" Nikolai was a plain farmer "
Tolstoy Ploughing by Ilya Repin
Nikolai at the end of War and Peace is an idealised version of Tolstoy himself. On his estate at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy liked to engage in ordinary farming work alongside his peasants, as shown here in this painting by Ilya Repin.
" a ring with a cameo of Laocoön's head "
Laocoön appears in Greek and Roman mythology. He was the Trojan priest of Poseidon who, in Homer's Iliad, utters the famous phrase, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" in reference to the Trojan Horse.
He is also remembered for the grisly manner of his death: sea-serpents sent by a god (some accounts say Athena, others Apollo or Poseidon) strangled him along with his sons.
" conversations and discussions about women's rights "
Towards the end of the eighteenth century questions of the roles and rights of women
began to emerge in Europe through the work of activists such as Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft. Groups promoting women's rights first appeared in Russia around the 1860s, while Tolstoy was writing War and Peace.
Despite his progressive views in other areas, Tolstoy followed Rousseau's belief that it was natural for women to be subject to men. He thought that their main role in life was within the home, as he shows in these scenes of family life.
" to have a wet-nurse is unnatural and harmful "
In Emile: Or, On Education,
Rousseau put forward his belief that breastfeeding was better for the child than the practise of wet-nursing. He wrote: “but let mothers deign to nurse their children, morals will reform themselves, nature’s sentiments will be awakened in every heart, the state will be repeopled."
Employing wet nurses was common in aristocratic households across Europe as it was thought that breastfeeding inhibited a mother's ability to fall pregnant again quickly.
For more on Rousseau, see bookmark to page 21, "Contract social".