War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace (pre-reform Russian: Война́ и миръ; post-reform Russian: Война́ и мир, translit. Voyná i mir [vɐjˈna i ˈmʲir]) is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. It is regarded as one of the central works of world literature. War and Peace and Tolstoy’s other major prose work, Anna Karenina (1875–77), are considered Tolstoy’s finest literary achievements.
The novel charts the history of the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families. Portions of an earlier version, titled The Year 1805, were serialized in 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 Top 100 Books. In 2007, Time magazine ranked War and Peace third in its poll of the 10 greatest books of all time while Anna Karenina was ranked first.
Tolstoy himself said that War and Peace was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle”. Large sections, especially in the later chapters, are philosophical discussion rather than narrative. He also said that the best Russian literature does not conform to standards and hence hesitated to call War and Peace a novel. Instead, he regarded Anna Karenina as his first true novel. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “no single English novel attains the universality of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Crafting the novel War and Peace
War and Peace is well known as being one of the longest novels ever written, although not the longest.
Tolstoy 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 the novel was completed in 1863. In 1865, the periodical Russkiy Vestnik (The Russian Messenger) published the first part of this draft under the title 1805 and published more the following year. Tolstoy was dissatisfied with this version, although he allowed several parts of it to be published with a different ending in 1867. He heavily rewrote the entire novel between 1866 and 1869.
Tolstoy’s wife, Sophia Tolstaya, copied as many as seven separate complete manuscripts 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. Russians who had read the serialized version were anxious to buy the complete novel, and it sold out almost immediately. The novel was translated almost immediately after publication into many other languages.
It is unknown why Tolstoy changed the name to War and Peace. He may have borrowed the title from the 1861 work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: La Guerre et la Paix (“The War and the Peace” in French). The title may also be another reference to Titus, described as being a master of “war and peace” in The Twelve Caesars, written by Suetonius in 119 CE. The completed novel was then called Voyna i mir (Война и мир in new-style orthography; in English War and Peace).
The 1805 manuscript was re-edited and annotated in Russia in 1983 and since has been translated into English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Albanian, Korean, and Czech. The existence of so many versions make this work one of the best insights into the mental processes of a great novelist.
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 scope, using the literary equivalents of panning, wide shots and close-ups. 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.
The standard Russian text of War and Peace is divided into four books (comprising fifteen parts) and an epilogue in two parts. Roughly the first half is concerned strictly with the fictional characters, whereas the latter parts, as well as the second part of the epilogue, 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.
About the Author
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.
Richard Pevear has published translations of Alain, Yves Bonnefoy, Alberto Savinio, Pavel Florensky, and Henri Volohonsky, as well as two books of poetry. He has received fellowships or grants for translation from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the French Ministry of Culture. Larissa Volokhonsky was born in Leningrad. She has translated works by the prominent Orthodox theologians Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff into Russian.
Together, Pevear and Volokhonsky have translated Dead Souls and The Collected Stories by Nikolai Gogol, The Complete Short Novels of Chekhov, and The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, Demons, The Idiot, and The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoevsky. They were twice awarded the PEN Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (for their version of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina), and their translation of Dostoevsky’s Demons was one of three nominees for the same prize. They are married and live in France. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.