War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature. It is considered Tolstoy’s finest literary achievement, along with his other major prose work Anna Karenina (1873–1877).
War and Peace delineates in graphic detail events surrounding the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. Newsweek in 2009 ranked it first in its list of the Top 100 Books. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 20 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.
Tolstoy himself, somewhat enigmatically, said of War and Peace that it was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle”. Large sections of the work, especially in the later chapters, are philosophical discussion rather than narrative. He went on to elaborate that the best Russian literature does not conform to standard norms and hence hesitated to call War and Peace a novel.
War and Peace is well known as being one of the longest novels ever written, though not the longest. It is actually the seventh longest novel ever written in a Latin or Cyrillic based alphabet and is subdivided into four books or volumes, each with sub parts containing many chapters. It is 16th on Wikipedia’s list of the world’s longest novels.
The novel begins in the year 1805 during the reign of Tsar Alexander I and leads up to the 1812 French invasion of Russia by Napoleon. The era of Catherine the Great (1762–1796), when the royal court in Paris was the center of western European civilization, is still fresh in the minds of older people. Catherine, fluent in French and wishing to reshape Russia into a great European nation, made French the language of her royal court. For the next one hundred years, it became a social requirement for members of the Russian nobility to speak French and understand French culture. This historical and cultural context in the aristocracy is reflected in War and Peace. Catherine’s grandson, Alexander I, came to the throne in 1801 at the age of 24. In the novel, his mother, Marya Feodorovna, is the most powerful woman in the Russian court.
War and Peace has been produced in Television series, movies, operas, radio series and more over time and continues to be a powerful influence on our culture today.
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