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February 1990

The Death of Nicholas Bolkonski: Neurology in Tolstoy's War and Peace

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Neurology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Arch Neurol. 1990;47(2):225-226. doi:10.1001/archneur.1990.00530020137029

• Painstaking realism is an essential feature of the fiction of Count Leo Tolstoy. One example of Tolstoy's attention to detail is the description of the death of Prince Nicholas Bolkonski in War and Peace. The information provided in War and Peace allows the identification of the prince's terminal illness as a brain-stem stroke and is probably the first description of the one-and-a-half syndrome. Prince Bolkonski is also portrayed as suffering from a dementing process. Tolstoy used the character of Prince Bolkonski to exemplify the rationalistic, Western-influenced aristocracy that dominated Russia at the end of the 18th century. Prince Bolkonski's decline and apoplectic death parallel the fate of Enlightenment thought in Eastern Europe. The clinical detail employed in this case illustrates how Tolstoy used symbolic characters without sacrificing the realism of War and Peace.

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