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NA404212 - TOLSTOY, L.: War and Peace (Abridged)
War and Peace
Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy was born in 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana in the Tula providence of Russia. He studied Oriental languages and law at the University of Kazan and after serving in the Crimean War, he wrote The Sebastopol Stories, which established his literary reputation. A great reformer, he spent time in St. Petersburg and abroad studying educational theories, which he then applied in his estate in Yasnaya Polyana. In 1862 he married Sophie Andreyevna Behrs. They had thirteen children and Tolstoy spent his time managing his estate and writing: War and Peace (1865-68), Anna Karenina (1874-76), A Confession (1879-82). A series of pamphlets he wrote rejecting the state and church earned him many enemies and in 1901 the Russian Holy Synod excommunicated him. He died in 1910.
Although the main narrative of War and Peace is a panorama of Russian life, both domestic and military, during the Napoleonic Wars, Tolstoy’s main purpose was to show that the continuity of life in history is eternal; that every conceivable human force influences history. He wanted to show the whole evolution of events and personalities. Each character must change and, in turn, affect those around him. The most notable examples of course are Pierre, who changes from dissolute wastrel to responsible landlord and loving father and husband, and Prince Andrey, who, disillusioned with military life, first opts for domestic tranquility, but then, partly through Natasha, finds new motivation and ultimately an acute self-awareness.
The abridgement of a work of this scale and breadth poses particular problems, as the plot for Tolstoy was the vehicle by which he could express his own philosophy of history; indeed, there is a long epilogue to the book in which he expounds in detail his theories and at times throughout the text there are lengthy expositions. This abridgement aims to draw the listener into the basic narrative of the book: the violence and drama of war, the passion and turmoil of love, in short, the life of aristocratic Russians as it was lived through the turbulent years of early nineteenth century. Tolstoy was no doubt aware that the themes of War and Peace, the decisions and actions of the characters, speak for themselves, but he was keen that his voice should also be heard. The following passage, which does not appear in the abridgement, encapsulates his philosophy:
‘Why does an apple fall when it is ripe? Is it brought down by the force of gravity? Is it because its stalk withers? Because it is dried by the sun, because it grows too heavy, or the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing under the tree wants to eat it?
‘None of these is the cause. They only make up the combination of
conditions under which every living process of organic nature fulfills itself…In the same way the historian who declares that Napoleon went
to Moscow because he wanted to, and perished because Alexander desired his destruction, will be just as right and wrong as the man who says that
a mass weighing thousands of tons, tottering and undetermined, fell in consequence of the last blow of the pickaxe wielded by the last navy. In historical events great men - so-called - are but labels serving to give
a name to the event, and like labels they have the least possible connection with the event itself.
‘Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free-will, is in the historical sense not free at all but is bound up with the whole course of history and preordained from all eternity.’
Notes by Heather Godwin
Neville Jason trained at LAMDA and has appeared with the English Stage Company, the Old Vic Company and the RSC, as well as with repertory theatres and in West End musicals. His many television roles include Lapointe in Maigret, Horatio in Hamlet and Prince Reynart in Dr. Who. Formerly a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company, he is frequently to be heard in radio plays and readings.
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