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War and Peace 2013: Entry 1--Preliminaries

The Odyssey is barely behind us (in fact, it's not completely behind me, as I still have a few posts to do on the entire poem in review), but I'm already looking forward to 2013. After many excellent suggestions, consultations with friends and business associates, and a three-round voting system, I ignored what everybody else wanted and chose Tolstoy's War and Peace. Originally serialized and then published in its entirety in 1869, this book was actually a clear choice for what I'd read and blog about (slowly) over the course of 2013. In all sincerity, this is a truly brilliant book, well deserving of its reputation, and I really hope you'll grab a copy and join in. Speaking of copies...


There have been numerous English translations of Tolstoy's epic in the 150 years since it was first published. The most notable translations are probably those of Constance Garnett, Aylmer and Louise Maude, Ann Dunnigan, and Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I've not read all of these, but I'm sure they're all acceptable, though the Garnett translation is considered rather old and dated and some of them (the Pevear/Volokhonsky, for example) leave untranslated large chunks of the French that appears frequently throughout the novel in dialogue. So, if you're not a fluent French speaker, make sure the translation you choose does most of the work for you.

If you don't have a dog-eared copy from college, I recommend getting the Maude translation, which I will be reading. It has several virtues in addition to my already owning it. Firstly, it is an excellent translation that still commands respect some 90 years after its initial publication. Indeed, the Maudes were friends with Tolstoy and he praised their abilities himself. Secondly, it is widely available in all formats, including Kindle and Nook editions, for little or no money. Their original translation was revised by Amy Mandelker for Oxford University Press a few years ago, though either the revised or unrevised version should work--mine is the unrevised, if you're curious. The only version you absolutely shouldn't purchase for this project is the Andrew Bromfield version, not because the translation is bad, but because his translation is from a different, earlier draft of the novel that is significantly different from Tolstoy's final version--it's 400 pages shorter, for starters. Speaking of pages...

The Reading Plan

In case you weren't aware, War and Peace is a long book. Even spread over the course of a year, each reading will average 50 pages. By and large, however, the novel is rather pacey, so don't be daunted by its length. It's also heavily structured, divided into 4 books, each of which has several parts, which are further subdivided into chapters, which I find allow for a sense of progress being made. It's further capped off with not one, but two epilogues, one fairly traditional, the other, well, we'll get to that--eventually. As with The Odyssey, every two weeks, we'll move a little bit further into the book, and I'll do biweekly blog posts about the reading we've just completed, supplemented whenever I feel like it or when the need arises. Because we're starting earlier, and there's so much more text to get through than with The Odyssey, we're doing 26 readings, spanning the entire year. Below is the schedule we'll follow. Dates indicate when we'll finish the reading. UPDATE: I've included last lines or other indications to allow for differences in chapter numbering I've noticed in some of the e-book editions.)

1/6--Book 1, Part I, Chapters 1-12 ("...down one flight of stairs and up another, to Pierre's rooms.")
1/20--1, I, Ch. 13-25 (End of Part One)
2/3--1, II, Ch. 1-8 ("...and pronouncing the phrase 'knocked out' with ringing distinctness.")
2/17--1, II, Ch. 9-21 (End of Part Two)
3/3--1, III, Ch. 1-7 (" have for a friend as that very adjutant whom he so hated.")
3/17--1, III, Ch. 8-20 (End of Book One)
3/31--2, I, Ch. 1-11 ("And Nicholas again kissed her hand.")
4/14--2, I, Ch. 12-16; 2, II, Ch. 1-10 ("...that is to say, all that could be get out of them.")
4/28--2, II, Ch. 11-21 (End of Part Two)
5/12--2, III, Ch. 1-17 ("--and so they ought all to be happy.")
5/26--2, III, Ch. 18-26; 2, IV, Ch. 1-8 ("Things were not cheerful in the Rostov's home.")
6/9--2, IV, Ch. 9-13; 2, V, Ch. 1-9 ("'Oh yes,' replied Natasha.")
6/23--2, V, Ch. 10-22 (End of Book Two)
7/7--3, I, Ch. 1-15 ("and she began to recover physically.")
7/21--3, I, Ch. 16-23; 3, II, Ch. 1-5 ("The whole army bewails it and calls down curses upon him...")
8/4--3, II, Ch. 6-17 ("'But how could one say that in Russian?'"
8/18--3, II, Ch. 18-33 ("...according to the chance promptings of the throng.")
9/1--3, II, Ch. 34-39; 3, III, Ch. 1-11("...saw Pierre again or knew where he was.")
9/15--3, III, Ch. 12-25 ("...where he began with shouts to drive on the carts that blocked the way.")
9/29--3, III, Ch. 26-34 (End of Book Three)
10/13--4, I (all)
10/27--4, II (all)
11/10--4, III (all)
11/24--4, IV (all)
12/8--First Epilogue (all)
12/22--Second Epilogue (all)

I plan on doing at least one more post before the first reading is completed, laying out in broad strokes the historical setting of the novel, some of the questions and issues it address, and just what sort of novel Tolstoy   wrote, and whether novel is even the right word for it--Tolstoy didn't actually use that word for it, and he may have known something.


  1. My B&N had four different versions. I'm definitely referring to this guide before purchasing! Of course, if this is anything like the Odyssey reading club, I'll find at least two copies in my bookcases after I buy another. ;-)

  2. I'll be curious to see what difference the translation makes with W&P. Translating poetry from a rare dialect of a dead language seems much harder and open to interpretation than does translation a modern language prose written by a guy we have pictures of. But we'll see...

  3. I didn't do so great with keeping up on the Odyssey, but I have high hopes for War & peace. I just got the kindle version:

    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy [Annotated] [Kindle Edition]
    Leo Tolstoy (Author), Aylmer Maude (Translator), Louise Shanks Maude (Translator)

    Only $0.99, so totally within my budget. :)

  4. I just downloaded the Pevear and Volokhonsky to my Nook & FWIW the French in the beginning of chapter one is translated in (very easily navigable) footnotes. I hope it continues this way throughout - I like making a pitiful stab at the French before reading the translation...

  5. Yeah, as Elizabeth posted the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation puts all the French dialogue translation in footnotes at the bottom of each page. After about page 4 of 1200 I got used to it and it didn't bother me too much. Indeed, as the adoption if French customs in the Russian aristocracy is an important running theme of the novel, it becomes intriguing to read when characters choose to speak French and when they do not.


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