“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy

It took me at least three attempts and more than a year’s time to finish “War and Peace”, and I’m certainly glad that I finally did.

A True of Work of Art

Like a good farmer who sows the seeds, cultivates, waters, and patiently waits for the crops to mature, Tolstoy lets his characters develop slowly, giving vivid descriptions of their external and internal lives as they unfold.

“War and Peace” is a true work of art (according to Tolstoy’s own definition in What is Art). He transmits his own feelings strongly to his readers through the characters, his love of life (Pierre and Natasha) and spiritual striving (Prince Andrew and Princess Mary). The heroes and heroines lived in the time of the Napoleonic War between France and Russia, which transformed all their lives and molded their characters. I found myself laughing and weeping together with the heroes and heroines, and reflecting on their reflections.

Pierre embodies Tolstoy’s philosophy of history in his character development, i.e., his personal history. There isn’t one defining influence or event in his life, despite several people’s attempts to manipulate him to their own advantage. Unlike the typical Shakespearean/Greek tragic characters, he has neither a character flaw that would lead to his downfall, nor an intentional design and will to power. His life consists of numerous influences: relations and friendships, social and historical events. He experiences, explores and bears everything and everybody, and they all contribute to his maturation.

High up in the light sky hung the full moon. Forests and fields beyond the camp, unseen before, were now visible in the distance. And farther still, beyond those forests and fields, the bright, oscillating, limitless distance lured one to itself. Pierre glanced up at the sky and the twinkling stars in its faraway depths. “And all that is me, all that is within me, and it is all I!” thought Pierre.

Inevitability and Freedom

Tolstoy argues in length that history is not dependent on the free will of individual leaders, such as Napoleon or Alexander, but the outcome of “endless number of most diverse circumstances”.

“If inevitability were possible without freedom we should have reached a definition of inevitability by the laws of inevitability itself, that is, a mere form without content; … If freedom were possible without inevitability we should have arrived at unconditioned freedom beyond space, time, and cause, which by the fact of its being unconditioned and unlimited would be nothing, or mere content without form.”

“Freedom is the content. Inevitability is the form.”

I think of a river and its banks. The river is bound by its banks, following its course. Without the banks, the river would cease to exist, as is the case when it runs into the sea. The river banks give the river the form in which to “be” itself.

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