Who read "War and Peace" and what did you see that made it a classic.

I have tried on more than a dozen times to read "War and Peace." Usually, I don't get much past page eight, the last time I got to page 15 and still didn't get it, except for the fact that the book describes the onset of Russia's war with Napoleon.

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It takes a hundred years for a novel to begin to become a classic. :)
In most cases, I agree, but Hemingway and Faulkner produced novels that were declared classics in far less than a hundred years. Although most of his work was crap, Norman Mailer created a classic with "The Naked and the Dead." In general, the next generation or the generation after that declares classics.
Yes, Hemingway and Faulkner were fortunate. Steinbeck, who is equally good, did not fare so well. Some of the 20th century "classics" will fade away, though.
I thougth the hundred years thing only applied to antiques!
I read War and Peace last year. I loved it. I found it was a real page turner. I usually read it in the morning while on my exercise bike. About 4 of the short chapters gave me an adequate aerobic workout. Prior to reading W&P, I finished Frank McLynn's biography of Napoleon. My husband wanted me to read the bio so I would enjoy reading his Sharpes book series. I haven't yet read any of those. I also read Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment prior to W&P.
I felt Tolstoy's writing was at times "breathtaking." His descriptions of the settings were loaded with literary devices and complete and engaging. The problems his characters encountered because of the repressive expectations of their social standing were painful but understandable. The depiction of action, from dancing and stolen kisses, to hand-to-hand field combat were so realisticone could almost smell the gunsmoke or the putrid odors of the infirmaries. You can also feel the graveled ground beneath a fallen body and taste the fragrance or breath from a moment of intimacy. He is known for characterization, and you will ponder the characters and their interactions when you put the book down.
The cultural history is also interesting. For example, his main character buries himself for awhile in devotion to the Masonic Lodge. This is interesting in light of knowledge that Napoleon, Santa Ana, most of the French troops were also masons (so were many American Revolutionaries). It was a huge movement throughout most of Europe at the time. Supposedly, it was influential in spreading the message of the French Revolution. Since I know little about the masons, I don't know how that applied. But, I think I read this in McLynn's book. The fox hunt the siblings enjoy and their visit to the peasant home are also glimpses of a world "Gone with the Wind."
Most impressive were the justice, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption eventually apparent in the plot. As well as such things as ambivalence on the part of the French occupants in their treatment of their captives in Moscow. Knowledge of the personalities in charge (the self-serving Napoleon (who fled Russia in a great coat on a sled) and the idiot, but beloved, Czar) as well as the historical realities of the invasion and aftermath (e.g., the truly viscious treatment of the retreating French troops by the Russian slavs [the Comanche had nothing on those slavs]) enchanced the reading pleasure.
It was also interesting to identify Tolstoy's description of the social inequalities in Russia that would foretell the corruption of the military, the government, and the values that eventually festered into revolution in the next century. (Little did he know.)
Don't be in a rush, put yourself on some easy to accomplish disciplined program and read War and Peace, follow that with Anna Karenina (just finished). You will experience great pleasure and satisfaction and improve your perspective of not only European, Western, and world history but human behavior as well.
I've just started it again. I think I may be getting it this time. I may be warming up for Frazan's "Freedom."

Just remember to use good body mechanics when lifting and carrying that book around.  We don’t want you to throw your back out.  It’s a big one.  :) cj

OK, I've read almost a hundred pages this time, and I still don't get it. It's on my Kindle, so I'll keep trying. A friend who read it in the original Russian says he does not think that Russian translates very well.


Jack Bludis

To each his own.

Jack, maybe Tolstoy should be consumed in small doses to start with.  You might warm up to "The Death of Ivan Ilych".  It's a novella, and the translation I saw seemed very good.  Tolstoy was a deeply moral writer who seemed to know human weaknesses very well. He also had a sharp and satyrical eye for his society.

I see what I.J. is talking about in the book.


Yes, I see the character things, the class things, the family and class rivalries, but it's hard to catch the satire when the translation tries to duplicate the original. It just comes out clunky.


I've even thought that it might be a book that, in translation, should be skimmed rather the critiqued. All that being said, I expet to finish it this time.


Ironically, I put a scene in my soon to be published novel about the transition of Holloywood from motion pictures to TV, where one character admires another for her having read "War and Peace" all the way through.


I get it. It's a classic, and Yes, Joyce Ann, "to each his own," although putting it in those words and only those words without additional comment seems condescending.


By the way, in the distant past, I remember being startled by a long paragraph describing Anna Pavlovna's relationship with another woman and thinking "Why all that, when she could have said 'confidante'?" I was surprised that in the translation I am currently reading, it is exactly what the translator did.


Jack Bludis

Well, something will come of that exercise.  The various insights lie dormant, and when you least expect it, you may see a way of handling a character or a relationship that will add something to your own work.

I admire your determination.  I tend to head for lighter reading at the end of the day.  :)


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