Not only is Tolstoy’s War and Peace dazzling and veracious, it is rambunctiously entertaining. I used to tell friends, “It’s like reading a movie.” I have read it nine times. It is my favorite novel, though Tolstoy said it was NOT a novel.
It is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.
What a cranky man! His wife Sophia put up with a great deal as she copied his books. (Read her diary.) She was so annoyed by The Kreutzer Sonata that she wrote her own version.
But I love War and Peace.
When I’m not reading War and Peace, I’m blogging about it: I have posted eight times about the masterpiece at Mirabile Dictu and twice at my old blog, Frisbee: A Book Journal. I mentioned it last month in a post about Balzac’s Modeste Mignon: two fathers, the cynical Prince Bolkonski (W&P) and the gentler Charles Mignon (MM), mockingly refer to the their respective daughters’ correspondence in terms of Julie d’Etanges in Rousseau’s epistolary novel, Julie, or the New Heloise.
I recently acquired a used copy of a two-volume Heritage Press edition of the translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude. It was revised and annotated by the Maudes for a six-volume Limited Editions Club edition published in 1938. Then Heritage Press, the Limited Edition Club’s less fancy sister, reissued it in two volumes in 1943.
The Maude is my favorite, so I love the Heritage Press edition. My Oxford paperback of the Maude translation, which has survived many readings, is full of scribbled notes and ink stains on the endpages. I do have a small collection of other reading copies: the Anthony Briggs (Penguin), the Pevear and Volokhonsky (Vintage), and the brilliant Rosemary Edmunds (a two-volume Folio Society edition, which, alas, has no notes).
Many swear by Pevear and Volokhonsky, but I love the elegance of the Maude (1922-23).
The Heritage Press edition is the most conveniently-organized edition of W&P I’ve seen. Their’ brilliant introduction is followed by “Notes to the Opening Chapters,” which they suggest you read before you start. Then here are footnotes on pages of the text itself, and detailed endnotes published at the end of each part ( eight parts in the first volume). There is much less thumbing back and forth.
And the Maudes’ introduction is masterly.
Of War and Peace it may be said that it stands at the crucial point where the modern novel begins. Its predecessors (and many of its successors) seem to belong almost to a pre-historic stage of the novel. If there can be said to be a dividing novel between the old and the modern novel Tolstoy marks it–unless indeed we take the earlier Richardson as doing so.
It is illustrated by 40 ink drawings by Fritz Eichenberg and reproductions of paintings by the 19th-century artist Vassily Verestchagin.
Here are some snapshots of the illustrations.
And here’s one more by Vassily Verestchagin: