Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why is War and Peace so long?

Tolstoy had A LOT to say and concise writing was not the dominant form of the time.

Well, okay, while I don't refute that those two reasons are pretty valid, I've been thinking about this question for some time and I'd like to offer another response.

When people ask me about War and Peace, the only somewhat suitable phrase I can come up with to describe War and Peace is "a slice of life." Tolstoy isn't telling us a 1200 page story or writing a purely philosophical discourse. What stands out about War and Peace to me from other books is that we, the readers, get to know the character's and their world similar to how we get to know people and our world in real life. To meaningfully accomplish that method of writing Tolstoy certainly needs 1200 pages. For many details in War and Peace you could argue that they are unimportant, which is in part a valid argument. If Tolstoy was writing in a style where he wished to explicitly describe each character and drive the story forward without "distraction," then I'm sure many details would be unnecessary. I think, however, that Tolstoy is attempting to draw us into the book slowly but surely by revealing characters to us the way we meet people in our own life. We get to know people around us simply by the sum of all their little actions and their conversations with us and those around them. That is how we begin to get to know characters in War and Peace; however, as we are accustomed to reading a different style of writing, we desperately want to know exactly how old the character's are, exactly where Pierre studied abroad, and what drives a character to act a certain way at a soiree. Much as in real life, we are left to just continue observing a character's actions and thoughts. One example that struck me is when Andrew has an epiphany, that something has changed in him is obvious, but we are not told what this epiphany is. This seems reflective of in real life when we can tell that something in someone has changed, but rarely would we be told in an all too explicit sentence what their "epiphany" was. While one could probably write a quite sufficient 15 page essay on Prince Andrew's character, the effect would not be the same as getting to know him the way we do in War and Peace. Those seemingly unimportant snippets of character's lives are important simply because of their "unimportance;" we get to know people by endlessly sifting through thousands of minute interactions.


  1. I love the idea of War and Peace as a "slice of life." It make so much sense to the purpose of the novel; great idea Bri!

  2. Love this post. I've been wondering the same thing for a while. When Tolstoy first started writing what we call "Tolstoy's opinion hour," I almost felt like I had been tricked. I felt like Tolstoy had used his characters to pull me into the book for the sole purpose of forcing me to read his opinions. To an extent, I still believe that is true, but your post made me think of Tolstoy as a little less egotistical. Perhaps Tolstoy's opinions exist not only in his brief excerpts apart from the storyline, but in the storyline itself. Tolstoy wants to teach us about the themes present in the book, like the irrationality of human behavior and Russian pride, but instead of writing simple essays, he wrote about characters who embody his themes. In other words, instead of telling us what he thinks, he is showing us what he thinks through the story. That takes a lot of time and, unfortunately, paper.

  3. I appreciate this view of the novel. I really think it is effective to explain it to people this way. I always saw it from an alternative point of view. I saw War and Peace as so long simply because Tolstoy is attempting to develop so many main characters, so 1200 pages is almost a minimum to do that in a literary sense. Think about other books, that take 500 pages to develop a single character. That's how I saw War and Peace, but I really appreciate this analysis Brianna!

    1. Now that I think about it, Tolstoy has developed an incredible amount of "main" characters! I think my analysis in combination with your point about the sheer quantity of characters he develops contributes to the length.

  4. I think that this is why our Facebook assignment is such a good idea. Both Tolstoy and Facebook provide a large volume of information about people that isn't necessarily important, but offers very detailed insights on people's lives. The length of the novel offers a special connection between the not only the reader and the characters, but the reader and Tolstoy as well. The length of Tolstoy's novel also serves to make a serious connection between the reader and the author. Tolstoy inserts so many of his own opinions about history, and attitudes about Russian society, and greater European society, throughout the book that we become very familiar with what he values in the world.

  5. I love your post, Brianna. Tolstoy, if he was only writing propaganda about history, could've written a much shorter book. Instead, he carefully replicates history in such a way that it implies an entire world going on behind the book's pages. While his opinions clearly affect the main character's epiphanies and the way he portrays historical figures, Tolstoy still depicts life very realistically and ultimately writes a book far greater than his personal philosophy.