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 maid of honor 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, 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 8 hours. With inflation taken into account, it's the most expensive film in history.
This book provides examples of (Unmarked spoilers ahead):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 8,000 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.
To the point that it is often the memetic example for 'longest book'. Often used in Peanuts for example.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Inferred Holocaust: While arguing with Pierre, a character who disagrees with him acknowledges that he does have a point, referencing the story of Napoleon's giving aid to the plague-stricken. To those who know what happened in Real Life, however, this line is considerably more ironic and chilling...
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.
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.
Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Averted. The traditional image of the Russian warrior as massive, macho, boorish, strongand 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.
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...
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.
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 Gigantic 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.
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.
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 legitimized in the will son Pierre—the house, the title, the money, everything. His three stepsisters are unpleasantly surprised, to say the least.