turn away from his gaze, but the sparkling old eyes held an irresistible attraction for him. The traveler’s face was unfriendly, even cold and austere, but in spite of himself the speech and face of the new acquaintance irresistibly attracted Pierre. Religio-moral instruction was given. It was the right moment in Pierre’s life, since this meeting had cleared the way for a positive victory over the homosexual instinct.

Pierre gazed with shining eyes into the freemason’s face, listening with a thrill at his heart to his words . . . and felt a joyful sense of soothing, of renewal, and of return to life.

Pierre walked about the station room . . . He reviewed his vicious past, and with an ecstatic sense of beginning anew, pictured to himself a blissful, irreproachably virtuous future.

Here it becomes obvious how “sin and salvation” draw on the same source.

It is assumed that in one period of his life Tolstoy was associated with the doctrines of the Masons. (The old man himself, Osip Alexyevitch, is in reality the image of Tolstoy as he will be many years later.) “The source of salvation is not external but within us.” Tolstoy repeats this sermon many years later: “The Kingdom of God is within us,” he calls one of his works.

Initiation into the lodge is a mystery which takes place in secret and in darkness, A naked saber is extended and touches the breast of the new brother in solitude with the inducting brother, who binds his eyes and gives him a kiss.

The goals named by the writer in solitude “for the betterment of mankind” were especially close to Pierre. Gifts were demanded as a sign of generosity, and he is bidden to give up whatever cash he has on him. As a sign of obedience, he is required to undress. As a sign of sincerity, he is asked to confess his greatest passion. “Pierre paused, seeking a reply. Wine? . . . laziness? hasty temper? . . . women? . . . ‘Women.’”

The rhetor answers: “Turn all your attention upon yourself, put a bridle on your feelings, and seek blessedness not in your passions, but in your own heart. The secret of blessing is not without but within us. . . .”

During this ceremony he was called “seeker,” “sufferer,” and another time “sustainer,” i. e., he was attributed either an active or a passive quality. He was told he had to devote himself to it: he knelt before the gates of holiness. He is given a shovel, three pairs of gloves, and an apron. The grand master tells him he is not to defile the whiteness of the apron which represents the power of innocence. “Then of the unexplained spade” the grand master “told him to toil with it at clearing his heart from vice, and with forebearing patience smoothing the way in the heart of his neighbor.”

Smoothing the hearts of one’s fellow man with a spade is not very obvious symbolism. According to Freud, a shovel is a masculine symbol, and an apron a feminine one. The grand master’s explanation immediately confirms our view that this is sexual symbolism. The first gloves are “masculine” ; he cannot know their meaning, but he is to hold them in safekeeping. The next pair is also “masculine” ’ he is to wear it at meetings. The third pair is “feminine.” The two pairs of “masculine” gloves symbolize the possibly bisexual role of man; “masculine” gloves, whose meaning cannot be known, unlike those worn at meetings, refer to what is secret, and being called masculine they belong to the sexual secret.

Then he is told: “Fly to the succor of a brother whoever he may be . . . Be thou friendly and courteous. Share thy happiness with thy neighbor, and never will envy trouble that pure bliss.”

The gathering of the freemasons consists only of men.

It becomes obvious how the blossoms of this religious feeling and these moral imperatives grow out of the roots of instinct. In the thicket the roots and blossoms intertwine. Pierre surveys each of his assets and institutes humane reforms. He believes and declares his belief that a time will come when there will be no more wars.

We are now the children of earth, but eternally the children of the whole universe. Don’t I feel in my soul that I am a part of that vast, harmonius whole? . . . one grain, one step upward from lower beings to higher ones? . . . I feel that I cannot disappear as nothing does disappear in the universe, that indeed I always shall be and always have been. I feel that beside me, above me, there are spirits, and that in their world there is truth.

* * *

Venez demain diner . . . le soir. Il faut que vous veniez. . . Venez.” Boris Drubetzkov has become an intimate in the house of Countess Besukhov.

“I am reconciled with my wife . . . I recalled my conversations with Osip Alexyevich, and . . . reached the conclusion that I ought not to refuse a suppliant . . . and that I must bear my cross. But if I forgive for the sake of doing right, at least let my reunion with her have a spiritual end only.”

He told his wife that he was asking her to forgive him, and that there was nothing for which he had to forgive her. He felt the blissful sense of renewal. Boris Drubetzkov was the very most intimate person in the Besukhov house. Pierre had suffered so painfully from the insult caused by his wife three years earlier, that he was escaping from a similar insult, first by not being a husband to his wife, and second by not permitting anyone to doubt her.

“Such a strange antipathy,” thought Pierre; “and at one time I really liked him very much.”

Tolstoy says about this:

In Pierre’s soul all this while a complex and laborious process of inner development was going on that revealed much to him and led him to many spiritual doubts and joys.

This sentence is inserted unintentionally but conspicuously between the account of the Boris-Helena liason and the immediately following casual and apparently accidental account from Pierre’s diary about Boris’ initiation into the freemasons’ lodge: Pierre is the welcomer.

The apparently unintentional, accidental, and unsuspecting nature of the motives of his behavior is indeed a characteristic phenomenon.

In the evening the reception took place. . . . Boris Drubetsov was admitted. I had proposed him, and I was the rhetor. A strange feeling troubled me all the time I was with him in the dark temple. I detected in myself a feeling of hatred which I studiously strove to overcome. And I could sincerely have desired to save him from evil and to lead him into the way of truth, but evil thoughts of him never left me. The thought came to me that his object in entering the brotherhood was simply to gain the intimacy and favor of men in our lodge.

As we see, with all his closeness to masonic ideology from 1864 Leo Tolstoy was not blind to the negative aspects of the institution of Freemasonry.

“He is incapable, so far as my observation goes, of feeling a reverence for our holy order.” Then why did Pierre recommend him? A deceived husband, who closes his eyes and does not wish to see what is going on in his wife’s bedroom, leads the deceiver into his brotherhood. A person considered suitable for initiation must have a pure heart. It is a trivial rationalization to claim to initiate the deceiver in order to reform him. “I should have liked really to stab his bare chest with the sword I held pointed at it.”

An identification has emerged between Dolokhov and Boris, as there had been previously between Anatol and Dolokhov. On the next page of his diary Pierre writes that he “would like to think it over,” but the train of thought leads him back to the meeting with Dolokhov after the duel, and “now I recalled all the details of that interview, and in my mind made him the most vindictive and biting retorts.” Then immediately, without transition: “Afterwards Boris Drubetskoy came . . . I said something horrid to him. He retorted. I got hot, and said a great deal to him that was disagreeable and even rude.” Then follows the dream.

I dreamed I was walking along in the dark, and was all of a sudden surrounded by dogs. . . . one seized me by the thigh with its teeth . . . I tried to strangle it with my hands . . . another, a bigger one, began to bite me. . . I began clambering on the fence . . . After great efforts I dragged my body up, so that my legs were hanging over on one side and my body on the other.

On the other side of the fence was “a great avenue and garden and in the garden a great and beautiful building.” He wakes up. “Lord, Great Architect of Nature, help me tear away these dogs—my evil passions, and especially the last—that unites in itself the violence of all the former ones, and aid me to enter the temple of virtue, of which I was vouchsafed a vision in my sleep.”

This is one current interpretation of the dream. Hidden passion conceals in itself the passion of all other passions. But there is another interpretation, a parallel determination of the contents of the dream. In order to understand it, we must decipher the meaning of the awkward position on the fence. What does this posture mean?

In the same volume of War and Peace, part 2, chapter 16, we read: “Dog on the fence, a live dog on the fence,” (said Denisson as a cavalryman’s greatest ridicule of an infantryman on horseback). This association is so distinctive—dog and fence—that we can interpret without hesitation: Pierre on the fence in the awkward position of a dog. The other dogs are his rivals. Both Dolochov and Boris were mentioned immediately before the dream. The dog is considered a sexual (and homosexual) animal.

“Aid me to enter the temple of virtue,” Pierre concluded the narrative of his dream. This temple, to which a “narrow path leads,” may have a double meaning, which repeats the theme of our comments: The creation of moral pathos and fervor as the conquest and sublimation of the “canine” (in the Kreutzer Sonata the “porcine” ) tendency.

After the duel with the tempter, we expressed our conviction that the moral renaissance resulting from the meeting with the old freemason is drawn from the same source as the sexual confusion. It could likewise appear as Tolstoy’s mockery of the direct meaning: An old man preaches to a young man who has undergone harsh experiences, and we, like the fool in the storm, run off in haste shouting that the emperor has no clothes.

However, another dream follows the one in Pierre’s diary:

I dreamed that Osip Alexyevitch was sitting in my house, and I was very glad to see him and eager to entertain him . . . and I wanted to come close to him and to embrace him. But as soon as I approached him, I saw that his face was transformed, and had grown young, and he said something to me softly, some doctrine of our order. . . . something strange happened. We were sitting or lying on the floor. He was telling me something. But in my dream I longed to show him my devotional feeling, and, not listening to his words, I began to picture to myself the state of my own inner man, and the grace of God sanctifying me. And tears came to my eyes. . . . Then all of a sudden we found ourselves in my bedroom, where stood a big double bed. He lay down on the edge of it, and I seemed to be filled with a desire to embrace him and to lie down too. And in my dream he asked me, ‘Tell me the truth, what is your chief temptation? Do you know it? I believe that you do know it.’

Is it possible that Tolstoy himself has not yet understood it? An unusually strong case of scotoma!

Abashed at this question, I answered that sloth was my besetting temptation. He shook his head incredulously. And even more abashed, I told him that though I was living here with my wife, I was not living with her as a husband. To this he replied that I had no right to deprive my wife of my embraces, and gave me to understand that this was my duty. But I answered that I should be ashamed of it.

These are probably autobiographical dreams. Tolstoy and Pierre have understood the dream to mean that one is supposed to live with a woman. But why? They continued to misunderstand it, although it is set forth quite clearly. If a dream is not understood, its idea is repeated in the next dream. The unconscious tries unremittingly to find a way to be understood.

I had a dream from which I waked up with a throbbing heart. I dreamed I was in Moscow in my own house, in the big divan-room, and Osip Alexyevitch came out of the drawing room. . . . I kissed his face and his hands, while he said: “Do you notice that my face is different?” I looked at him, still holding him in my arms.

In the sequel to the dream Osip Alexyevitch shows him a large book and

I said: “I wrote that” . . . and on all the pages were fine drawings. And in my dream I knew that these pictures depicted the soul’s love adventures with its beloved . . . a beautiful presentment of a maiden in transparent garments . . . flying up to the clouds. And I seemed to know that this maiden was nothing else but the figure of the Song of Songs. . . I perish from my vileness as though Thou was utterly forsaking me.

But this was the Song of Songs; why then corruption and damnation? Clouds and depravity, religious feeling and homosexuality, salvation and depravity. . . The emperor indeed had no clothes.

* * *

Natasha was the beloved fiancee of Pierre’s “bosom friend Andre.” This feeling was genuine; Tolstoy depicted it with a fine artistic brush. This love was put to a severe test and came close to a catastrophe. The aforementioned Anatol was to blame for what happened. So it became a double magnet for Pierre: Anatol and Andre in effect in the same girl. The catastrophe came, the magnet worked with double force, so Pierre became aware of a feeling for the girl. With Helena it was Anatol and Dolokhov, and with Natasha, Andre and Anatol, who made the woman attractive to him.

Pierre avoided Natasha. It seemed to him that he had a stronger feeling for her than a married man should have for his friend’s fiancee. And yes some fate was constantly bringing him together with her. Because of Natasha’s infidelity to Andre, Pierre thinks of her with suspicion and antipathy. Andre says that he is incapable of competing with the gentleman. Pierre is already doing it for the second time. A few minutes later, as an answer to his question, “I should like to know, did you love . . . did you love that bad man?” he hears Natasha’s cries; Pierre is overwhelmed by a feeling of pity, tenderness, and love, and he makes her his fiery confession of love. That evening, “looking up at the sky, Pierre forgot the mortifying meanness of all things earthly in comparison with the height his soul had risen to.” Here again we see the origin of the source of moral feeling. Pierre, who remained in Moscow to kill the Antichrist (Napoleon), saved a child instead, and during his imprisonment found the divine within himself; God is here, everywhere. He learned to see the great eternal infinite in everything. His further adventures are of no interest to our study. Helena dies. He marries Natasha. We sense a trace of delusion in the relationship,(1) when he tells how

it often seemed to him that all men are preoccupied with their own future happiness. It often seemed to him that all of them take pleasure in the very same things that he does, and only try to conceal these joys and make themselves appear to be busy with other interests. In each word and in each movement he saw a hint of his happiness.

Will Tolstoy comprehend the situation in the prosperous bourgeois marriage of his hero? The common opinion was that Pierre was under the boot of his wife, and this is also how it was. Still he often felt that he had been called upon to give Russian society and the entire world a new direction.

We can content ourselves with this brief report of the Pierre-Natasha romance, and pass by a series of illustrative quotations.

Mysticism and the great historical mission approaching megalomania are drawn from the trickling waters of the spring to the outlets which we have examined.

The letters of L’Empereur Napoleon, expressed in numbers and added up, total 666, an apocalyptic number. “He tried Le russe Besuhof, and adding up the figure made the sum 671.” Then he counted L’russe Besuhof and came up with 666. “His love for Natasha, Antichrist, Napoleon’s invasion, the comet, the number 666, l’empereur Napoleon, and l’russe Besuhof. . . Pierre found himself in a position that was close to madness.” “He, L’russe Besuhof, had somehow the mystic value of the number of the beast, 666, [and] his share in putting a limit to the power of the beast, ’speaking great thing things and blasphemies,’ had been ordained from all eternity.” He leaves his home but remains in the city as Napoleon approaches Moscow.

“Pierre had left his own house simply to escape from the complicated tangle woven about him by the demands of daily life, which in his condition at that time he was incapable of unravelling.” He seeks symbolic nearness to the deceased Osip Alexyevitch and hides in his house. Concealing his name, he had to find Napoleon and kill him, either to perish himself, or to end the distress of the entire nation, which as Pierre saw it, was one due to Napoleon alone. He had “the craving for sacrifice and suffering through the sense of the common calamity.” Pierre is a feminine type who struggles against his natural inclination. Tolstoy’s very negative relationship with Napoleon is identical to Pierre’s, who decides in an almost symbolic way, after inadequate preparation, to kill Napoleon. In fact,

Pierre never clearly pictured the very act of striking the blow, nor the death of Napoleon, but with extraordinary vividness and mournful enjoyment dwelt on his own end . . . “Yes, one man for all, I must act or perish.”

Masochism and morality: an attempt to overcome his femininity and carry out a masculine assassination.

The sleepless nights “reduced Pierre to a state . . . bordering on madness.” “Sympathy, love for our brothers, for those who love us, love for those who hate us, love for our enemies; yes, the love that God preached upon earth,” thought the dying Andre, but characteristically these are ideas that Tolstoy should attribute not to Andre but to Pierre.

Divine love for the enemy is unknown to us in the cult of Yahweh. Divine love in a group of men is a concept that reminds us of the Greek philosophers. In the evangelic sermon, among expressions of hate, this postulate reappears here and there. Moral imperatives seek their sap and vigor in the blossoming of the unsubdued tendency. However, Tolstoy lets the pendulum of his moral sermon swing ultimately in much later years in the direction of submission and love of one’s enemy. In this work he acknowledges the biological necessity of war.

“Why do millions of men kill one another, when since the beginning of the world it is known that it is a physical and moral evil?”

More than that: In War and Peace we see no pacifist feelings in Tolstoy. War gives him pleasure. Killing is a recurrent image and never a shocking one in the course of the entire novel. Even the description of the partisan group and its gruesome annihilation of the French is presented in the high tones of Cossack heroism. It is a contradiction of the teaching of love for one’s enemy.

Tolstoy hates Napoleon. It almost seems that because of him the theory of free will in social life is developed, in order to debase him. According to this doctrine man is free as an individual (otherwise there would be no place for guilt and reward) but not free as a social being. It seems to me that there is a contradiction in such an arbitrary and indefinite drawing of limits, if one assumes simultaneously no freedom in the conscious and dependence in the unconscious, a life led by instinct.

It contradicts another of Tolstoy’s doctrines of social action to depict Napoleon as dependent on every single one of his soldiers, and to maintain his “miserable unworthiness” to the Russian general Kutusov, (to whom the other half of the ambivalent feelings has been assigned), to call him “the truly generous character” and ascribe to him alone “the unusual power of foresight,” the result of the Borodino slaughter and the whole campaign.

All these contradictions stem from one inner contradiction: the unconscious homosexual instinct has not been deciphered. Its conquest is attempted in two simultaneous directions: In the sadism of war and in moral and religious progress.


  1. See Freud’s study on Paranoia and Homosexuality.