War and Peace

war and peacePhew! This has taken me so long to read and I’m so relieved to have finished!  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it but it just went on and on. I was almost weeping by the end, I just wanted someone to take his pen away! The biggest problem for me was that it felt like two books – the saga of War and Peace and then Tolstoy’s philosophy. Which was incredibly wise and true but pages and pages of it!

Written between 1863 and 1868 and set during the Napoleonic Wars (1805-12), the story of the Rostov’s and Bolkonsky’s and Pierre Bezukhov, was terrific.  I loved all the Russian names, the soirees in Petersburg, the palaces, and the huge family gatherings.  The cossacks, troikas,snow, dancing, nuts cooked in honey, herb cordials, ‘flat cakes made from dark flour and buttermilk’, roasted chicken, liquors and mushrooms, Mitka playing the balalaika, racing sleighs and droshky and muzhiks.

I loved the short, crisp sentences with their poetic rhythm:
“Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored.”  I loved the way Tolstoy constantly used natural imagery and references to the natural world:  “. . . the starry winter light at night.”, he describes the battlefields “on the meadow, among those rows of mowed hay”  and they feel so much closer given that human touch; and when the gossip of the sophisticated social machinery of Petersburg society is likened to the natural world “like wind in the leaves, an excited whisper passed” its maliciousness seems all the more cruel.  War and Society are completely incompatible with Nature, of that we’re left in no doubt.

leotolstoy480In the salons of Petersburg are Anatole and Helene Kuragin, a brother and sister team who are BAD! They are utterly ruthless in their treatment of people to meet their own ends.  “Anatole was always content with his position . . . He was not capable of reflecting either on how his actions might affect others, or on what might come of one or another of his actions.”   Helene uses her beauty shamelessly to advance her position in society. She smiles at Pierre “with that serene, beautiful smile which she smiled at everyone” and becomes Countess Bezukhov, for as long as it suits her. Money and position are all they care about. Amongst such ‘civilised’ behaviour there’s nothing cruel about war if it comes wrapped up in a handsome French uniform.

The Rostov and Bolkonsky families and Pierre Bezukhov are not always good, they’re not always likeable and they don’t always behave in particularly honorable ways (Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is particularly grim) and Nikolai Rostov changed his mind about love almost continually. But as the Mason says to Pierre ‘look at your inner man with spiritual eyes and ask if you are pleased with yourself’ this seemed to be true of all these characters and is what really separates them from the Kuragins.  They all (at different times and to different degrees) have the self-awareness to realise that true happiness is going to come from within themselves. But when Pierre meets Platon Karataev the “eternal embodiment of the spirit of simplicity and truth”  the journey of spiritual exploration that he embarks on seems to most closely follow Tolstoy’s own belief in pacifism and his search for a utopian ideal.  Inner peace comes from family, love and the natural world.   It could be called War and the Search for Peace.

BUT, BUT, BUT. . .

If only this was the complete book.  Tolstoy’s philosophy was so wise and so beautifully written (all those analogies about sheep and why would you follow them, and worker bees and cleaning the bee hive!) that I didn’t want to miss any of it but it went on for pages and pages, and was always interrupting.  At the end of the story there was still another 200 plus pages to go, by the actual end I had forgotten all about Pierre and Natasha.

A “large loose baggy monster” said Henry James, I wouldn’t go that far, but the relief at coming to the end was immense!

This is my 5th read for the Classics Club Challenge

18 thoughts on “War and Peace

    1. Thank you! I haven’t read Anna Karenina and at the moment I don’t think I ever will! I am glad I’ve read it but boy oh boy, I’m glad I’ve finished. I’ll give the short stories a read though because it was beautiful and humorous!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My sole memory about this one is the euphoria I felt on finishing, which was so intense that it briefly made me feel as if I had actually enjoyed the book. Even your excellent review only shows me that I’ve totally wiped all trace of it from my mind – I always have a poor memory for books, but not to this extent. I guess I just didn’t find it interesting and it went on for far too long. I’m glad you found it more enjoyable than I did!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you on the euphoria! It went on and on, I thought he was never going to stop. I spent a lot of time thinking about Middlemarch and how tightly George Eliot tells her story and then stops.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! It is huge, I’m not sure a paperback edition was the right choice – it couldn’t really cope with the amount of paper. Also you had to sit up to read, no lounging with this one!!


  3. I read this a while back…bit of a Literary Bucket List item isn’t it. I liked it very much, but you are right…there’s story, and there’s Tolstoy’s philosophizing. Both were impressive, but I might have enjoyed each better separately. Congrats.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really look forward to reading this one – even if it is really intimidating! I actually bought a copy last year, and then bought a new copy this year by different translators – and also because the new copy was just so pretty. It’s not the gorgeous one pictured, but still a favourite cover of mine. Congrats on finishing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you Kristilyn! I was very aware of reading a translation, my copy talked a lot about the idiosyncrasies of translating in the introduction. It might be interesting to compare a few lines and see how they differ (more to think about!)


  6. I loved how grim poor Prince Andrei was! Tolstoy created such realistically flawed characters it blew me away. Nikolai Rostov was such a man’s man he made me laugh but very sweet with his sister. Oh, I could go on and on. I’d read the book a second time but I was devastated by Andrei’s death for months.

    Your review is excellent!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you! Realistically flawed characters is a perfect way of describing them, I agree with you about Nikolai Rostov but Prince Andrei? I wanted him to lighten up – but then I suppose he would have done if he’d been able to marry Natasha! Actually, just typing their names is a bit of a swoon!!


  8. Congrats on finishing this tome. I read it last year prior to joining the CC but decided to share my thoughts too after and interesting discussion with soothe CC member. I have one more Tolstoy on my shelf, Anna Karenina, but War and Peace traumatized me a bit. After I got all the characters straight and the non war parts were in front of me, better. War parts bogged it down and the epilogue…I was done!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think it’s going to be quite some time before I read Anna Karenina! I felt completely wrung dry by the end, I’m going to try a Russian a year for the CC challenge!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s