Tolstoy's War And Peace Essay

974 words - 4 pages

Tolstoy's War and Peace

Summary

War and Peace tells the story of the Rostovs, an upper-class family in Russia, and several people associated with them. It follows the characters through fifteen years during the Napoleonic Wars, from 1805 to 1820. It gives a fictional description of the events in the life of the Rostov family as well as some of the historical events of the time.

Analysis

Tolstoy is regarded by some as the greatest writer about war (Bayley 16). He includes details in the military scenes of War and Peace. Many battles and army movements are described, but the details included are not militaristic. Instead, Tolstoy depicts individual soldiers and their actions in an effective attempt to give the reader a glimpse into the internal workings of war (Dragomirov 155). Tolstoy also includes not only battle scenes, but also scenes depiciting "the homeliness of military life, and the way in which soldiers pass their time, even in situations of danger...." (Bayley 16). However, despite the war scenes included in War and Peace, it is not really a book about war.

When answering the question "What is War and Peace?" Tolstoy writes, " It is not a novel, nor is it a poem, still less an historical chronicle" (Tolstoy, Defends 125). War and Peace is obviously not a poem and it can be argued that it is not a novel, but many people seem to disagree with Tolstoy's own description when it comes to a historical chronicle. One critic asks, "What is War and Peace if not a panorama of life and thoughts of the upper classes at the beginning of the nineteenth century?" (Slonim 311). Aylmer Maude, a friend of Tolstoy's and translator of his work had this to say about War and Peace:

War and Peace presents us with a complete picture of human life; a complete picture of the Russia of those days; a complete picture of the struggle of nations; and a complete picture of the things in which men set their happiness and greatness, their sorrow and their shame. It is a work so amazingly great that though many have felt its greatness, few have understood how great it is. Tolstoy is one who reveals the secrets of life and death. The meaning of history, the strength of nations, the mystery of death, the reality of love and family life-such are the subjects he deals with (qtd. in Silbajoris 11).

This quote illustrates just how great the scope of Tolstoy's War and Peace really is. It was the first work of its kind in Russian literature (9). Because of its immense length Turgenev called it "an elephant" and Leontiev described it as "a Hindu idol, with three heads and six arms" (Slonim 325). Another critic sums up War and Peace by saying it "encompasses multiple aspects of life in a huge epic sweep, a wide-screen panorama of history as a presence in the human...

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