So. One of the good things that have come out from having a Tumblr is being able to talk to people about War and Peace (at least, a lot more than say on LJ). I've also been made an admin on the Tumblr dedicated to the upcoming bbc adaptation (I'm really-really bad at being an admin, since I'm really-really bad at being on top of entertainment news :/)
Anyway, a little while ago I was posting about my...concerns re: casting and the promo photos that have been released. This post on Anatole spawned a bit of a discussion on Anatole's characterization, mostly via asks and answers. One of the things that came up was how Anatole keeps getting made into this creeper-seducer-womanizer when that's not really what he is at all. Not in that stereotypical cliche way.
So, of course I wrote a post. Here is the original with the context of the ask it was replying to. But I'm re-posting the relevant part of my response here.
I understand if people don’t like [Anatole], but I hate that it’s always for the wrong thing. Where even is this “scheming womanizer” thing coming from? Nothing about how he relates to women we see him with in the book reads like this. A scheming womanizer would not get so stupidly caught in the Bolkonsky gardens with the French companion of the girl he was supposed to be married off to. He doesn’t even TRY to seduce Maria. He’s there because his father dragged him there and he’s just easy-going enough to be like “ok whatever” and lets it play out as it would.
Actually, I’d say Anatole almost actively avoids compromising situations when he understands that they’re compromising. He’s not the sort of guy – again, unlike Onegin or Pechorin – who seduces “proper” girls for fun. He primarily hangs around actresses and “gypsies,” which at that time were, for the most part, considered easy women.
I think the notion comes from two places: a) his offhand comments to Dolokhov about “loving young girls” (or something like that) because they give in easily and b) the whole Natasha fiasco.
I don’t take the “young girls” comment too seriously. He’s obviously posturing and he’s saying this to Dolokhov, whom he admires and probably wants to show off in front of. There’s also a far simpler way to read this comment: “Damn it, I hate it when girls play hard to get. At least when I fall for a younger girl they tend to be more open to getting it on.” It’s also far more in-line with the rest of his characterization. This is an observation and a stated preference, not some strategic plan. Anatole doesn’t do strategic plans; he doesn’t even know how to, honestly. And, anyway, if we’re talking stereotypes here – scheming seducers tend to like a challenge.
The Natasha thing. Anatole falls for her genuinely. He just really, really likes her and he wants to be with her consequences be damned. That’s all. He’s putting himself into danger with the elopement as well, as Dolokhov points out. Anatole ignores him. Do we, as readers, know his feelings are probably pretty short lived? Yea. Most insta-made infatuations are. Dolokhov realizes this all too well, too. Because he knows Anatole and because he is a calculating and practical person who thinks ahead. Anatole just…goes for the prize. The fact that he might never be able to return home, that he could be tried for bigamy or kidnapping or whatever, that he might have to face a duel, that he doesn’t exactly have a way to support himself abroad…none of this stops him. And these are all things that are stacked up against him personally. He’s crazy about Natasha from the get-go. IIRC, the very next scene with him that we have after the opera, is him going on and on to Dolokhov about how gorgeous and enchanting Natasha is. She pushes him away and he just wants her more.
Yes, it’s bad. Yes, it’s destructive. But it’s a different bad and destructive than people make it out to be. It’s the product of carelessness and a lack of self-awareness. The most scheming things that Anatole does (in this case anyway) are all actually the responsibility of other people, primarily Helene and Dolokhov. Helene figures out how to get Natasha and Anatole to see each other more and be alone. Dolokhov organizes the elopement arrangements and writes Anatole’s love letters for him. (I’m assuming Anatole isn’t exactly a poetic type. Not that Dolokhov is, but Dolokhov is smarter and much better at emotional manipulation.) He doesn’t want any harm to befall Natasha. He genuinely thinks that none will. They’ll just run away and get married, live abroad, and no one will suspect a thing is off. It’s an insane fantasy but Natasha falls for it too, even though she has warning signs that something is off. They’re both crazy like that, they both get carried away. No one has to like that. But it’s not at all the same thing as “scheming womanizer who seduces innocent girls for fun.”