Of the three volumes of War and Peace that we have read so far, Volume 3 has been the hardest for me to get through. I felt really bogged down at times, but there was certainly value to be found here, namely in possibly figuring out part of Tolstoy’s intention in writing this mammoth novel.
“Now all the active figures of the year 1812 have long left their places, their personal interests have vanished without a trace, and only the historical results of that time stand before us.”
Tolstoy apparently went to great lengths to ensure the historical accuracy of the parts of this novel that deal with real people, places, and events from the period in which it is set…historical fiction at its finest. However, it is important to remember how Tolstoy contrasts this with his detailed forays into the lives of his fictional characters. It becomes apparent in Volume 3, through the narrator, that Tolstoy is perhaps displeased with the way history is often remembered: with emphasis on the big names and events. He appears to feel that the millions of little people and moments (that must have come together exactly as they did for the bigger picture to exist as it did) are sorely overlooked in history. At one point the narrator says: “therefore, all these causes-billions of causes-coincided so as to bring about what happened” and then this: “an action once committed is irrevocable, and its effect, coinciding in time with millions of actions of other people, acquires historical significance.” This is why the stories of the Rostovs, etc. are so important to War and Peace. We get to see the lives of those who were NOT Napoleon or Alexander hypothetically “coinciding in time with millions of actions of other people” to create Russian history. I think Tolstoy may be trying to teach that history must be examined from many viewpoints in order to come closest to the real truth of our past. Consider Pierre in Volume II: “[he] was struck for the first time at this meeting by the infinite diversity of human minds, which makes it so that no truth presents itself to two people in the same way.” I think that this is such an important point. We think there is a universal reality, but in fact there can’t be because each person’s reality is slightly skewed by individual perception. What I can’t decide is if Tolstoy believes in free will or providence. Does he think that there is a greater power ensuring that these millions of actions happen to coincide in time to create history as we know it?
I am also beginning to see the discontent among the characters (that I complained about in the post for Volume II) as a necessary device that allows the reader to feel, more acutely, the discontent of Russia as a whole during this time of war and unrest in Europe and beyond. These characters are just a mirror to the greater whole.
I am wondering if it may be beneficial to watch the movie adaptation of this novel. Has anyone seen it? I am thinking this may allow me to connect even further to the characters. What do you think?