Tolstoy On War

Tolstoy On War: Narrative Art and Historical Truth in "War and Peace"

Rick McPeak
Donna Tussing Orwin
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Tolstoy On War
    Book Description:

    In 1812, Napoleon launched his fateful invasion of Russia. Five decades later, Leo Tolstoy published War and Peace, a fictional representation of the era that is one of the most celebrated novels in world literature. The novel contains a coherent (though much disputed) philosophy of history and portrays the history and military strategy of its time in a manner that offers lessons for the soldiers of today. To mark the two hundredth anniversary of the French invasion of Russia and acknowledge the importance of Tolstoy's novel for our historical memory of its central events, Rick McPeak and Donna Tussing Orwin have assembled a distinguished group of scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds-literary criticism, history, social science, and philosophy-to provide fresh readings of the novel.

    The essays in Tolstoy On War focus primarily on the novel's depictions of war and history, and the range of responses suggests that these remain inexhaustible topics of debate. The result is a volume that opens fruitful new avenues of understanding War and Peace while providing a range of perspectives and interpretations without parallel in the vast literature on the novel.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6589-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note to the Reader
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The year 2012 is the two hundredth anniversary of Napoleon’s fateful invasion of Russia and the Battle of Borodino. This book marks the occasion with essays on Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace (1865–1869), which is set in the period from 1805 to 1820 and describes the struggle between Russia and France through 1812. As a founding epic for modern Russia and a meditation on war and history, War and Peace is one of the most read and most important novels ever written. Ernest Hemingway, Vasily Grossman, and Vikram Seth are just three of the many prose writers...

  6. 1 Tolstoy on War, Russia, and Empire
    (pp. 12-25)

    Tolstoy made it clear that for him War and Peace was much more than a mere novel. In part through the mouth of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and in part through his own direct voice as author, Tolstoy used War and Peace to express his views on war, history, and Russia. Not surprisingly, military thinkers and historians turned their critical attention to the book, given its enormous popularity and the message it was attempting to convey about their profession. Of these military critics the most senior and also one of the most insightful was General Mikhail Dragomirov. In Dragomirov’s case—as...

  7. 2 The Use of Historical Sources in War and Peace
    (pp. 26-41)

    As with any work involving documentary material, the problem of historical sources in War and Peace can ultimately be reduced to two basic questions. First, how solid is the novel’s documentary base, or in other words, how knowledgeable is the author? Second, how responsible is the author in his use of the material—that is to say, is he guided by the primary sources, or, on the contrary, does he manipulate them in order to validate his own opinions? Acknowledging the inevitable naïveté of such formulations, let us take them as a point of departure, which is all the more...

  8. 3 Moscow in 1812: Myths and Realities
    (pp. 42-58)

    When he first read War and Peace, Prince Petr Viazemskii, doyen of Russian literary critics, was outraged. Having himself lived in Moscow in 1812 and participated in the war, he was appalled at the version of history he encountered in Tolstoy’s novel. In a harsh rebuttal, he accused Tolstoy of contributing to the “moral [and] literary materialism,” the “historical free thinking and unbelief,” that led current literati to deny historical truths and insult the nation’s most cherished memories.¹ In the bitter Russian culture wars of the 1860s, he implied, Tolstoy stood with the nihilists.

    Viazemskii was right to call Tolstoy...

  9. 4 The French at War: Representations of the Enemy in War and Peace
    (pp. 59-73)

    Tolstoy makes it clear throughout War and Peace that he rejects the greatman theory of warfare and the notion that the war of 1812, or any other, could have been decided by generals, whether by the much-vaunted tactical genius of Napoleon or the dogged and stubborn resilience of Kutuzov. Individual will counted as nothing compared with the spirit of the nation and the desire felt by the army as a whole: hence his concern to discuss the actions of ordinary soldiers and to present the war as a collage of individual initiatives in a host of minor actions.¹ Napoleon’s victories...

  10. 5 Symposium of Quotations: Wit and Other Short Genres in War and Peace
    (pp. 74-84)

    When we think of literary genres, long forms come first to mind: epics, which demand length to tell the tale of the tribe; novels, which trace the gradual development of character; and perhaps sprawling satires, like the works of Rabelais, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, or Byron’s Don Juan. Some long histories, like the narratives of Herodotus or Gibbon, and classic biographies, like Boswell’s Life of Johnson, also belong to this literary family. We are likely to think next of shorter genres, like sonnets, elegies, and other kinds of lyric; short stories, extending from brief fables to novellas; and various nonfictional...

  11. 6 The Great Man in War and Peace
    (pp. 85-97)

    What is a great man? This central question in War and Peace folds into a venerable Socratic one: How should I live?¹ The former is perhaps merely the foremost public manifestation of the latter. For Tolstoy it seems that this public manifestation becomes clearest in the event of war—that is to say, in the presence of the possibility of imminent, violent death. It is a cliché to assert that the possibility of imminent, violent death is clarifying, but, like many such clichés, this one points to an inconvenient reality. What I mean is that war, by placing us face...

  12. 7 War and Peace from the Military Point of View
    (pp. 98-110)

    Leo Tolstoy had firsthand experience of war and the military. He served almost five years in the army (January 1852 to November 1856), and during the Crimean War he even considered a military career. He chose literature over the army after the success of his first Sevastopol sketch, but his interest in the military and war did not disappear. When War and Peace began to appear a decade later, he was especially eager to hear the responses of military readers. These readers had a special stake in the novel, of course. They reacted to it not only as experts but...

  13. 8 Tolstoy and Clausewitz: The Duel as a Microcosm of War
    (pp. 111-122)

    On the eve of Borodino, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky bears the onerous burden of battle command. He is understandably anxious about leading troops in combat for the first time. He also frets about the fate of his sister, Princess Marya, and his son, Nikolenka. Grieving the recent death of his father, Prince Andrei seriously contemplates his own mortality as well. His thoughts of loss lead to regrets about the failure of his loving relationship with Countess Natasha Rostov. In this gloomy mood, he produces one of the most troubling passages in War and Peace: “One thing I would do if I...

  14. 9 The Awful Poetry of War: Tolstoy’s Borodino
    (pp. 123-139)

    The account of the Battle of Borodino in War and Peace is Leo Tolstoy’s most extensive treatment of a single day’s action. At the same time, as A. A. Saburov remarks, it includes very few of the actual events in the battle.¹ What generalizations unify this fragmented narrative and make it so compelling? Although it is a brilliant demonstration of the psychology of war, a celebration of Russian patriotism in a crucial battle, and an illustration of Tolstoy’s theories, it also depends for its lasting influence on a literary dimension of the text as yet not sufficiently appreciated by literary...

  15. 10 Tolstoy and Clausewitz: The Dialectics of War
    (pp. 140-159)

    In War and Peace Tolstoy narrates how on the eve of the battle of Borodino, two German staff officers in the Russian service ride past Prince Andrei, who recognizes them as Count Wolzogen and Carl von Clausewitz. Prince Andrei overhears their conversation.

    Der Krieg muss im Raum verlegt warden. Der Ansicht kann ich nicht genug Preis geben” [War must be extended in space. I cannot put too high a price on this view], said one.

    O ja,” said the other voice. “Da der Zweck ist nur den Feind zu schwächen, so kann man gewiss nicht den Verlust der Privatpersonen in...

  16. 11 The Disobediences of War and Peace
    (pp. 160-174)

    Zoltan Korda’s film The Four Feathers (1939), based on the eponymous 1902 novel by A. E. W. Mason, tells the story of Harry Faversham (John Clements), an ambivalent British soldier from a prominent military family accused by his friends and fiancée of cowardice after he resigns his commission on the eve of his regiment’s taking ship to join Kitchener’s army in North Africa. Presented by his accusers with four white feathers—the shaming emblems of his seeming cowardice—Harry redeems three with acts of extraordinary bravery in the Sudan. He saves the life of one friend struck blind by the...

  17. 12 Tolstoy the International Relations Theorist
    (pp. 175-189)

    War and Peace is much more than a novel: it is also an essay on the forces of history. Tolstoy’s primary concern in War and Peace, understandably, was Napoleon’s Russian campaign, but what he had to say about its causes and about the reasons it unfolded as it did he clearly intended to apply more generally. He said as much repeatedly. And why should it not be so? Tolstoy’s understanding of the forces of history would apply as well (or as ill) to any major event in world politics as to the specific events of 1812. This makes Tolstoy an...

  18. War and Peace at West Point
    (pp. 190-194)

    In April 2010, the United States Military Academy at West Point hosted a conference, “War and Peace at West Point,” for the contributors to this book and invited guests. The event attracted Academy faculty and students, including ten cadets from the Department of Foreign Languages who were studying War and Peace with me. Having graduated the likes of Eisenhower and MacArthur, who made the history books not just as warriors but also as scholars and statesmen, West Point is an ideal place to teach Tolstoy’s great war novel. During World War II, Douglas MacArthur commanded U.S. forces in the Pacific,...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 195-220)
  20. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-236)
  21. List of Contributors
    (pp. 237-238)
  22. Index
    (pp. 239-246)