Literature: War and Peace

"I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

War and Peace is a novel by Leo Tolstoy.

It is the year 1805. Napoleon Bonaparte has installed himself as Emperor of France, and he makes war on Austria and Russia in his bid to establish France as the supreme nation on Earth. In Petersburg, Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of Count Kirill Vladimirovich Bezukhov, attends a soirée at Anna Pavlovna's, a lady in waiting to the Russian empress. On St. Natalya's Day, guests gather at the Rostov mansion at Otradnoe to pay their respects to Countess Rostov and her daughter Natasha. Some days later, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky declares to his father that he is going to join the Russian military and achieve glory, just as Napoleon did...

Okay, we give up. War and Peace defies summary. Anyone who has read the book inevitably fumbles trying to explain what it's about. That paragraph up there? That's an oversimplification of the introductory chapters. It leaves out Princess Drubetskaya's approaching Prince Vassily Kuragin at Anna's soirée to ask a favor in getting her son into a high, safe position in the military. It leaves out the play of the children at Otradnoe after-hours, and the Childhood Marriage Promises that result. It leaves out how Andrei is leaving behind a pregnant wife with his father and sister while he goes out looking for glory. It leaves out how three ruffians tie a policeman to a bear and throw both of them off a bridge while drunk.

Famous for its massive size, alleged unreadability and being considered one of the greatest novels ever written.

Note: Due to a version of Spell My Name with an "S", translations over the years have listed the character names with minor differences in spelling, and this is reflected in some examples on the wiki. For example, Maria=Marya, Nikolai=Nicholas, Andrei=Andrew, and so on.

The book was adapted to film several times. The 1956 American version, directed by King Vidor, starring Audrey Hepburn as Natasha and Henry Fonda as Count Bezukhov, cut out a lot of things so it was "only" 208 minutes long. The Soviet version made in the 1960s by Sergei Bondarchuk was more accurate. It was released in four parts, with a total running time of over 7 hours. With inflation taken into account, it's the most expensive film in history. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, setting a record for "longest movie to win an Oscar" that still stands.

It has also been adapted for TV a number of times; another adapation by the BBC is due later in 2015.

A small section of the story was turned into a musical, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, in 2012.

This book provides examples of (Unmarked spoilers ahead):

  • Adorkable: Pierre.
  • An Aesop: You know Magnificent Bastards? No, none of those here.
  • The Annotated Edition: They would be true Noodle Incidents without these.
  • Apron Matron: Marya Akhrosimova.
  • Armchair Military: Napoleon himself. Tolstoy went to great lengths to disprove the Emperor's renowned military talent, giving an entire chapter to the analysis of the Battle of Borodino to demonstrate how Napoleon's orders were out of touch with reality and how he watched the battle only from a safe distance.
    • Of course, this portrayal should be taken with massive grains of salt, since it often directly counters the historical record or else is not nearly as wrongheaded as Tolstoy would like us to believe. To cite the Borodino example alone, staying at a safe distance was precisely what officers of the era were meant to do (and Napoleon actually got tripe for more than most did) and his orders did help decide the battle.
  • Arranged Marriage: The Rostovs attempt to get Nikolai hitched with plenty of other girls, that meddlesome Childhood Marriage Promise to Sonya notwithstanding.
    • Pierre's marriage to Elena Kuragin also counts.
  • Author Avatar: Pierre and Prince Andrei are both avatars of Leo Tolstoy, or are in part based on him.
  • Author Filibuster: The book becomes less fiction as it goes on and more philosophy of history essay.
    • There's an entire second epilogue devoted to tearing down the Great Man of History theory that was in vogue in the 19th century. It comes after all of the plot has been resolved, feel free to skip it considering that Tolstoy is rehashing the exact same argument he made in the book and you've already read one of the longest works of fiction in existence.
  • Badass Bookworm: Pierre, a shy, clumsy, overweight, myopic intellectual, happens to be remarkably strong and also very brave.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Thoroughly averted when it comes to female characters. The beautiful ones are either outright evil (Hélène) or just selfish and shallow, like Vera, Mlle Bourrienne or Sonya.
  • Beta Couple: In the Distant Finale, Nikolai and Marya to Pierre and Natasha.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Pierre. For all his shy and gentle character, he is not above turning into a roaring monster when angered.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: The Russian aristocracy spoke primarily in French, and this is dutifully replicated. There are also snippets of German.
    • Eloquent In My Native Tongue: Subversion. The majority of the schooled classes of the Russian society, from the highest nobles to the least clerks, were not eloquent in either native Russian or imported French, they spoke a Russo-French jargon which only they fully understood among them. Truth in Television, but exaggerated by Tolstoy for purposes of Irony.
  • Break the Cutie: Anatole likes the women. Poor Natasha...
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: What the Freemasons turn out to actually be, much to Pierre's dismay.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Between Helene and Anatole.
  • The Caretaker: Princess Marya Bolkonsky.
  • The Casanova: Anatole Kuragin.
  • The Cassandra
  • Character Filibuster: Plenty of 'em, usually when they're arguing with each other.
  • The Chessmaster: Prince Vassily Kuragin is a sort of social Chessmaster who engineers plots to further or consolidate his station in life. Also, every single general in Kutuzov's staff after the Battle of Borodino fancies himself a Chessmaster.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Nikolai and Sonya.
  • Christmas Episode: There is, in fact, a part or several chapters entirely devoted to the Rostovs at Christmastime after Nikolai returns from a tour of duty.
  • Cincinnatus: Field Marshal Kutuzov.
  • The Clan
  • Colonel Badass: Count Dokhturov exemplifies the trope, but any competent field general in the book has traits of Colonel Badass.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: A favorite activity of Pierre's.
  • Cultural Cringe: After Austerlitz, Prince Andrei is convinced the organization of the Russian military is very poor and has to be improved by copying the laws and regulations of the Napoleonic French Empire. He gets furiously rebuked for this by the Minister of War.
  • The Cutie: Natasha Rostov.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The diplomat Bilibin.
  • Death by Childbirth: Lise, Prince Andrei's wife.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Julie Karagin cannot speak her own language, and Anatole's French is lacking.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Pierre and Prince Andrei prevalently, everyone else implicitly.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Prince Bagration at Schongraben, despite his army being massacred, has this odd calm to him. Captain Tushin is more Psychopathic Manchild and doesn't seem to realize he should have retreated hours ago.
  • Distant Finale: About eight years after the final events of the main novel.
  • Doorstopper: This is a big book. It clocks in at over 1,200 pages, the versions you'll see in the store have smaller fonts so it can cram more in per page and still be bound in a single volume. One dreads to think how long it is in Russian.
    • To the point that it is often the memetic example for 'longest book'. Often used in Peanuts for example. In reality it is not even in the top ten; beaten by Atlas Shrugged among others.
    • The audiobook version clocks in at 7 parts of 8+ hours each, for a grand total of roughly 55 hours. By comparison, you can get done with similarly noted doorstopper Moby Dick in under 24.
    • Understandable, since Tolstoy originally planned War and Peace to span 5 books.
    • Due to Tolstoy's perfectionism and constant revisions, his wife, Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya, ended up copying (by hand) the entire book 7 to 9 times. Something which has been described by the literati as the definition of true love.
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Duel to the Death: Invoked and averted. Young Nikolai Rostov, upon being called a liar by his coronel, challenges him to a duel, feeling that, as a noble he's entitled to it. His comrades dissuade him of it. See Treachery Cover Up.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: the Russian troops pay a lot of attention to a couple of young women among a refugee family crossing their bridge.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Platon Karataev.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Dolokhov.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Rostov children have an "Uncle." We're never told what side of the family or even if the guy has a name.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: And Princes. Lots of both.
    • In Russia, there were less ranks than in other countries, so Princes/Princesses made up quite a lot of the nobility.
  • Evil Chancellor: Doubly subverted with Speransky.
  • Fish out of Water: Pierre, early in the book, in any social scene that doesn't involve heavy drinking and the boys.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know Napoleon's invasion of Russia fails. And if we didn't, Tolstoy tells us it fails before it happens.
  • Funetik Aksent: Vaska Denisov has a stghrange tic of pghronunciation.
    • Most likely that's a bad attempt of imitating French pronunciation when speaking Russian (very fashionable at the time). Many Russian nobles had a similar accent throughout the XIX century. Even Vladimir Lenin spoke like that.
  • Gambit Pileup: The Author Tract concerns this.
  • Gentlemen Rankers: Private Dolokhov is a former Hussar officer now serving in the ranks. Officers who once served under him now refuse to speak to him.
  • Girls with Moustaches: Princess Lisa Bolkonskaya has a small moustache and Tolstoy keeps going on and on about how beautiful it is and how charming it makes her.
    • In practice he keeps going on and on about how beautiful and charming she is despite this small fault. Princess Lisa has been described as a very nice and cute woman and put into contrast with haughty and wicked aristocratic ladies around.
    • In another instance, Sonya and Nastasya both wear false moustaches. Sonya is so dashing and charming that everyone takes notice of her, and Nicholas' love for her is rekindled.
  • Goth: Julie Karagin, sort of. While Goth subculture as we know it didn't exist back then, Gothic literature certainly did.
  • Hello, Nurse!: Elena Kuragin, or Hélène, is the most beautiful woman on Earth. There's a reason War and Peace doesn't have pictures.
  • Heroic Bastard: Pierre, although his father, on his death bed, reveals that he's managed to have him legitimized. While he isn't "heroic" through any great achievements or feats of strength, he's one of the more prominent characters, and his Character Development from a lazy hedonist to a respectable gentleman is one of the overarching story arcs in the book.
  • Historical Fiction
  • Honour Before Reason: Played With, the regiment's honour is more important than that of any of its members, and it's certainly more important than the truth.
  • Humphrey: Dolokhov.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Rostov family slowly descends into this as it attempts to live beyond its means.
  • Interservice Rivalry:
The infantry who had been stopped crowded near the bridge in the trampled mud and gazed with that particular feeling of ill-will, estrangement, and ridicule with which troops of different arms usually encounter one another at the clean, smart hussars who moved past them in regular order.
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted; Anatole doesn't quite get away with his shenanigans scot-free.
    • Dolokhov, on the other hand, does.
  • Large and in Charge: Subverted with Kutuzov, an old fat man who inspires absolute zilch in his troops. Double subverted in that he's shown to be essentially the only person who actually knows what he's doing in the whole war, or at least who knows there are certain things he can't know and must thus plan accordingly.
  • Last Minute Hookup: Between Pierre and Natasha marry years after the invasion of Moscow.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Something like 580 named characters, serving out their roles throughout the story. Maybe a fifth of those are present in the whole book.
    • Made worse for non-Russian speakers in that each character has loads of nicknames or is referred to by their patronymic. For example, Nikolai Rostov is also Nikolushka, Nikolinka, and Kolya. Most modern translations mercifully include character lists for the most noteworthy ones.
  • Lost in Translation: The title. "Mir" means not only peace but also an archaic word for "world" or "land", giving the title a second (and ostensibly the true, from author's POV) meaning, "War and the World". Another translation that almost-but-not-quite manages to combine the sense of both meanings in English would be "War and Community."
    • A more modern assertion is that the title would be more accurately represented as "War and Everything Else".
    • Punny Name: originally, the novel's name was translated as "War and the World" or "War and the Society" (Война и мiръ), which was a homophone one letter away from "War and Peace" (Война и миръ) in old Russian spelling; the content of the novel allows both interpretations. Then that letter was abolished by revolutionaries, and no one, including the translators, got the pun ever since.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Natasha is at the center of one involving both Author Avatar characters (Andrei and Pierre).
  • Love Epiphany: Pierre is hit hard with the realisation that he loves Natasha when he's comforting her after the debacle with Anatole and her broken engagement; he declares that, if he were free from Hélène and the best man in the world, he'd propose to her without a thought.
  • Love Triangle: There's the Pierre/Hélène/Natasha, the Nikolai/Sonya/Marya, and the Natasha/Andrei/Anatole.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Dolokhov.
  • Modern Major General: Weyrother at Austerlitz.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Averted. The traditional image of the Russian warrior as massive, macho, boorish, strong and heavy drinker simply does not exist, which is quite weird coming from an author who extolled the strength and bravery of the ordinary Russian people. In practice, the Russians are described repeatedly as inferior in numbers, training and military skill to the Frenchmen, but compensating by their sheer will to never give up, those in charge of military issues are usually idealistic and delicate men like Prince Andrei, the best artillery officer is Captain Tushin, a small guy of unassuming appearance, the Muzhiks are simple and illiterate militiamen used for digging trenches and earthworks, and those who perform traditional macho stunts (Dolokhov, Pierre himself in the opening chapter) are treated with contempt and disapproval.
  • Melodrama: Stealing a bag of money from the regiment's coffers is treated by all involved with the sort of emotion you'd expect of a tumultuous breakup.
  • Nerds Are Sexy
  • Nice to the Waiter: Natasha's capricious nature is revealed in the way she constantly asks the hired help to perform pointless menial tasks just because she can. One could say that this foreshadows the whole affair with Anatole...
  • No Ending
  • No Name Given
  • Noodle Incident: Dolokhov at one point has "Persian adventures", but this also applies to the various historical events the characters continuously refer to, events no one who didn't live in the early 1800s or isn't a professor of European history with a specialization on the pre-Industrial Revolution era can remember now.
    • It made sense in context: Tolstoy wrote during the early 1860s, when the events of the greatest invasion Russia had experienced after the fall of the Mongols were still fresh in the collective memory and his popularity as an author fixed them even better. In the Anglophone world, pre-Communist Russia was too far away and too alien for the ordinary people to have delved in the lesser known facts of her history.
  • Not Quite Dead: Prince Andrei is left for dead after Austerlitz, but makes quite the recovery after people assume he's dead.
  • The Noun and the Noun
  • Treachery Cover Up: When Rostov tries to take fellow officer Telyanin to task for stealing the regiment's money, he's called a liar by his colonel, much to his outrage. His fellow officers convince him to drop the matter because it wouldn't do if people said there were thieves among their regiment.
  • Number of the Beast: Napoleon's name, calculated in a certain way, adds up to 666. This is brought up in the book.
    • The real Boney had such an uncanny ability to manipulate people into willingly acting as his catspaws, added to his military genius that one might pardon people at the time for wondering if he really WAS the antichrist.
      • Not to mention the Great Comet that was going across the sky as Napoleon was conquering Europe. People honestly believed that the end of days might be close at hand.
    • Also parodied with Pierre Bezukhov. Pierre wants to believe that he is the Chosen One destined to defeat Napoleon, and tries to write his name in such a way as to get the 666 sum. After several attempts he succeeds... but he cheats by using the wrong French article.
  • The Obi-Wan: Osip Bazdeev.
  • Obi-Wan Moment: Osip Bazdeev goes out relatively quietly in his bed, Platon Karataev goes out shot by the French in an unusual moment of calm for him.
    • Prince Andrei seems to have one relatively early in the book, but it's then subverted by the fact that he doesn't actually die.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Captain Ramballe of the French invasion.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted - there are plenty of Nikolais and Timokhins to go around. Usually because the offspring of one set of characters seems to get the names of their still-living grandparents.
  • Patronymic: It's a Russian book. The same names come up frequently for different characters. Patronymics are practically necessary to keep everyone straight.
  • Peer Pressure: Better to be called a liar than to shame the group with an inconvenient truth.
  • The Philosopher: Pierre, Andrei at moments, Speransky, and it goes on...
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: both old Prince Bolkonsky (battle hardened veteran) and Captain Tushin (whose bravery borders on insanity) are described as short and ugly.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Count Feodor Rostopchin, military governor of Moscow, is portrayed as incompetent, delusional, tyrannical, cruel, stupid, biased, ass-kisser to the Tsar and coward before the enemy, and this is only the beginning.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Andrei and the entire Russian army.
  • Pretty in Mink: Hey, it's Russia.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Sonya's vision of Prince Andrei's death, young Nikolai's dream about the Decembrists. Pierre has his share of these, too.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Captain Ramballe.
  • Put on a Bus: Happens to everyone besides main characters at one point or another.
  • Roadside Wave: mounted hussars do a horsey version to infantrymen they were passing by, mocking them all along.
  • Scenery Porn: The river Enns as the Russian troops crossed it, especially the left, alpine side.
  • The Siege: Averted; everyone expects Kutuzov to hold Moscow against a French siege, and he instead abandons the city.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: The characters are all realistically written and have depth, but the society the story takes place in makes this squarely level 3.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: There's a character for every point on the scale; the book falls into the middle because of this.
  • Smug Snake: The Emperor Napoleon.
  • Stepford Smiler: Countess Rostov. Not at first, but increasingly so later on, as her family's finances sink into ever more dire straits.
  • The Strategist: Pfuel.
  • Super Strength: Pierre has a more mundane version of this; he's incredibly strong, as shown when - furious with Helene - he picks up a marble table and threatens to hit her with it!
  • Ten Paces and Turn: At least two, the famous one being between Pierre and Dolokhov.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: How many ways are there to introduce yourself? As many languages as you know, of course!
  • Took a Level in Badass: Happens to different characters, Dolokhov and Nikolai Rostov stand out.
  • Twitchy Eye: A habit of the old Prince Bolkonsky. The other characters aren't sure if it's just him or some sort of mental disease.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: When Old Count Bezukhov dies, everything goes to his bastardnote  son Pierre—the house, the title, the money, everything. His three stepsisters are unpleasantly surprised, to say the least.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Sonya.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Ippolit Kuragin didn't get the good looks or manipulative minds of his siblings Anatole and Hélène. He makes up for it by being an idiot.
  • War Is Glorious: More like "War is a fun field trip"; some chapters describing the battles are very light-hearted and focus on the beautiful scenery and the fun of battle.
  • Warrior Poet: Prince Andrei turns into this after Austerlitz.
  • Will They or Won't They?
  • What Beautiful Eyes: Princess Marya.

Tropes unique to the 1956 film:

  • California Doubling: This version was shot in Italy - being an American production during the Cold War, filming in Russia wasn't really an option

Tropes unique to the 1968 film:

  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Bondarchuk did not stint in his recreation of early 19th century Russian aristocratic life.
  • Staggered Zoom: For the introduction of Natasha (Ludmila Savelyeva).

Alternative Title(s):

War And Peace