War and Peace

War and Peace

by

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Leo Tolstoy

The fourth of five children born into a well-known aristocratic family, Tolstoy was orphaned at age nine and raised by relatives. After studying briefly at Kazan University, Tolstoy followed his older brother into the army and served as an artillery officer in the Crimean War. (Tolstoy’s father, Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy, was a veteran of the War of 1812.) Though recognized for courage, Tolstoy found warfare horrifying and increasingly favored nonviolent political ideas. Back at his home of Yasnaya Polyana, he founded schools for recently emancipated serf children. Soon after, in 1862, he married Sophia Andreevna Behrs, with whom he had 13 children (eight of them living to adulthood). Sophia faithfully edited and copied her husband’s massive manuscripts. Their later years together were unhappy, though, as Tolstoy became more absorbed in radical ideas. Tolstoy wrote War and Peace on the brink of a moral and spiritual crisis that led him to focus on Christ’s ethical teachings (especially the Sermon on the Mount) and to embrace pacifism. Both the characters of Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrei Bolkonsky drew on his personality in various ways. Tolstoy died of pneumonia at a train station when he was 82. He was nominated several times for both the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Nobel Peace Prize, though he never won.
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Historical Context of War and Peace

Tolstoy poured extensive research into the novel, including approximately 160 historical figures among its characters. Obviously, the novel’s main focus is the Napoleonic Wars, which were fought between Napoleon (and his allies) and several different coalitions of European countries. In 1805, the Third Coalition of Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia fought Napoleon over French aggressions in Italy and parts of Central and Northern Europe. By the time Napoleon defeated the Russian and Austrian forces at the battle of Austerlitz that December, much of Europe was under Napoleon’s rule. In 1806–1807, a slightly modified Fourth Coalition faced Napoleon in Prussia and Poland; by the summer of 1807, Emperor Alexander of Russia accepted peace with Napoleon with the treaties of Tilsit. The Patriotic War of 1812, or the French invasion of Russia, was fought over control of Poland and Russian trade with Great Britain. Despite a questionable victory at the battle of Borodino in August and the seizing of Moscow, French forces were forced to retreat within a few months because of Russian scorched earth tactics, guerilla warfare, and the brutal Russian winter.

Other Books Related to War and Peace

Tolstoy cited Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862) as a major influence, as well as the fiction of Laurence Sterne. Literary critics have seen Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (published in the 1760s) as a precursor to the form and structure of War and Peace. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842) and The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1860) are mentioned in the novel’s Appendix as precursors in the sense that, in Tolstoy’s opinion, they don’t fit the conventional genre of the novel. He considered Anna Karenina (1877) to be his first “true” novel, seeing War and Peace as more of a prose epic. The main plot of Tolstoy’s short story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits” appears in Platon Karataev’s story in Volume IV of War and Peace. Other acclaimed works by Tolstoy include the novella The Death of Ilyan Ilyich and the short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”
Key Facts about War and Peace
  • Full Title: War and Peace
  • When Written: 1863
  • Where Written: Yasnaya Polyana, Russia
  • When Published: 1865–1867 (serialized), 1869 (book)
  • Literary Period: Golden Age of Russian Literature
  • Genre: Realistic fiction, epic historical novel
  • Setting: Russia, Austria, and Poland in 1805–1820
  • Climax: The Battle of Borodino in 1812 and Prince Andrei’s subsequent death, also Pierre’s befriending of Platon Karataev
  • Antagonist: France and Napoleon, as well as the lack of meaning in life, loss of ideals, and death
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for War and Peace

Tolstoyan Legacy. Tolstoy’s writings My Confession, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, and A Letter to a Hindu professed ideals of pacifism and nonviolent resistance that influenced the thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, Tolstoy and Gandhi corresponded for about a year (1909–1910), and Gandhi named a South African ashram “Tolstoy Farm.”

Natasha & Pierre. Dave Malloy wrote a musical adaptation of War and Peace (specifically, Volume II, Part Five) called Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The musical premiered in 2012 and had its Broadway debut in 2016, garnering numerous Tony nominations. Notable performances have included Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo playing Natasha Rostov and Josh Groban playing Pierre.