War and Peace
|Original title||Война и миръ|
|Language||Russian, with some French|
|Genre||Historical, Romance, War novel, philosophical|
|Publisher||The Russian Messenger (serial)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio book|
|Pages||1,225 (first published edition)|
War and Peace (Pre-reform Russian: «Война и миръ», Voyna i mir) is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature. It is considered as Tolstoy's finest literary achievement, along with his other major prose work, Anna Karenina (1873–1877).
War and Peace delineates in graphic detail events surrounding the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. Portions of an earlier version of the novel, then known as The Year 1805, were serialized in the magazine The Russian Messenger between 1865 and 1867. The novel was first published in its entirety in 1869. Newsweek in 2009 ranked it first in its list of the Top 100 Books. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 20 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
Tolstoy himself, somewhat enigmatically, said of War and Peace that it was "not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle". Large sections of the work, especially in the later chapters, are philosophical discussion rather than narrative. He went on to elaborate that the best Russian literature does not conform to standard norms and hence hesitated to call War and Peace a novel. (Instead, Tolstoy regarded Anna Karenina as his first true novel.)
- 1 Crafting the novel
- 2 Realism
- 3 Language
- 4 Background and historical context
- 5 Plot summary
- 6 Principal characters in War and Peace
- 7 Reception
- 8 Full translations into English
- 9 Adaptations
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Crafting the novel
War and Peace is well known as being one of the longest novels ever written, though not the longest. It is actually the seventh longest novel ever written in a Latin or Cyrillic based alphabet and is subdivided into four books or volumes, each with sub parts containing many chapters.
Tolstoy came up with the title, and some of his themes, from an 1861 work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: La Guerre et la Paix ('War and Peace' in French). Tolstoy had served in the Crimean War and written a series of short stories and novellas featuring scenes of war.
He began writing War and Peace in the year that he finally married and settled down at his country estate. The first half of the book was written under the name "1805".
During the writing of the second half, he read widely and acknowledged Schopenhauer as one of his main inspirations. However, Tolstoy developed his own views of history and the role of the individual within it.
The first draft of War and Peace was completed in 1863. In 1865, the periodical Russkiy Vestnik published the first part of this early version under the title 1805. In the following year, it published more of the same early version. Tolstoy was dissatisfied with this version, although he allowed several parts of it to be published with a different ending in 1867, still under the same title "1805". He heavily rewrote the entire novel between 1866 and 1869. Tolstoy's wife, Sophia Tolstaya, copied as many as seven separate complete manuscripts by hand before Tolstoy considered it again ready for publication. The version that was published in Russkiy Vestnik had a very different ending from the version eventually published under the title War and Peace in 1869.
The completed novel was then called Voyna i mir (new style orthography; in English War and Peace).
The 1805 manuscript (sometimes referred to as "the original War and Peace") was re-edited and annotated in Russia in 1983 and since has been translated separately from the "known" version, to English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Albanian, and Korean. The fact that so many versions of War and Peace survive make it one of the best insights into the mental processes of a great novelist.
Russians who had read the serialized version were anxious to acquire the complete first edition, which included epilogues, and it sold out almost immediately. The novel was translated almost immediately after publication into many other languages.
The novel can be generally classified as historical fiction. It contains elements present in many types of popular 18th and 19th century literature, especially the romance novel. War and Peace attains its literary status by transcending genres.
Tolstoy was instrumental in bringing a new kind of consciousness to the novel. His narrative structure is noted for its "god-like" ability to hover over and within events, but also in the way it swiftly and seamlessly portrayed a particular character's point of view. His use of visual detail is often cinematic in its scope, using the literary equivalents of panning, wide shots and close-ups, to give dramatic interest to battles and ballrooms alike. These devices, while not exclusive to Tolstoy, are part of the new style of the novel that arose in the mid-19th century and of which Tolstoy proved himself a master.
Tolstoy incorporated extensive historical research. He was also influenced by many other novels. A veteran of the Crimean War, Tolstoy was quite critical of standard history, especially the standards of military history, in War and Peace. Tolstoy read all the standard histories available in Russian and French about the Napoleonic Wars and combined more traditional historical writing with the novel form. He explains at the start of the novel's third volume his own views on how history ought to be written. His aim was to blur the line between fiction and history, in order to get closer to the truth, as he states in Volume II.
The novel is set 60 years earlier than when Tolstoy wrote it, "in the days of our grandfathers," as he puts it. He had spoken with people who had lived through war during the French invasion of Russia in 1812, so the book is also, in part, accurate ethnography fictionalized. He read letters, journals, autobiographical and biographical materials pertaining to Napoleon and the dozens of other historical characters in the novel. There are approximately 160 real persons named or referred to in War and Peace.
Although Tolstoy wrote most of the book, including all the narration, in Russian, significant portions of dialogue (including its opening paragraph) are written in French with characters often switching between the two languages. This reflected 19th century Russian aristocracy, where French, a foreign tongue, was widely spoken and considered a language of prestige and more refined than Russian. This came about from the historical influence throughout Europe of the powerful court of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, leading to members of the Russian aristocracy being less competent in speaking their mother tongue. In War and Peace, for example, Julie Karagina, Princess Marya's friend, has to take Russian lessons in order to master her native language.
It has been suggested that it is a deliberate literary device employed by Tolstoy, to use French to portray artifice and insincerity as the language of the theater and deceit while Russian emerges as a language of sincerity, honesty and seriousness. It displays slight irony that as Pierre and others socialize and use French phrases, they will be attacked by legions of Bonapartists in a very short time. It is sometimes used in satire against Napoleon. In the novel, when Pierre proposes to Hélène, he speaks to her in French—Je vous aime ("I love you"). When the marriage later emerges to be a sham, Pierre blames those French words.
The use of French diminishes as the book progresses and the wars with the French intensify, culminating in the capture and eventual burning of Moscow. The progressive elimination of French from the text is a means of demonstrating that Russia has freed itself from foreign cultural domination. It is also, at the level of plot development, a way of showing that a once-admired and friendly nation, France, has turned into an enemy. By midway through the book, several of the Russian aristocracy, whose command of French is far better than their command of Russian, are anxious to find Russian tutors for themselves.
English and other translations
War and Peace has been translated into many languages. It has been translated into English on several occasions, starting with Clara Bell working from a French translation. The translators Constance Garnett and Louise and Aylmer Maude knew Tolstoy personally. Translations have to deal with Tolstoy’s often peculiar syntax and his fondness for repetitions. About 2% of War and Peace is in French; Tolstoy removed the French in a revised 1873 edition, only to restore it later. Most translators follow Garnett retaining some French, Briggs uses no French, while Pevear-Volokhonsky and Amy Mandelker's revision of the Maude translation both retain the French fully. (For a list of translations see below)
Background and historical context
The novel begins in the year 1805 during the reign of Tsar Alexander I and leads up to the 1812 French invasion of Russia by Napoleon. The era of Catherine the Great (1762–1796), when the royal court in Paris was the centre of western European civilization, is still fresh in the minds of older people. Catherine, fluent in French and wishing to reshape Russia into a great European nation, made French the language of her royal court. For the next one hundred years, it became a social requirement for members of the Russian nobility to speak French and understand French culture. This historical and cultural context in the aristocracy is reflected in War and Peace. Catherine's grandson, Alexander I, came to the throne in 1801 at the age of 24. In the novel, his mother, Marya Feodorovna, is the most powerful woman in the Russian court.
War and Peace tells the story of five aristocratic families—the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins and the Drubetskoys—and the entanglements of their personal lives with the then contemporary history of 1805 to 1813, principally Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. The Bezukhovs, while very rich, are a fragmented family as the old Count, Kirill Vladimirovich, has fathered dozens of illegitimate sons. The Bolkonskys are an old established and wealthy family based at Bald Hills. Old Prince Bolkonsky, Nikolai Andreevich, served as a general under Catherine the Great, in earlier wars. The Moscow Rostovs have many estates, but never enough cash. They are a closely knit, loving family who live for the moment regardless of their financial situation. The Kuragin family has three children, who are all of questionable character. The Drubetskoy family is of impoverished nobility, and consists of an elderly mother and her only son, Boris, whom she wishes to push up the career ladder.
Tolstoy spent years researching and rewriting the book. He worked from primary source materials (interviews and other documents), as well as from history books, philosophy texts and other historical novels. Tolstoy also used a great deal of his own experience in the Crimean War to bring vivid detail and first-hand accounts of how the Russian army was structured.
The standard Russian text of War and Peace is divided into four books (fifteen parts) and an epilogue in two parts – one mainly narrative, the other thematic. While roughly the first half of the novel is concerned strictly with the fictional characters, the later parts, as well as one of the work's two epilogues, increasingly consist of essays about the nature of war, power, history, and historiography. Tolstoy interspersed these essays into the story in a way that defies previous fictional convention. Certain abridged versions remove these essays entirely, while others, published even during Tolstoy's life, simply moved these essays into an appendix.
War and Peace has a large cast of characters, the majority of whom are introduced in the first book. Some are actual historical figures, such as Napoleon and Alexander I. While the scope of the novel is vast, it is centered around five aristocratic families. The plot and the interactions of the characters take place in the era surrounding the 1812 French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic wars.
The novel begins in July 1805 in Saint Petersburg, at a soirée given by Anna Pavlovna Scherer—the maid of honour and confidante to the queen mother Maria Feodorovna. Many of the main characters and aristocratic families in the novel are introduced as they enter Anna Pavlovna's salon. Pierre (Pyotr Kirilovich) Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of a wealthy count, an elderly man who is dying after a series of strokes. Pierre is about to become embroiled in a struggle for his inheritance. Educated abroad at his father's expense following his mother's death, Pierre is essentially kindhearted, but socially awkward, and owing in part to his open, benevolent nature, finds it difficult to integrate into Petersburg society. It is known to everyone at the soirée that Pierre is his father's favorite of all the old count’s illegitimate children.
Also attending the soirée is Pierre's friend, the intelligent and sardonic Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky, husband of Lise, the charming society favourite. Finding Petersburg society unctuous and disillusioned with married life after discovering his wife is empty and superficial, Prince Andrei makes the fateful choice to be an aide-de-camp to Prince Mikhail Ilarionovich Kutuzov in the coming war against Napoleon.
The plot moves to Moscow, Russia's ancient city and former capital, contrasting its provincial, more Russian ways to the highly mannered society of Petersburg. The Rostov family are introduced. Count Ilya Andreyevich Rostov has four adolescent children. Thirteen-year-old Natasha (Natalia Ilyinichna) believes herself in love with Boris Drubetskoy, a disciplined young man who is about to join the army as an officer. Twenty-year-old Nikolai Ilyich pledges his love to Sonya (Sofia Alexandrovna), his fifteen-year-old cousin, an orphan who has been brought up by the Rostovs. The eldest child of the Rostov family, Vera Ilyinichna, is cold and somewhat haughty but has a good prospective marriage in a Russian-German officer, Adolf Karlovich Berg. Petya (Pyotr Ilyich) is nine and the youngest of the Rostov family; like his brother, he is impetuous and eager to join the army when of age. The heads of the family, Count Ilya Rostov and Countess Natalya Rostova, are an affectionate couple but forever worried about their disordered finances.
At Bald Hills, the Bolkonskys' country estate, Prince Andrei departs for war and leaves his terrified, pregnant wife Lise with his eccentric father Prince Nikolai Andreyevich Bolkonsky and devoutly religious sister Maria Nikolayevna Bolkonskaya, who refuses to marry the son of a wealthy aristocrat on account of her devotion to her father.
The second part opens with descriptions of the impending Russian-French war preparations. At the Schöngrabern engagement, Nikolai Rostov, who is now conscripted as ensign in a squadron of hussars, has his first taste of battle. Boris Drubetskoy introduces him to Prince Andrei, whom Rostov insults in a fit of impetuousness. Even more than most young soldiers, he is deeply attracted by Tsar Alexander's charisma. Nikolai gambles and socializes with his officer, Vasily Dmitrich Denisov, and befriends the ruthless, and perhaps, psychopathic Fyodor Ivanovich Dolokhov. Both Bolkonsky, Rostov and Denisov are involved in the disastrous Battle of Austerlitz, in which Andrei is wounded as he attempts to rescue a Russian standard.
Book Two begins with Nikolai Rostov briefly returning on home leave to Moscow. Nikolai finds the Rostov family facing financial ruin due to poor estate management. He spends an eventful winter at home, accompanied by his friend Denisov, his officer from the Pavlograd Regiment in which he serves. Natasha has blossomed into a beautiful young girl. Denisov falls in love with her, proposes marriage but is rejected. Although his mother pleads with Nikolai to find himself a good financial prospect in marriage, Nikolai refuses to accede to his mother's request. He promises to marry his childhood sweetheart, the dowry-less Sonya.
Pierre Bezukhov, upon finally receiving his massive inheritance, is suddenly transformed from a bumbling young man into the richest and most eligible bachelor in the Russian Empire. Despite rationally knowing that it is wrong, he is convinced into marriage with Prince Kuragin's beautiful and immoral daughter Hélène (Elena Vasilyevna Kuragina), to whom he is superficially attracted. Hélène, who is rumoured to be involved in an incestuous affair with her brother, the equally charming and immoral Anatol, tells Pierre that she will never have children with him. Hélène is rumoured to have an affair with Dolokhov, who mocks Pierre in public. Pierre loses his temper and challenges Dolokhov, a seasoned dueller and ruthless killer, to a duel. Unexpectedly, Pierre wounds Dolokhov. Hélène denies her affair, but Pierre is convinced of her guilt and, after almost being violent to her, leaves her. In his moral and spiritual confusion, Pierre joins the Freemasons, and becomes embroiled in Masonic internal politics. Much of Book Two concerns his struggles with his passions and his spiritual conflicts to be a better man. Now a rich aristocrat, he abandons his former carefree behavior and enters upon a philosophical quest particular to Tolstoy: how should one live a moral life in an ethically imperfect world? The question continually baffles and confuses Pierre. He attempts to liberate his serfs, but ultimately achieves nothing of note.
Pierre is vividly contrasted with the intelligent and ambitious Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. Andrei recovers from his near fatal artillery wound in a military hospital and returns home, only to find his wife Lise dying in childbirth. He is stricken by his guilty conscience for not treating Lise better when she was alive, and is haunted by the pitiful expression on his dead wife's face. His child, Nikolenka, survives.
Burdened with nihilistic disillusionment, Prince Andrei does not return to the army but chooses to remain on his estate, working on a project that would codify military behavior to solve problems of disorganization responsible for the loss of life on the Russian side. Pierre visits him and brings new questions: where is God in this amoral world? Pierre is interested in panentheism and the possibility of an afterlife.
Pierre's estranged wife, Hélène, begs him to take her back, and against his better judgment and in trying to abide by the Freemason laws of forgiveness, he does. Despite her vapid shallowness, Hélène establishes herself as an influential hostess in Petersburg society.
Prince Andrei feels impelled to take his newly written military notions to Petersburg, naively expecting to influence either the Emperor himself or those close to him. Young Natasha, also in Petersburg, is caught up in the excitement of dressing for her first grand ball, where she meets Prince Andrei and briefly reinvigorates him with her vivacious charm. Andrei believes he has found purpose in life again and, after paying the Rostovs several visits, proposes marriage to Natasha. However, old Prince Bolkonsky, Andrei's father, dislikes the Rostovs, opposes the marriage, and insists on a year's delay. Prince Andrei leaves to recuperate from his wounds abroad, leaving Natasha initially distraught. She soon recovers her spirits, however, and Count Rostov takes her and Sonya to spend some time with a friend in Moscow.
Natasha visits the Moscow opera, where she meets Hélène and her brother Anatol. Anatol has since married a Polish woman whom he has abandoned in Poland. He is very attracted to Natasha and is determined to seduce her. Hélène and Anatol conspire together to accomplish this plan. Anatol kisses Natasha and writes her passionate letters, eventually establishing plans to elope. Natasha is convinced that she loves Anatol and writes to Princess Maria, Andrei's sister, breaking off her engagement. At the last moment, Sonya discovers her plans to elope and foils them. Pierre is initially horrified by Natasha's behavior, but realizes he has fallen in love with her. During the time when the Great Comet of 1811–2 streaks the sky, life appears to begin anew for Pierre.
Prince Andrei accepts coldly Natasha's breaking of the engagement. He tells Pierre that his pride will not allow him to renew his proposal. Ashamed, Natasha makes a suicide attempt and is left seriously ill.
With the help of her family, especially Sonya, and the stirrings of religious faith, Natasha manages to persevere in Moscow through this dark period. Meanwhile, the whole of Russia is affected by the coming confrontation between Napoleon's troops and the Russian army. Pierre convinces himself through gematria that Napoleon is the Antichrist of the Book of Revelation. Old prince Bolkonsky dies of a stroke while trying to protect his estate from French marauders. No organized help from any Russian army seems available to the Bolkonskys, but Nikolai Rostov turns up at their estate in time to help put down an incipient peasant revolt. He finds himself attracted to Princess Maria, but remembers his promise to Sonya.
Back in Moscow, the war-obsessed Petya manages to snatch a loose piece of the Tsar's biscuit outside the Cathedral of the Assumption; he finally convinces his parents to allow him to enlist.
Napoleon himself is a main character in this section, and the novel presents him in vivid detail, as both a thinker and would-be strategist. His toilette and his customary attitudes and traits of mind are depicted in detail. Also described are the well-organized force of over 400,000 French Army (only 140,000 of them actually French-speaking) that marches quickly through the Russian countryside in the late summer and reaches the outskirts of the city of Smolensk. Pierre decides to leave Moscow and go to watch the Battle of Borodino from a vantage point next to a Russian artillery crew. After watching for a time, he begins to join in carrying ammunition. In the midst of the turmoil he experiences firsthand the death and destruction of war; Eugène's artillery continues to pound Russian support columns, while Marshals Ney and Davout set up a crossfire with artillery positioned on the Semyonovskaya heights. The battle becomes a hideous slaughter for both armies and ends in a standoff. The Russians, however, have won a moral victory by standing up to Napoleon's reputedly invincible army. For strategic reasons and having suffered grievous losses, the Russian army withdraws the next day, allowing Napoleon to march on to Moscow. Among the casualties are Anatol Kuragin and Prince Andrei. Anatol loses a leg, and Andrei suffers a grenade wound in the abdomen. Both are reported dead, but their families are in such disarray that no one can be notified.
The Rostovs have waited until the last minute to abandon Moscow, even after it is clear that Kutuzov has retreated past Moscow and Muscovites are being given contradictory, often propagandistic, instructions on how to either flee or fight. Count Rostopchin is publishing posters, rousing the citizens to put their faith in religious icons, while at the same time urging them to fight with pitchforks if necessary. Before fleeing himself, he gives orders to burn the city. The Rostovs have a difficult time deciding what to take with them, but in the end, Natasha convinces them to load their carts with the wounded and dying from the Battle of Borodino. Unknown to Natasha, Prince Andrei is amongst the wounded.
When Napoleon's Grand Army finally occupies an abandoned and burning Moscow, Pierre takes off on a quixotic mission to assassinate Napoleon. He becomes an anonymous man in all the chaos, shedding his responsibilities by wearing peasant clothes and shunning his duties and lifestyle. The only people he sees while in this garb are Natasha and some of her family, as they depart Moscow. Natasha recognizes and smiles at him, and he in turn realizes the full scope of his love for her.
Pierre saves the life of a French officer who fought at Borodino, yet is taken prisoner by the retreating French during his attempted assassination of Napoleon, after saving a woman from being raped by soldiers in the French Army.
Pierre becomes friends with a fellow prisoner, Platon Karataev, a peasant with a saintly demeanor, who is incapable of malice. In Karataev, Pierre finally finds what he has been seeking: an honest person of integrity (unlike the aristocrats of Petersburg society) who is utterly without pretense. Pierre discovers meaning in life simply by living and interacting with him. After witnessing French soldiers sacking Moscow and shooting Russian civilians arbitrarily, Pierre is forced to march with the Grand Army during its disastrous retreat from Moscow in the harsh Russian winter. After months of trial and tribulation—during which the fever-plagued Karataev is shot by the French—Pierre is finally freed by a Russian raiding party, after a small skirmish with the French that sees the young Petya Rostov killed in action.
Meanwhile, Andrei, wounded during Napoleon's invasion, has been taken in as a casualty and cared for by the Rostovs, fleeing from Moscow to Yaroslavl. He is reunited with Natasha and his sister Maria before the end of the war. Having lost all will to live, he forgives Natasha in a last act before dying.
As the novel draws to a close, Pierre's wife Hélène dies from an overdose of abortion medication (Tolstoy does not state it explicitly but the euphemism he uses is unambiguous). Pierre is reunited with Natasha, while the victorious Russians rebuild Moscow. Natasha speaks of Prince Andrei's death and Pierre of Karataev's. Both are aware of a growing bond between them in their bereavement. With the help of Princess Maria, Pierre finds love at last and, revealing his love after being released by his former wife's death, marries Natasha.
Epilogue in two parts
The first part of the epilogue begins with the wedding of Pierre and Natasha in 1813. It is the last happy event for the Rostov family, which is undergoing a transition. Count Rostov dies soon after, leaving his eldest son Nikolai to take charge of the debt-ridden estate.
Nikolai finds himself with the task of maintaining the family on the verge of bankruptcy. His abhorrence at the idea of marrying for wealth almost gets in his way, but finally he marries the now-rich Maria Bolkonskaya and in so doing also saves his family from financial ruin.
Nikolai and Maria then move to Bald Hills with his mother and Sonya, whom he supports for the rest of their life. Buoyed by his wife's fortune, Nikolai pays off all his family's debts. They also raise Prince Andrei's orphaned son, Nikolai Andreyevich (Nikolenka) Bolkonsky.
As in all good marriages, there are misunderstandings, but the couples — Pierre and Natasha, Nikolai and Maria — remain devoted to their spouses. Pierre and Natasha visit Bald Hills in 1820, much to the jubilation of everyone concerned. There is a hint in the closing chapters that the idealistic, boyish Nikolenka and Pierre would both become part of the Decembrist Uprising. The first epilogue concludes with Nikolenka promising he would do something with which even his late father "would be satisfied..." (presumably as a revolutionary in the Decembrist revolt).
The second part of the epilogue contains Tolstoy's critique of all existing forms of mainstream history. The 19th-century Great Man Theory claims that historical events are the result of the actions of "heroes" and other great individuals; Tolstoy argues that this is impossible because of how rarely these actions result in great historical events. Rather, he argues, great historical events are the result of many smaller events driven by the thousands of individuals involved (he compares this to calculus, and the sum of infinitesimals). He then goes on to argue that these smaller events are the result of an inverse relationship between necessity and free-will, necessity being based on reason and therefore explainable by historical analysis, and free-will being based on "consciousness" and therefore inherently unpredictable.
Principal characters in War and Peace
- Count Pyotr Kirillovich (Pierre) Bezukhov: The large-bodied, ungainly, and socially awkward illegitimate son of an old Russian grandee. Pierre, educated abroad, returns to Russia as a misfit. His unexpected inheritance of a large fortune makes him socially desirable. Pierre is the central character and often a voice for Tolstoy's own beliefs or struggles.
- Prince Andrey Nikolayevich Bolkonsky: A strong but skeptical, thoughtful and philosophical aide-de-camp in the Napoleonic Wars.
- Princess Maria Nikolayevna Bolkonskaya: Sister of Prince Andrew, Princess Maria is a pious woman whose eccentric father attempted to give her a good education. The caring, nurturing nature of her large eyes in her otherwise thin and plain face are frequently mentioned.
- Count Ilya Andreyevich Rostov: The pater-familias of the Rostov family; terrible with finances, generous to a fault.
- Countess Natalya Rostova: Wife of Count Ilya Rostov, mother of the four Rostov children.
- Countess Natalya Ilyinichna (Natasha) Rostova: A central character, introduced as "not pretty but full of life" and a romantic young girl, although impulsive and highly strung, she evolves through trials and suffering and eventually finds happiness. She is an accomplished singer and dancer.
- Count Nikolai Ilyich (Nikolenka) Rostov: An hussar, the beloved eldest son of the Rostov family.
- Sofia Alexandrovna (Sonya) Rostova: Orphaned cousin of Vera, Nikolai, Natasha, and Petya Rostov.
- Countess Vera Ilyinichna Rostova: Eldest of the Rostov children, she marries the German career soldier, Berg.
- Pyotr Ilyich (Petya) Rostov: Youngest of the Rostov children.
- Prince Vasily Sergeyevich Kuragin: A ruthless man who is determined to marry his children well, despite having doubts about the character of some of them.
- Princess Elena Vasilyevna (Hélène) Kuragin: A beautiful and sexually alluring woman who has many affairs, including (it is rumoured) with her brother Anatole.
- Prince Anatole Vasilyevich Kuragin: Hélène's brother and a very handsome and amoral pleasure seeker who is secretly married yet tries to elope with Natasha Rostova.
- Prince Ippolit Vasilyevich: The eldest and perhaps most dim-witted of the Kuragin children.
- Prince Boris Drubetskoy: A poor but aristocratic young man driven by ambition, even at the expense of his friends and benefactors, who marries for money, rather than love, an heiress, Julie Karagina.
- Princess Anna Mihalovna Drubetskaya: The mother of Boris.
- Fyodor Ivanovich Dolokhov: A cold, almost psychopathic officer, he ruins Nikolai Rostov by luring him into an outrageous gambling debt (by which he, Dolokhov, profits), he only shows love to his doting mother.
- Adolf Karlovich Berg: A young Russian officer, who desires to be just like everyone else.
- Anna Pavlovna Sherer: Also known as Annette, she is the hostess of the salon that is the site of much of the novel's action in Petersburg.
- Maria Dmitryevna Akhrosimova: An older Moscow society lady, she is an elegant dancer and trend-setter, despite her age and size.
- Amalia Evgenyevna Bourienne: A French woman who lives with the Bolkonskys, primarily as Princess Marya's companion.
- Vasily Dmitrich Denisov: Nikolai Rostov's friend and brother officer, who proposes to Natasha.
- Platon Karataev: The archetypal good Russian peasant, whom Pierre meets in the prisoner of war camp.
- Napoleon I of France: the Great Man, whose fate is detailed in the book.
- General Mikhail Ilarionovich Kutuzov: Russian commander-in-chief.
- Osip Bazdeyev: the Freemason who interests Pierre in his mysterious group, starting a lengthy subplot.
- Tsar Alexander I of Russia: He signed a peace treaty with Napoleon in 1807 and then went to war with him.
Many of Tolstoy's characters in War and Peace were based on real-life people known to Tolstoy himself. His grandparents and their friends were the models for many of the main characters, his great-grandparents would have been of the generation of Prince Vassily or Count Ilya Rostov. Some of the characters, obviously, are actual historic figures.
The novel that made its author "the true lion of the Russian literature" (according to Ivan Goncharov) upon its publication enjoyed great success with the reading public and spawned dozens of reviews and analytical essays in the press, some of which (by Pisarev, Annenkov, Dragomirov and Strakhov) formed the basis for Tolstoy scholars' later research. Yet the Russian press's initial response to the novel was muted, most critics feeling bewildered by this mammoth work they couldn’t decide how to classify. The liberal newspaper Golos (The Voice, April 3, #93, 1865) was one of the first to react. Its anonymous reviewer posed a question later repeated by many others: "What could this possibly be? What kind of genre are we supposed to file it to?.. Where is fiction in it, and where is real history?"
Writer and critic Nikolai Akhsharumov, writing in Vsemirny Trud (#6, 1867) suggested that War and Peace was "neither a chronicle, nor a historical novel", but a genre merger, this ambiguity never undermining its immense value. Pavel Annenkov, who praised the novel too, was equally vague when trying to classify it. "The cultural history of one large section of our society, the political and social panorama of it in the beginning of the current century," was his suggestion. "It is the [social] epic, the history novel and the vast picture of the whole nation's life," wrote Ivan Turgenev in his bid to define War and Peace in the foreword for his French translation of "The Two Hussars" (published in Paris by Le Temps in 1875).
In general, the literary left received the novel coldly. They saw it as totally devoid of social critique, and keen on the idea of national unity. They saw its major fault as the "...author's inability to portray a new kind of revolutionary intelligentsia in his novel," as critic Varfoomey Zaytsev put it. Articles by D.Minayev, V.Bervi-Flerovsky and N.Shelgunov in Delo magazine characterized the novel as "lacking realism", showing its characters as "cruel and rough", "mentally stoned", "morally depraved" and promoting "the philosophy of stagnation". Still, Mikhail Saltykov-Schedrin, who's never expressed his opinion of the novel publicly, in the private conversation was reported to have expressed delight with "how strongly this Count has stung our higher society". Dmitry Pisarev in his unfinished article "Russian Gentry of Old" (Staroye barstvo, Otechestvennye Zapiski, #2, 1868) while praising Tolstoy's realism in portraying members of high society, still was unhappy with the way the author, as he saw it, 'idealized' the old nobility, expressing "unconscious and quite natural tenderness towards" the Russian dvoryanstvo. On the opposite front, the conservative press and "patriotic" authors (A.S.Norov and P.A.Vyazemsky among them) were accusing Tolstoy of consciously distorting the 1812 history, desecrating the "patriotic feelings of our fathers" and ridiculing dvoryanstvo.
One of the first comprehensive articles on the novel was that of Pavel Annenkov, published in #2, 1868 issue of Vestnik Evropy. The critic praised Tolstoy's masterful portrayal of man at war, marveled at the complexity of the whole composition, organically merging historical facts and fiction. "The dazzling side of the novel", according to Annenkov, was "the natural simplicity with which [the author] transports the worldly affairs and big social events down to the level of a character who witnesses them." Annekov thought the historical gallery of the novel was incomplete with the two "great raznotchintsys", Speransky and Arakcheev, and deplored the fact that the author stopped at introducing to the novel "this relatively rough but original element". In the end the critic called the novel "the whole epoch in the Russian fiction".
Slavophiles declared Tolstoy their "bogatyr" and pronounced War and Peace "the Bible of the new national idea". Several articles on War and Peace were published in 1869–1870 in Zarya magazine by Nikolai Strakhov. "War and Peace is the work of genius, equal to everything that the Russian literature has produced before," he pronounced in the first, smaller essay. "It is now quite clear that from 1868 when the War and Peace was published the very essence of what we call Russian literature has become quite different, acquired the new form and meaning," the critic continued later. Strakhov was the first critic in Russia who declared Tolstoy's novel to be a masterpiece of level previously unknown in Russian literature. Still, being a true Slavophile, he could not fail to see the novel as promoting the major Slavophiliac ideas of "meek Russian character'ss supremacy over the rapacious European kind" (using Apollon Grigoriev's formula). Years later, in 1878, discussing Strakhov's own book The World as a Whole, Tolstoy criticized both Grigoriev's concept (of "Russian meekness vs. Western bestiality") and Strakhov's interpretation of it.
Among the reviewers were military men and authors specializing in the war literature. Most assessed highly the artfulness and realism of Tolstoy's battle scenes. N.Lachinov, a member of the Russky Invalid newspaper stuff (#69, April 10, 1868) called the Battle of Schöngrabern scenes "bearing the highest degree of historical and artistic truthfulness" and totally agreed with the author's view on the Battle of Borodino, which some of his opponents disputed. The army general and respected military writer Mikhail Dragomirov, in an article published in Oruzheiny Sbornik (The Military Almanac, 1868-1870), while disputing some of Tolstoy's ideas concerning the "spontaneity" of wars and the role of commander in battles, advised all the Russian Army officers to use War and Peace as their desk book, describing its battle scenes as "incomparable" and "serving for an ideal manual to every textbook on theories of military art."
Unlike professional literary critics, most prominent Russian writers of the time supported the novel wholeheartedly. Goncharov, Turgenev, Leskov, Dostoyevsky and Fet have all gone on record as declaring War and Peace the masterpiece of the Russian literature. Ivan Goncharov in a July 17, 1878, letter to Pyotr Ganzen advised him to chose for translating into Danish War and Peace, adding: "This is positively what might be called a Russian Ilyad. Embracing the whole epoch, it is the grandiose literary event, showcasing the gallery of great men painted by a lively brush of the great master... This is one of the most, if not the most profound literary work ever. In 1879, unhappy with Ganzen having chosen Anna Karenina to start with, Goncharov insisted: "War and Peace is the extraordinary poem of a novel, both in content and execution. It also serves as a monument to Russian history's glorious epoch when whatever figure you take is a colossus, a statue in bronze. Even [the novel's] minor characters carry all the characteristic features of the Russian people and its life." In 1885, expressing satisfaction with the fact that Tolstoy's works have now been translated into Danish, Goncharov again stressed the immense importance of War and Peace. "Count Tolstoy really mounts over everybody else here [in Russia]," he remarked.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (in a May 30, 1871, letter to Strakhov) described War and Peace as "the last word of the landlord's literature and the brilliant one at that". In a draft version of the Teenager novel he described Tolstoy as "a historiograph of the dvoryanstvo, or rather, its cultural elite." "The objectivity and realism impart wonderful charm to all scenes, and alongside people of talent, honour and duty he exposes numerous scoundrels, worthless goons and fools," he added. In 1876 Dostoyevsky wrote: "My strong conviction is that a writer of fiction has to have most profound knowledge - not only of the poetic side of his art, but also the reality he deals with, in its historical as well as contemporary context. Here [in Russia], as far as I see it, only one writer excels in this, Count Lev Tolstoy."
Nikolai Leskov, then an anonymous reviewer in Birzhevy Vestnik (The Stock Exchange Herald), wrote several articles praising highly War and Peace, calling it "the best ever Russian historical novel" and "the pride of the contemporary literature". Marveling at the realism and factual truthfulness of Tolstoy's book, Leskov thought the author deserved the special credit for "having lifted up the people's spirit upon the high pedestal it deserved". "While working most elaborately upon individual characters, the author, apparently, has been studying most diligently the character of the nation as a whole; the life of people whose moral strength came to be concentrated in the Army that came up to fight mighty Napoleon. In this respect the novel of Count Tolstoy could be seen as an epic of the Great national war which up until now has had its historians but never had its singers," Leskov wrote.
Afanasy Fet, in a January 1, 1870, letter to Tolstoy, expressed his great delight with the novel. "You've managed to show us in great detail the other, mundane side of life and explain how organically does it feed the outer, heroic side of it," he added.
Ivan Turgenev gradually re-considered his initial skepticism as to the novel’s historical aspect and also the style of Tolstoy's psychological analysis. In his 1880 article written in the form of a letter addressed to Edmond Abou, the editor of the French newspaper Le XIX-e Siecle, Turgenev described Tolstoy as "the most popular Russian writer" and War and Peace as "one of the most remarkable books of our age". "This vast work has the spirit of an epic, where the life of Russia of the beginning of our century in general and in details has been recreated by the hand of a true master... The manner in which Count Tolstoy conducts his treatise is innovative and original. This is the great work of a great writer, and in it there’s true, real Russia," Turgenev wrote. It was largely due to Turgenev's efforts that the novel started to gain popularity with the European readership. The first French edition of the War and Peace (1879) paved the way for the worldwide success of Leo Tolstoy and his works.
Since then many world famous authors have praised War and Peace as a masterpiece of the world literature. Gustav Flaubert expressed his delight in a January 1880 letter to Turgenev, writing: "This is the first class work! What an artist and what a psychologist! The first two volumes are exquisite. I used to utter shrieks of delight while reading. This is powerful, very powerful indeed." Later John Galsworthy has called War and Peace "the best novel that had ever been written". Romain Rolland, remembering his reading the novel as a student, wrote: "this work, like life itself, has no beginning, no end. It is life itself in its eternal movement." Thomas Mann thought War and Peace to be "the greatest ever war novel in the history of literature." Ernest Hemingway confessed that it was from Tolstoy that he'd been taking lessons on how to "write about war in the most straightforward, honest, objective and stark way." "I don't know anybody who could write about war better than Tolstoy did," Hemingway asserted in his 1955 Men at War. The Best War Stories of All Time anthology.
Isaak Babel said, after reading War and Peace, "If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy." Tolstoy "gives us a unique combination of the 'naive objectivity' of the oral narrator with the interest in detail characteristic of realism. This is the reason for our trust in his presentation."
Full translations into English
- Clara Bell (from a French version) (1885–86)
- Nathan Haskell Dole (1898)
- Leo Wiener (1904)
- Constance Garnett (1904)
- Aylmer and Louise Maude (1922–3)
- Rosemary Edmonds (1957, revised 1978)
- Ann Dunnigan (1968)
- Anthony Briggs (2005)
- Andrew Bromfield (2007), translation of the first completed draft, approx. 400 pages shorter than other English translations
- Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (2007)
- Maude translation revised by Amy Mandelker, Oxford University Press (2010) ISBN 978-0-19-923276-5
Academic Zoja Pavlovskis-Petit has this to say about the translations of War and Peace available in 2000: "Of all the translations of War and Peace, Dunnigan's (1968) is the best....Unlike the other translators, Dunnigan even succeeds with many characteristically Russian folk expressions and proverbs....She is faithful to the text and does not hesitate to render conscientiously those details that the uninitiated may find bewildering: for instance, the statement that Boris's mother pronounced his name with a stress on the o – an indication to the Russian reader of the old lady's affectation."
On the Garnett translation Pavlovskis-Petit writes: "her...War and Peace is frequently inexact and contains too many anglicisms. Her style is awkward and turgid, very unsuitable for Tolstoi." On the Maudes' translation she comments: "this should have been the best translation, but the Maudes' lack of adroitness in dealing with Russian folk idiom, and their style in general, place this version below Dunnigan's." She further comments on Edmonds's revised translation, formerly on Penguin: "[it] is the work of a sound scholar but not the best possible translator; it frequently lacks resourcefulness and imagination in its use of English....a respectable translation but not on the level of Dunnigan or Maude."
The first Russian adaptation was Война и мир (Voyna i mir) in 1915, which was directed by Vladimir Gardin and starred Gardin and the Russian ballerina Vera Karalli. F. Kamei produced a version in Japan in 1947.
The 208-minute long American 1956 version was directed by King Vidor and starred Audrey Hepburn (Natasha), Henry Fonda (Pierre) and Mel Ferrer (Andrei). Audrey Hepburn was nominated for a BAFTA Award for best British actress and for a Golden Globe Award for best actress in a drama production.
The critically acclaimed Soviet version by the director Sergei Bondarchuk was released in four parts in 1966 and 1967. It starred Lyudmila Savelyeva (as Natasha Rostova) and Vyacheslav Tikhonov (as Andrei Bolkonsky). Bondarchuk himself played the character of Pierre Bezukhov. The series' length was some seven hours; it involved thousands of extras and took six years to finish the shooting, as a result of which the actors age changed dramatically from scene to scene. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for its authenticity and massive scale. Bondarchuk's film is considered to be the best screen version of the novel. It attracted some controversy due to the number of horses killed during the making of the battle sequences and screenings were actively boycotted in several US cities by the ASPCA.
War and Peace (1972): The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) made a television serial based on the novel, broadcast in 1972–73. Anthony Hopkins played the lead role of Pierre. Other lead characters were played by Rupert Davies, Faith Brook, Morag Hood, Alan Dobie, Angela Down and Sylvester Morand. This version faithfully included many of Tolstoy's minor characters, including Platon Karataev (Harry Locke).
War and Peace (2007): produced by the Italian Lux Vide, a TV mini-series in Russian & English co-produced in Russia, France, Germany, Poland and Italy. Directed by Robert Dornhelm, with screenplay written by Lorenzo Favella, Enrico Medioli and Gavin Scott. It features an international cast with Alexander Beyer playing the lead role of Pierre assisted by Malcolm McDowell, Clémence Poésy, Alessio Boni, Pilar Abella, J. Kimo Arbas, Ken Duken, Juozapas Bagdonas and Toni Bertorelli.
Initiated by a proposal of the German director Erwin Piscator in 1938, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev composed his opera War and Peace (Op. 91, libretto by Mira Mendelson) based on this epic novel during the 1940s. The complete musical work premiered in Leningrad in 1955. It was the first opera to be given a public performance at the Sydney Opera House (1973).
The first successful stage adaptations of War and Peace were produced by Alfred Neumann and Erwin Piscator (1942, revised 1955, published by Macgibbon & Kee in London 1963, and staged in 16 countries since) and R. Lucas (1943).
A stage adaptation by Helen Edmundson, first produced in 1996 at the Royal National Theatre, was published that year by Nick Hern Books, London. Edmundson added to and amended the play for a 2008 production as two 3-hour parts by Shared Experience, directed by Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale. This was first put on at the Nottingham Playhouse, then toured in the UK to Liverpool, Darlington, Bath, Warwick, Oxford, Truro, London (the Hampstead Theatre) and Cheltenham.
A musical adaptation by OBIE Award-winner Dave Malloy, called Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 premiered at the Ars Nova theater in Manhattan on October 1, 2012. The show is described as an electropop opera, and is based on Book 8 of War and Peace, focusing on Natasha's affair with Anatole.
The BBC Home Service broadcast an eight-part adaptation by Walter Peacock from 17 January to 7 February 1943 with two episodes on each Sunday. All but the last instalment, which ran for one and a half hours, were one hour long. Leslie Banks played Pierre while Celia Johnson was Natasha.
A dramatised full-cast adaptation in 20 parts, edited by Michael Bakewell, was broadcast by the BBC. Transmission Times: 30.12.1969 to 12.5.1970 Cast included: David Buck, Kate Binchy, Martin Jarvis
A dramatised full-cast adaptation in ten parts was written by Marcy Kahan and Mike Walker in 1997 for BBC Radio 4. The production won the 1998 Talkie award for Best Drama and was around 9.5 hours in length. It was directed by Janet Whitaker and featured Simon Russell Beale, Gerard Murphy, Richard Johnson, and others.
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- Compare English translations of War and Peace
- English audio recording at LibriVox.org
- English translation at Gutenberg
- Searchable version of the gutenberg text in multiple formats SiSU
- War and Peace, complete text with accompanying audio.
- Full text of War and Peace in modern Russian orthography
- An audio version of Book 1 of War and Peace (other books are available through links).
- A searchable online version of Aylmer Maude's English translation of War and Peace
- SparkNotes Study Guide for "War and Peace"
- Birth, death, balls and battles by Orlando Figes. This is an edited version of an essay found in the Penguin Classics new translation of War and Peace (2005).
- Homage to War and Peace Searchable map, compiled by Nicholas Jenkins, of places named in Tolstoy's novel (2008).
- War and Peace Map Map of places named in Tolstoy's novel (2012).
- Russian Army during the Napoleonic Wars
- War and Peace at the Internet Book List
- Radio documentary about 1970 marathon reading of War and Peace on WBAI, from Democracy Now! program, December 6, 2005
- Discussion-Forum at Reading Group Guides