So I’ve already talked some about how the scheming seducer stereotype doesn’t fit Anatole’s character at all here. But I wanted to pull a few more quotes and make a few more characterization comments.
“He regarded his whole life as a continual round of amusement which someone for some reason had to provide for him” (Book 3, Chapter III)
You know, this is why Tolstoy really doesn’t like Anatole. For Tolstoy, men are supposed to seek intellectual pursuits which lead them to the Meaning of Life (which is inevitably centered on faith and family, as per the Tolstonian model.) Just happiness can’t be the point of life. (WTF not though?) Anatole, on the other hand, just wants to enjoy life. He sees no need to search for a meaning. He has always been given what he wants (rich, youngest child, it’s inevitable really) and he associates with other people of the same circumstances so he has no reason to question it. He takes the resources he has - money, social status, self-confidence, etc - and he puts them to use. In this way, he is very much like both Helene AND Natasha. Like Helene, because she also puts the privileges she has to use and in service of her desires. Like Natasha, because Natasha is also air-headed, sheltered, carefree, privileged and often completely incapable of understanding how her actions affect others.
“Anatole was not quick-witted, nor ready or eloquent in conversation, but he had the faculty, so invaluable in society, of composure and imperturbable self-possession. If a man lacking in self-confidence remains dumb on a first introduction and betrays a consciousness of the impropriety of such silence and an anxiety to find something to say, the effect is bad. But Anatole was dumb, swung his foot, and smilingly examined the princess’ hair. It was evident that he could be silent in this way for a very long time.” (Book 3, Chapter III)
He doesn’t particularly care what people think of him and has an ingrained sense of self-worth and confidence. To be honest, it’s actually quite attractive.
“Anatole was always content with his position, with himself, and with others. He was instinctively and thoroughly convinced that it was impossible for him to live otherwise than as he did and that he had never in his life done anything base. He was incapable of considering how his actions might affect others or what the consequences of this or that action of his might be.”
This is basically a more expanded version of the two quotes above combined. My commentary on those quotes covers more or less everything in this one. Except for maybe one more note: he likes people.
“He was not a gambler, at any rate he did not care about winning. He was not vain. He did not mind what people thought of him. Still less could he be accused of ambition…and he laughed at distinctions of all kinds. He was not mean [the Russian text uses the word “skup” meaning stingy], and did not refuse anyone who asked of him…he honestly considered himself irreproachable, sincerely despised rogues and bad people, and with a tranquil conscience carried his head high.”
So what do we have in the end? Someone who is neither jealous nor a “climber” nor inherently bigoted/prejudiced/a snob nor stingy nor arrogant. In fact we have the opposite: someone who is open-hearted and open-handed, outgoing, confident, does have a sense of right-and-wrong - his problem is lack of foresight and perspective - does not want or mean to do any harm/has good intentions, and generally just wants to enjoy life. And the thing is, from what we see in canon, most of his entertainments are actually quite benign: drinking with friends, going to various entertainment, like the opera, and flirting openly with everyone who strikes his fancy. (And the ‘‘womanizing” I’ve addressed elsewhere as stated above.)
And to keep everything in one place; someone on Tumblr once asked me why I love Anatole so much anyway.
Anatole is like that fun friend that a lot of people/friendship groups have. You probably don’t have a very deep relationship with him because he’s bad at committing and a little shallow/not good at reflection, but he’s so fun and easy to be around. He’s confident without being a show-off, he’s easy going and optimistic, he knows how to have fun and is always up for a party/adventure. He enjoys life in a way that is infectious. He doesn’t take himself, or others, too seriously. You can be you around him and he probably won’t judge you for it. He’s probably not very good in emotionally difficult situations but he’s not unwilling to help, even if you need to tell him what it is you want. He’s so…free. I don’t really know how to put it. And he’s not out there looking for some pretentious meaning of life or angsting over some ambiguous unfulfillment. He knows what he wants – to have fun and be happy. (And most of the ways he tries to have fun are actually quite harmless.) He’s perfectly genuine and open. That’s Anatole.
And some of it is personal, of course, just how liking and not liking certain characters often is. Like, I really identify with his drive to just be free and happy and not have to worry about tedious things. Anatole doesn’t give a shit about growing up and, to be frank, it’s pretty overrated IMO too. I’m more responsible than he is, I’d say, but I understand where he’s coming from.And, I mean, look, I get it. He’s flighty and irresponsible and unable to commit. Those are very real character flaws. He gets carried away and sometimes hurts people because of it, because of his short-sightedness. He doesn’t mean to, but that doesn’t completely mitigate his mistakes. I get protective because often people dislike him for things that he doesn’t actually do or traits he doesn’t actually have. But if you can’t stomach his character flaws, then you can’t. But I can. Maybe because it’s easier to forgive fictional people their flaws, IDK, but every character has them and it comes out to: what side does the scale tip to? And: who can you identify with most?