War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.
As Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers—as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving—and human—figures in world literature.
Let's set the scene...
Rory is sitting in her first class at Chilton. Her literature teacher is discussing the impact English culture had on the Russian monied class. And, when we think of Russia and literature... we know who comes to mind!
[BW&R note: this quote isn't as interesting as some of the others... but it's the reference so I have to put it. They can't all be gems, people!]
Teacher: Good. As Tolstoy commenced writing both War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Count Leo would turn to..." [BW&R note: The answer is "David Copperfield"... but we're not there yet!]
I will fully admit that I was intimidated at the prospect of having to read the yardstick by which all long, difficult books are measured. I was even more intimidated when I realized that this Goliath made it's first appearance early in the second episode. "I didn't have enough time... it came too quickly", is what I whined to people when I realized that the tackling of War and Peace was in my not-too-distant future. I don't think I've ever pushed that button on Amazon that magically sends words from their site to Aldeux with more fear or trepidation than I did about a week and five days ago.
Well kiddos, I made it through to the other side and I'm still here to tell the tale. And that tale is... it's really not scary! And no, I'm not telling you this simply so I'll have a few other suckers I can commiserate with. Most of the time, I can tell in just a few words whether a book will be a pleasure to read or "akin to doing the splits on a crate of dynamite" (all my respect goes to the readers who get that). Just a few words in, I knew I would thoroughly enjoy as Leo took me on a tour through the streets of Moscow, invited me as his guest to Anna Pavlovna's ball, and ordered me in step with my other comrades as we marched to defeat Napoleon's troops.
Masterpiece is certainly a word that should be used to describe this epic tome. The intertwining of the stories of various Russian families of means, people of different classes and ultimately the French and Russian armies truly provide the reader with a humanistic view on the War of 1812. Even the relationship between Napoleon and Alexander is shown more as alienated brothers than that of supreme overloads of their respective nations vying for power. Tolstoy was able to detail the logistics of war (I now know what flanking and bivouacking are, thank you very much!) without losing the individuality of the people responsible for carrying out those logistics.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
It seemed like an easy call. Not only would Richard Gilmore read War and Peace... I'm sure he's read it a number of times, in varying translations. Any man who can read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empirewould have no problem breezing through the piddly ~1200 pages of Tolstoy's most famous work. In fact,War and Peace is only the 17th longest novel written... not that impressive ;o)