Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace

Described as a “loose baggy monster” by Henry James, Tolstoy’s War and Peace is one of the most ambitious historical novels in world literature. Though set during the Napoleonic wars in Russia, War and Peace poses questions that are nonetheless undeniably modern: What is the role of individual agency in the whirlpool of historical drama? Is it possible to cross class lines to create real, long-lasting social change? War and Peace explores historical conflict from the perspectives of its diverse array of characters—servants and counts, misers and dreamers—whose voices break with the conventions of 19th-century realism through Tolstoy’s forays into stream of consciousness and defamiliarization. But the novel is not just a historical drama or a literary experiment. It is a delicate glimpse of the intimate life of Russia’s salons, drawing rooms, and servant quarters; of their whispers, fears, and worries. Its characters are richly layered and contradictory; their revelations and conquests are earnest but do not last. One of the great joys of War and Peace is getting lost in the characters’ debates and getting used to the cadences of their voices. Students will read the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation and will find that reading War and Peace is like hopping into a Russian troika for the literary joyride of a lifetime.

Natalya Sukhonos
Lecturer in Creative Writing, SUNY Albany

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Online, instructor-led
Jan 16 - Mar 22, 2024
Stanford Continuing Studies