Wednesday, September 18, 2013


In the original Russian translation of the novel's title, the word used for Peace in War and Peace, was "mir," a word also used to define communal peasant sovereignties, (Encyclopædia Britannica). In lieu of the word's dual-meaning, titling the passages depicting battle "war" and titling social scenes "peace" might not fall in line with Tolstoy's message; if mir can be interpreted as a peasant commune, it follows that Tolstoy is correlating war to the aristocratic social scenes (the opposite of  mir) and peace to agrarian peasant lifestyle. I think the tedium with which I (personally) read Tolstoy's depiction of battle, relative to his depiction of aristocratic drama, also fits into interpretation of how the novel is compartmentalized. Tolstoy portrays the war in frankly dull, somewhat peaceful prose, devoid of the intensity expected of battle scenes; the author portrays war as peace and peace as war. I think Tolstoy's subversion of terms critiques Russia's contemporary oligarchic government and implies a political assertion in favor of a communist government--I'm sure future readings will further clarify the book's possible political implications.

"mir." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 18 Sep. 2013. <>.


  1. This is a very interesting thought. I appreciate the clarified definition, as I'm sure it will change the way I read these sections in the future.

  2. Mike, good on you for going out of your way to read translations. However, I honestly don't think the war segments are supposed to be boring. It is true that Tolstoy does not greatly alter his narrative style when covering them; he remains aloof, nondescript, and fairly didactic concerning human nature. That said, he always writes this way. The war seems relatively boring because they have fewer interesting, permanent characters, and the villain rarely makes personal appearances. Also, Tolstoy includes at least some descriptions only because they are horrific (the Russian soldiers retreating over the dam under cannon fire), which means Tolstoy is trying to be evenhanded in showing war's mixture of tedium and extreme terror. I think the primary reason war segments seem boring is that they are based on reality; Tolstoy has less ability to fabricate for the sake of drama, and so there are lengthy historical descriptions with fictional set pieces mixed in.

    All that aside, I think you are being very hasty in saying Tolstoy's subversion of language is a communist critique. I won't pretend to know Russian, but if you look up translations for peace, mir usually shows up first (if that means anything at all, I can't say). I would agree Tolstoy views the wealth and intrigue of aristocracy as corrupting (the most moral characters are those insulated from the superficiality of court). I don't think this means Tolstoy is a communist, because if he is, he's being destructively subtle. There are parasites like Vasili, but Tolstoy rarely shows cruelty towards peasants or even includes them in any way whatsoever. Also, for all of his contempt for court, all of Tolstoy's interesting, moral characters are nobles. Economic class alone does not determine character's moral worth, and so I don't think War and peace is communist propaganda.

  3. I like your idea that Tolstoy portrays war as peace and peace as war. But I prefer to interpret this point in another way instead of connecting it with politics. I admit that reading war section bores me and even makes me sleepy (forgive me), but I don’t think it is a good reason we can see the war scene as peace. As far as I am concerned, characters in the war are passionate about their career, having hope for their lives, and gradually desiring peace in the fight. I would like to interpret these positive aspects as peace. However, nobles in the peace section make their efforts to plot for money. This ugly side is more like what war can bring for us.