War and Peace

From Academic Kids

See also War and Peace (album)

War and Peace (Война и мир [Voyna i mir], in original orthography Война и миръ) is an epic novel of Russian history and society by Leo Tolstoy, first published from 1865 to 1869, which tells the story of Russia during the Napoleonic Era. This panoramic study of early 19th-century Russian society, noted for its mastery of realistic detail and variety of psychological analysis, is generally regarded as one of the world's greatest novels. The novel also sets forth a theory of history, concluding that there is a minimum of free choice; all is ruled by an inexorable historical determinism.

The Russian words for "peace" (pre-1918: миръ) and "world" (pre-1918: міръ) are homonyms and since the 1918 reforms have been spelled identically, which lead to an urban legend saying that the original manuscript was called "Война и міръ" so the novel's title would be correctly translated as "War and the World". However, Tolstoy himself translated the title into French as "La guerre et la paix". The urban legend has been perhaps fuelled by Russian TV Quiz "Что? Где? Когда?", which in 1982 presented as "correct" answer the "world" variant, based on 1913 edition of "World and Peace" with a typo in the title. There is also a poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky called "Война и міръ", written in 1916.

War and Peace offered a new kind of fiction, with a great many characters caught up in a plot that covered nothing less than the grand subjects indicated by the title, combined with the equally large topics of youth and age. The heroine, Natasha Rostova, for example, reaches her greatest fulfillment through her marriage to Pierre Bezukhov and her motherhood. While today it is considered a novel, it broke so many novelistic conventions of its day that many critics did not consider it as such. Tolstoy himself considered Anna Karenina (1878) to be his first attempt at a novel in the European sense.



The novel tells the story of five aristocratic families (particularly the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskis, and the Rostovs--the members of which are portrayed against a vivid background of Russian social life during the war against Napoleon (1805-14).) and the entanglement of their personal lives with the history of 18051813, specifically Napoleon's invasion of Russia. As events proceed, Tolstoy systematically denies his subjects any significant free choice: the onward roll of history determines happiness and tragedy alike.

In his 365 chapters (roughly 1500 pages), some only a few pages in length, Tolstoy tells of birth and death, balls and battles, gossip and tragedy, military strategy and political philosophy. While roughly the first two-thirds of the novel concern themselves strictly with the fictional characters, the later parts of the novel, as well as one of the work's two epilogues, increasingly contain highly controversial, nonfictional essays about the nature of war, political power, history, and historiography. Tolstoy interspersed these essays seamlessly into the story in a way which defies conventional fiction. Certain abridged versions removed these essays entirely, while others (published even during Tolstoy's life) simply moved these essays into an appendix.

If there is a central character to War and Peace it is Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a wealthy count, who upon receiving an unexpected inheritance is suddenly thrust upon with the responsibilities and conflicts of a Russian nobleman. His formerly carefree behavior vanishes and he enters upon a philosophical quest particular to Tolstoy: how should one live a moral life in an imperfect world? He attempts to free his peasants and improve his estate, but ultimately achieves nothing. He enters into marriage with Prince Kuragin's beautiful and immoral daughter Elena, against his own better judgement.

Elena and her brother Anatoly then conspire together for Anatoly to seduce and dishonor the young and beautiful Natasha Rostova. Pierre rescues her, but recoils from his feeling of love for her. When Napoleon invades Russia, Pierre observes the Battle of Borodino up close by standing near a Russian artillery crew and he learns how bloody and horrific war really is. When Napoleon's Grand Army occupies an abandoned and burning Moscow, Pierre takes off on a quixotic mission to assassinate Napoleon and is captured as a prisoner of war. After witnessing French soldiers sacking Moscow and shooting Russian civilians, Pierre is forced to march with the Grand Army during its disastrous retreat from Moscow. He is later freed by a Russian raiding party. His wife Elena dies sometime during Napoleon's invasion and Pierre is reunited with Natasha while the victorious Russians rebuild Moscow. Pierre finds love at last and marries Natasha.

Tolstoy vividly depicts the contrast between Napoleon and the Russian general Kutuzov, both in terms of personality and in the clash of armies. Napoleon chose wrongly, opting to march on to Moscow and occupy it for five fatal weeks, when he would have been better off destroying the Russian army in a decisive battle. General Kutuzov believes time to be his best ally, and refrains from engaging the French, who ultimately destroy themselves as they limp back toward the French border. They are all but destroyed by a final Cossack attack as they straggle back toward Paris.

Main characters

  • Pierre Bezukhov
  • Natasha Rostova
  • Andrew Bolkonski
  • Mary Bolkonskaya
  • Nicholas Rostov
  • Napoleon
  • Kutuzov
  • Elena Kuragina
  • Anatoly Kuragin


  • Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev made an opera based on this epic novel during the 1940s. The complete musical work premiered in Leningrad in 1955.
  • Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk made a critically acclaimed four-part film version (Vojna i mir) of the novel in 1968. The film was almost nine hours long, involved thousands of actors and extras and won an Oscar for its authenticity and massive scale. [1] (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063794/) Bondarchuk also played the character of Pierre Bezukhov.
  • The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) made a television miniseries based on the novel in 1973-74. Anthony Hopkins played the lead role of Pierre.
  • A stage adaptation by Helen Edmundson was published in 1996 by Nick Hern Books, London. The play was first produced in 1996 at the Royal National Theatre.

English Translations

  • Constance Garnett (1904)
  • Louise and Alymer Maude (1922-3)
  • Rosemary Edmonds (1957, revised 1978)
  • Ann Dunnigan (1968)
  • Anthony Briggs (2005)

External links

de:Krieg und Frieden fr:Guerre et Paix he:מלחמה ושלום nl:Oorlog en Vrede ja:戦争と平和 ru:Война и мир (роман) zh:戰爭與和平


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