Professor Helena Tolstoy. Smile in “War and Peace”

В конце мая в Санкт-Петербурге цвели каштаны, тюльпаны, сирень

Tolstoy uses special kind of repetition: an unnoticeable repetition. Its example is the word “smile” with its derivatives. The concentration of its usages in the initial six chapters of the novel is very high, but the reader does not register these usages. Rather, a summary mythopoetic image is created subconsciously, that of a ceremonious “ballet of smiles” or “pantomime of smiles.” Tolstoy the innovator shows the whole universe  through the prism of a tiny mimic gesture that is different in different people: spontaneous smiles of children, happy smiles of young girls, diplomatic, subtle, or false smiles of “people of the world”, smiles that speak without words, smiles masking the feelings, like Sonya’s smile of despair. In other words, the smile in “War and Peace” should be seen as the novel’s important thematic element – one of its supermotifs. The smile also becomes a compositional element – it forms an  axis of many episodes and even whole “novellas”:  thus, Pierre’s duel with Dolokhov can be seen as a duel of smiles.

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