Today, September 9, is the birthday of Russian author Leo Tolstoy. He was born in 1828 (died 1910) into a family of nobility. He lived a life of leisure until enlisting in the army in 1851 and fought in the Crimean War. It was during this time that he began to write. He also gained first-hand experience of what it was like in the Russian military. Experience that he would draw on later while writing War and Peace.
War and Peace is a combination of fiction and history. Tolstoy did consult many accounts of those who had participated in the campaign of 1812. One of the sources I use frequently in this blog, Philippe-Paul de Ségur‘s Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, contains, according to the editor’s preface, four incidents that appear in War and Peace: The Uhlans drowning in the Viliya River and saluting the spot on the shore where the Emperor had been standing; the scene in which the portrait of Napoleon’s son is shown to the troops on the eve of the battle of Borodino (Blogger’s note: I used this scene in my book, Russian Snows, as well); ailing Napoleon at Borodino postponing his orders; and the moment Napoleon stands on the Poklonny Hill gazing at Moscow.
Tolstoy’s book begins in 1805 and was originally published between 1865-1869 as a serial story in a magazine. While writing the novel, Tolstoy’s wife, Sophia, ( August 22, 1844 – November 4, 1919) copied the manuscript seven times! This is quite a feat considering one of the
things that makes War and Peace such a famous book is its great length. One of my copies has 1,442 pages.
What makes War and Peace of interest to those who follow a blog about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia is that a good deal of the book covers the year 1812 and the invasion. Tolstoy did not, however, consider War and Peace his best novel, that honor he gave to Anna Karenina.
I have two copies of War and Peace, including one from 1889, but have never read it. Instead, I listened to a free audio version (64+ hours). It helped to have a copy of the book handy while listening so that I could consult the list of characters that is included in the more recent version. Whether you read or listen, the book is well worth the time.