War and Peace Questions and Answers
by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace book cover
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How do the different translations of Tolstoy's War and Peace either supplement or detract from the meaning of the original text in Russian?

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War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, has been called the greatest novel ever written. Originally in Russian, it has been translated numerous times and in many different languages. On many levels, the translations differ, and for several important reasons.

First, the novel by Tolstoy contains a tremendous amount of historical detail, a lot of Russian folk expressions, and a lot of repetition, and so parts of the text are often simplified, anglicized, or omitted. Tolstoy’s version also contains criticism of politicians and monarchs. This criticism appears in historical essays interspersed throughout the novel and in specific places, and it was intended to inform the text. However, the inclusion of these essays has been widely criticized, not only because of their content, but because they are stylistically confusing to read and differ from the rest of the book. For this reason, translators have struggled with what to do with these essays and have handled the problem differently. In general, due to the complexity of the story and syntax, the inclusion of ideas unique to Russian culture, and the vast amount of detail in the text, critics have tended to scrutinize the translations carefully and often found the translators guilty of anglicizing Tolstoy's story.

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