War and Peace

I am not a student of literature nor have I read too much to understand literature by myself. I intend to read a lot and there is a long list of books which I have decided I must read. From whatever I have read so far I have understood that the content and the form of a body of text , both are important. I must admit though that the content impresses me more and I normally judge books by their content. I read War and Peace in a period of 4 months. Leo Tolstoy wrote it in a period of 5 years. He wrote in ‘Some Words about War and Peace’ : “ On publishing this work, on which I have spent 5 years of interrupted and exceptionally strenuous labour under the best conditions of life, I wish to express my own view of it and thus counteract misunderstandings which might arise in the reader’s mind.’’ No misunderstandings arose in my mind , may be because I am a simpleton.  War and Peace has received many positive reviews since its publication in 1869. Its subject is the life of Russian people during the Napoleonic Wars and the climax builds as Napoleon crosses Russian frontiers in 1812.

The novel starts in 1805 and goes on till 1820. In last chapters give hints of further activities by characters in 1825. The work is magnanimous in size, touching 1000 pages in my Wordsworth Classic edition. Leo Tolstoy himself is considered to be a giant in Russian literature.

 

leo-tolstoy--depression

             Leo Tosltoy was born in Yasnaya Polyana , Tula, Russia in 1828

 

His other works include Anna Karenina (which I have already read) , his autobiographical trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, The Death of Ivan Illych  and a number of short stories and essays.

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Tolstoy himself, somewhat enigmatically, said of War and Peace that it was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle.” Large sections of the work, especially in the later chapters, are philosophical  discussions.

 

There is a large number of characters in the books including historical ones and fictional ones. The life of different Russian families is described in background to the Russia’s wars. There are more than 10 main fictional characters whose story is told from 1805 to 1820. There are 3 volumes and 2 epilogues. The second volume deals with the year 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia and subsequently retreated.

The battle scenes are rich in detail and realistic. The emotions of all men participating in the war are described from commander-in-chief to a soldier, especially the Battle of Borodino. The scene where commander- in- chief of Russian army is contemplating over the moment when actually did the Russian army gave Moscow to the enemies are wonderful and as a young, inexperienced reader  I enjoyed all Councils of War, all meetings between Napoleon and Russian Emperor, Alexander, all receptions of Russian messengers by French commanders and all chapters where Tolstoy extensively describes the causes of historical events and undermines the dependence of a particular event on will of a single human being with ultimate genius. Not just the war time but the peace time (actually the peace time is rare since the Russian Army is engaged somewhere, if not with Napoleon , with Turkish forces) is equally rich in detail and the stories of people in Russian society in Moscow and in St.Petersburg are interesting. In the first few  chapters , novel’s one of the main characters , Pierre Bezukhov is raised in society. His character is beautifully created and his opinions throughout the novel undergo a massive change. Another character Prince Andrew who serves as one of assistants to the Russian commander-in-chief during Battle of Austerlitz undergoes some tragic changes in personal and family life. These and number of other characters are as real and as relevant today in real life.

 

 

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Almost in the centre of it, above the Prechistenka Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars but distinguished from them all by its nearness to the earth, its white light, and its long uplifted tail, shone the enormous and brilliant comet of 1812–the comet which was said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world. In Pierre, however, that comet with its long luminous tail aroused no feeling of fear. On the contrary he gazed joyfully, his eyes moist with tears, at this bright comet which, having travelled in its orbit with inconceivable velocity through immeasurable space, seemed suddenly like an arrow piercing the earth–to remain fixed in a chosen spot, vigorously holding its tail erect, shining and displaying its white light amid countless other scintillating stars. It seemed to Pierre that this comet fully responded to what was passing in his own softened and uplifted soul, now blossoming into a new life –  excerpt from War and Peace

 

Natasha Rostova is a little girl at the start of the novel and her life goes through a lot during the length of time.Mary, Andrew’s sister, only character with religious thoughts suffers at the hands of her father. There are duels, engagements, break-ups, jealousy, beauty and a lot more entertainment.

I was totally immersed in the novel when I read it. One thing I noted is that the characters cried a lot and there were many , many parties and dinner and dances and other social gatherings. Of course I do not know a lot about Russian society except that from Anna Karenina and War and Peace.

Apart from wars and parties and family tensions, very important chapters of War and Peace are those where Tolstoy has written his view of history and the inexorable process the history goes. He argues over the opinions held by the historians of that era and goes in describing his opinion in simplest language possible which he ultimately concludes in his Second Epilogue. He highlights the question of prevalence of man’s will or laws of inevitability. His language thanks to his translators Louise and Aylmer Maude , is very simple and easy to understand. I have read many of his stories and like his work very much, no doubt that he is hailed as one of the greatest writers.

War and Peace has provided me an insight to many different matters of life. I read War and Peace and I was elated and always excited all these months and I declare War and Peace as the best novel I have ever read. There was once in these 4 months a time when I wanted to meet Leo Tolstoy and tell him how much I liked War and Peace.  I have on my table Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood, Youth as my next read.

Iqbal

“Yesterday morning at about 4, I saw that
glorious visitor of our hemisphere known as Halley’s
comet. Once in seventy-five years this superb swimmer of
infinite space appears on our skies. It is only with the eyes
of my grandsons that I shall see it again. The state of my
mind was quite unique. I felt as if something indescribably
vast had been closed up within the narrow limits of my
clay: Yet the thought that I could not see this wanderer
again brought home to me the painful fact of my littleness.
For the moment all ambition was killed in me.”

                                                                                                                                    15th May 1910 – Iqbal

I wished to say something about Iqbal on his 75th death anniversary. I would say that all ambition is born in me when I read his work. My prayers for this great man. He enclosed infinities in single lines.