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  • War and Peace
  • Written by Leo Tolstoy
  • Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780679405733
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War and Peace

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Synopsis


War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.

As Napoleon's army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers—as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving—and human—figures in world literature. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude.

(Book Jacket Status: Not Jacketed)

 

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Excerpt

WELL, PRINCE, Genoa and Lucca are now no more than private estates of the Bonaparte family. No, I warn you, that if you do not tell me we are at war, if you again allow yourself to palliate all the infamies and atrocities of this Antichrist (upon my word, I believe he is), I don’t know you in future, you are no longer my friend, no longer my faithful slave, as you say. There, how do you do, how do you do? I see I’m scaring you, sit down and talk to me.”
These words were uttered in July 1805 by Anna Pavlovna Scherer, a distinguished lady of the court, and confidential maid-of-honour to the Empress Marya Fyodorovna. It was her greeting to Prince Vassily, a man high in rank and office, who was the first to arrive at her soirée. Anna Pavlovna had been coughing for the last few days; she had an attack of la grippe, as she said—grippe was then a new word only used by a few people. In the notes she had sent round in the morning by a footman in red livery, she had written to all indiscriminately:
“If you have nothing better to do, count (or prince), and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too alarming to you, I shall be charmed to see you at my house between 7 and 10. Annette Scherer.”
“Heavens! what a violent outburst!” the prince responded, not in the least disconcerted at such a reception. He was wearing an embroidered court uniform, stockings and slippers, and had stars on his breast, and a bright smile on his flat face.
He spoke in that elaborately choice French, in which our forefathers not only spoke but thought, and with those slow, patronising intonations peculiar to a man of importance who has grown old in court society. He went up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting her with a view of his perfumed, shining bald head, and complacently settled himself on the sofa.
“First of all, tell me how you are, dear friend. Relieve a friend’s anxiety,” he said, with no change of his voice and tone, in which indifference, and even irony, was perceptible through the veil of courtesy and sympathy.
“How can one be well when one is in moral suffering? How can one help being worried in these times, if one has any feeling?” said Anna Pavlovna. “You’ll spend the whole evening with me, I hope?”
“And the fête at the English ambassador’s? To-day is Wednesday. I must put in an appearance there,” said the prince. “My daughter is coming to fetch me and take me there.”
“I thought to-day’s fête had been put off. I confess that all these festivities and fireworks are beginning to pall.”
“If they had known that it was your wish, the fête would have been put off,” said the prince, from habit, like a wound-up clock, saying things he did not even wish to be believed.
“Don’t tease me. Well, what has been decided in regard to the Novosiltsov dispatch? You know everything.”
“What is there to tell?” said the prince in a tired, listless tone. “What has been decided? It has been decided that Bonaparte has burnt his ships, and I think that we are about to burn ours.”
Prince Vassily always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating his part in an old play. Anna Pavlovna Scherer, in spite of her forty years, was on the contrary brimming over with excitement and impulsiveness. To be enthusiastic had become her pose in society, and at times even when she had, indeed, no inclination to be so, she was enthusiastic so as not to disappoint the expectations of those who knew her. The affected smile which played continually about Anna Pavlovna’s face, out of keeping as it was with her faded looks, expressed a spoilt child’s continual consciousness of a charming failing of which she had neither the wish nor the power to correct herself, which, indeed, she saw no need to correct.
Leo Tolstoy

About Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace

Photo © Library of Congress

Count Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was born in central Russia. After serving in the Crimean War, he retired to his estate and devoted himself to writing, farming, and raising his large family. His novels and outspoken social polemics brought him world fame.

 

 

Praise

Praise

“There remains the greatest of all novelists—for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?” —Virginia Woolf
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. 1. In an article, “Some Words About War and Peace,” Tolstoy writes: “What is War and Peace? It is not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less an historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wished and was able to express in the form in which it is expressed.” He goes on to discuss how many precedents for this “disregard of conventional form” there are in the history of Russian literature. How do you respond to this characterization of the novel? Does it help you understand its scope, structure, or style?

 

2. 2. Relatedly, while some novelists have bemoaned what they considered to be the formless nature of War and Peace, Henry James called it “a wonderful mass of life.” How did the novel’s length affect your reading experience? Does its scale mirror its comprehensive outlook? Does Tolstoy’s ambitious vision succeed, in your opinion?

3. 3. Tolstoy also writes, with regard to the “character of the period” he was trying to depict, that it “had its own characteristics . . . which resulted from the pre-dominant alienation of the upper class from other classes, from the religious philosophy of the time, from peculiarities of education . . . and so forth.” What do you make of Tolstoy’s treatment of the themes of aristocracy and class, religion, and education in this work?

4. 4. Discuss the eventual marriage of Natasha Rostova and Pierre Bezukhov. How does their alliance speak to larger principles, if at all? How does the concept of family relate to the theme of war? Are Natasha and Pierre representative of Russian social life at the time? Why or why not?

5. 5. Regarding “the divergence between my description of historical events and that given by the historians,” Tolstoy draws interesting distinctions between the artist and the historian: “As an historian would be wrong if he tried to present an historical person in his entirety . . . so the artist would fail to perform his task were he to represent the person always in his historic significance. . . . For an historian considering the achievement of a certain aim, there are heroes; for the artist treating of man’s relation to all sides of life, there cannot and should not be heroes, but there should be men. . . . The historian has to deal with the results of an event, the artist with the fact of the event.” Discuss Tolstoy’s concern with history, and the place he accords to the individual in the historical process.

 

6. 6. What is Tolstoy’s verdict on Napoleon? How does this novel treat the idea of the historical “great man”?

7. 7. Tolstoy’s focus on five upper-class families contrasted sharply with the struggles of the nation during the Napoleonic war. And yet, many see the novel as a celebration of the Russian spirit. How do you perceive Tolstoy’s emphasis on the aristocratic? How does the Revolution affect Russian class structure, if at all?

8. 8. A contemporary critic, N. N. Strakhov, said, “What is the meaning of War and Peace? The meaning is expressed in these words of the author more clearly than anywhere else: ‘There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.’ ” Is this statement as simple as it sounds? Discuss.




From the Trade Paperback edition.

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • December 07, 1992
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Everyman's Library
  • $45.00
  • 9780679405733

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