At a glittering society party in St. Petersburg in 1805, conversations are dominated by the prospect of war. Terrors swiftly engulfs the country as Napoleon's army marches on Russia, and the lives of three young people are changed for ever. The stories of quixotic Pierre, cynical Andrey and impetuous Natasha interweave with a huge cast, from aristocrats and peasants to soldiers and Napoleon himself. In "War and Peace" (1863-9), Tolstoy entwines grand themes - conflict and love, birth and death, free will and fate - with unforgettable scenes of nineteenth-century Russia, to create a magnificent epic of human life in all its imperfection and grandeur.
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Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, and educated privately. He studied Oriental languages and law at the University of Kazan, then led a life of pleasure until 1851 when he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus. He took part in the Crimean War and after the defence of Sebastopol he wrote The Sebastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his reputation. After a period in St Petersburg and abroad, where he studied educational methods for use in his school for peasant children in Yasnaya Polyana, he married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862. The next fifteen years was a period of great happiness; they had thirteen children, and Tolstoy managed his vast estates in the Volga Steppes, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). A Confession (1879-82) marked a spiritual crisis in his life; he became an extreme moralist and in a series of pamphlets after 1880 expressed his rejection of state and church, indictment of the weaknesses of the flesh and denunciation of private property. His teaching earned him numerous followers at home and abroad, but also much opposition, and in 1901 he was excommuincated by the Russian Holy Synod. He died in 1910, in the course of a dramamtic flight from home, at the small railway station of Astapovo.Review:
Epic historical novel by Leo Tolstoy, originally published as Voyna i mir in 1865-69. This panoramic study of early 19th-century Russian society, noted for its mastery of realistic detail and variety of psychological analysis, is generally regarded as one of the world's greatest novels. War and Peace is primarily concerned with the histories of five aristocratic families--particularly the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, and the Rostovs--the members of which are portrayed against a vivid background of Russian social life during the war against Napoleon (1805-14). The theme of war, however, is subordinate to the story of family existence, which involves Tolstoy's optimistic belief in the life-asserting pattern of human existence. The heroine, Natasha Rostova, for example, reaches her greatest fulfillment through her marriage to Pierre Bezukhov and her motherhood. The novel also sets forth a theory of history, concluding that there is a minimum of free choice; all is ruled by an inexorable historical determinism. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
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