Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a panorama of Russian life in that active period of history known as the Napoleonic era. The structure of the novel indicates that Tolstoy was not concerned with plot, setting, or even individual people, as such; rather, his purpose was to show that the continuity of life in history is eternal. Each human life has its influence on history, and the developments of youth and age, and war and peace, are so interrelated that in the simplest patterns of social behavior vast implications are recognizable. Tolstoy wanted to present history as it is influenced by every conceivable human force. To do this, he needed to create not a series of simple, well-linked incidents but an evolution of events and personalities. Each character changes and affects others; these others influence yet others, and gradually, imperceptibly, the historical framework of the nation changes.
War and Peace is a moving record of historical progress, and the dual themes of this vast novel—age and youth, war and peace—are shown as simultaneous developments of history. Tolstoy wrote both this novel and Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886), two of the greatest works of fiction in Russian literature, when he was at the height of his powers as a writer. He enjoyed a happy marriage, and he was busy managing his country estate as well as writing. His life had a healthy, even exuberant, balance between physical and...
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