In Leo Tolstoy's novel War & Peace, Natasha Rostov (one possible Anglicization of her name) is the lead female character, the sister of one of the male leads, and the love interest of two or three of the other principle male characters.

At the beginning of the story, Natasha is a young girl of 13, who childishly pursues the older Boris Drubetskoy. After the initial action of the book, during Russia's first war with France, he is separated from her and they both consider their relationship to be childish and trivial. Later, Natasha falls in love with Andrei Bolkonsky, a somewhat more serious relationship. However, during her lengthy engagement to Andrei, she is seduced by the amoral Anatole Kuragin, and although they do not consumate their relationship, she is wracked by guilt and attempts suicide in shame. Only later, after the ruining of her families, and Russia's fortune during the Napoleonic invasion of 1812, does she find a true love, with the novel's male lead, Pierre Bezukhov, and then settles down to a happy, married life with him which is described in the epilogue of the novel.

This is a brief biographic sketch of Natasha's life, and of course many of these points can only be explained in view of the entire theme and plot of War & Peace, which would take some time to explain. But having given this very brief plot, I would like to make a few critical remarks about Natasha Rostov's character. For a writer who is as rightfully famed as Tolstoy is for creating realistic, moving portraits, Natasha is a somewhat weak character. Her main role seems to be falling in love with various male characters, and then breaking down over her bad decisions. This is especially glaring in the case of her infatuation with Anatole Kuragin, a man who is, in modern parlance, a total douchebag, but seems to win her heart away from her fiancé merely by paying her a few compliments and dancing with her. Is this Tolstoy's realistic portrayal of a young woman who is raised in a society where male attention is everything, or him writing a two-dimensional character because he has a bad understanding of female psychology? Later on, when she settles down to married life with Pierre, and centers her life totally around her family, is this Tolstoy illustrating the wisdom of someone who has seen through the falseness of society, and wishes to live a life of simple values, or is this Tolstoy putting her in her place because he doesn't believe that a woman is intellectually capable? I am perhaps reinventing the wheel with these questions, I imagine that many Masters Degrees have been rewarded to literature students writing about sexism in Tolstoy. But beyond the ramifications of sexism, Tolstoy commits an even worse offense. The cliche about writing is that writers must show, not tell. Tolstoy tells us often that Natasha is a paragon of physical and spiritual attractiveness, but from reading the book, I fail to see why she is such a vital character, and why so many male characters find her so irresistible. Her behavior varies between the mediocre (living a typical court life of a young woman), and the reprehensible (aforementioned infatuation while already engaged). She never seems to have anything particularly interesting or intelligent to say. The only real special talent given to her is that she is an extraordinary singer, but this hardly explains her magical place in the narrative.

Most of these criticisms, of course, can only be understood in view of the larger narrative of the book, of Tolstoy's beliefs, and of he social conditions that Tolstoy, and his characters were raised under. However, I still find the character of Natasha Rostov to be problematic.

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