“War and Peace” Book Note

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy; translated by Constance Garnett

This venerable translation is evidently in the public domain. The Milestone Editions hardcover version I read this summer has no copyright page and consists solely of 1,116 pages of the novel’s text, still enough so that reading it builds hands and fingers strength.

Tolstoy’s writing style is serviceable. I’d be surprised if experts view it as first-rate. His characters blush and their faces redden and turn crimson too often. His principal characters encounter each other by coincidence too often. He has trouble placing the moon in a possible position in the sky. On the other hand, he’s outstanding in explaining how historical events happen: mostly through concatenations of chance events.

Tolstoy’s takedowns of Napoleon are exemplary, as is his contempt for the hordes, including heads of state, who fawned over him. Tolstoy gets a lot else right as well. He faithfully records how boring parties frequented by the aristocracy can be, and no less so conversations among soldiers in their encampments. He captures the essence of sociopathy: “Anatole was well satisfied with his position, with himself, and with other people. He was instinctively and thoroughly convinced that he could not possibly live except just in the way he did live, and that he had never in his life done anything base. He was incapable of considering how his action might be judged by others, or what might be the result of this or that action on his part.”

to be continued tomorrow