Written by Erin Greer during a Tolstoy Seminar at the University of California at Berkeley, May 2, 2011. More of Erin’s writings can be found at her Backseat Writer blog. Click here to download pdf of this piece as it appeared in The NoRMAL School’s amazing literary magazine. Thank you for sharing this, Erin!
I was reading War and Peace in February, while protesters were gathering in Tahrir Square. Literature has a way of insinuating itself into your perceptive apparatus, and Tolstoy’s words blurred and mixed with the images of Cairo until it seemed to me that Tolstoy and Tahrir were meant to be read together.
War and Peace, of course, is Count Tolstoy’s hugely ambitious and rather unwieldy attempt to sketch the spiritual and political character of Russian society during the Napoleonic wars, while criticizing previous accounts of these years and casting about for a grand theory to explain, ultimately, all of human experience. “There are two sides to each man’s life,” the book observes: “his personal life, which is the more free the more abstract its interests, and his elemental, swarmlike life, where man inevitably fulfills the laws prescribed for him.”1 War and Peace tries to describe both sides of human life, and to understand the nature of their incongruous alliance. The apparently free “personal life” moves according to “essential concerns of health, illness, work, rest, [...] of thought, learning, poetry, music, love, friendship, hatred, passions” (418). Tolstoy describes this private side of life with a deep richness that strains against the abstract coldness of the idea that “man inevitably fulfills the laws prescribed for him,” and the narrative voice splinters between these “two sides” of life, swinging from panoramic sketches of “swarmlike” historical movement, to intimate portraits of the most personal details of human life. Periodically the voice of War and Peace abandons the narrative of both altogether, in order to reflect upon the abstract laws that shape human experience, and to provide commentary about our futile attempts to discern these laws from our position within the swarm. The narrative oscillation helps make War and Peace, in Henry James’ memorable appraisal, a “large loose baggy monster.”2 Its different voices contradict and often undo each other, and yet they strike a paradoxical,suitably unstable balance within the text. It is this unlikely harmony, or pleasing dissonance, of the voices of War and Peace that make this baggy monster an appropriate literary companion for Tahrir Square. In both theme and formal effect, War and Peace demonstrates the necessity of supplementing theoretical and historical accounts of human experience with fiction, as the only (fragmentary) way of approximating the unsteady relationship between the “two sides” of historical man.
Several of the theoretical chords of War and Peace immediately resonate with the revolt in Egypt. Consider the following observation made by one of the book’s essayistic voices, which might have saved Hosni Mubarak an embarrassing week in mid-February when he seemed like the only person who had not yet accepted that he was no longer running Egypt:
As long as the historical sea is calm, it must seem to the ruler-administrator in his frail little bark, resting his pole against the ship of the people and moving along with it, that his efforts are moving the ship. But once a storm arises, the sea churns up, and the ship begins to move by itself, and then the delusion is no longer possible. The ship follows its own enormous, independent course, the pole does not reach the moving ship, and the ruler suddenly, from his position of power, from being as source of strength, becomes an insignificant, useless, and feeble human being. (886-887)
Egypt’s “historical sea,” if we embrace the metaphor, was churning from the Tunisian revolution, and from more local storms such as men setting themselves on fire, rejuvenated labor and constitutional reform movements, and recollections of Khaled Said’s suspicious death in Egyptian police custody the summer before. According to this essayistic voice in War and Peace, a “ruler-administrator” like Mubarak is never fully in command, and his authority depends upon a shared delusion of his power. The delusion, already weakened by years of pressure from labor and political reform movements, finally lost its hold during the eighteen days that men, women, and children lived in Tahrir Square, and Mubarak appeared before the world in all his human feebleness.
The theorist-narrator of War and Peace argues against models of history favored by people he disdainfully calls “the historians,” who overestimate the power of “ruler-administrators” like Mubarak. ”Historians,” according to War and Peace, “lay before us the deeds and speeches of several dozen men [...], calling these deeds and speeches by the name of revolution; then they give a detailed biography of Napoleon and of some persons sympathetic or hostile to him, tell of the influence of some of these persons on others, and say: here is the origin of this movement, and here are its laws” (822). This account of history is false, Tolstoy writes, “because in this explanation a weaker phenomenon is taken as the cause of a stronger one” (822). Historians erroneously imagine that great men inspire, organize, and direct the “unconscious, swarmlike life of mankind,” when in reality, each of these so-called great men is adrift “in the middle of a shifting series of events, and in such a way that he is never able at any moment to ponder all the meaning of the ongoing event” (605; 825). Because of their symbolic position at the center of historical events, great men ultimately have the least independent agency in Tolstoy’s schema: “Kings are the slaves of history” (605). Historical phenomena like revolutions do not unfold at their command, but emerge from the “sum of individual human wills,” and the “uniform strivings of people” (822).
This idea that the true source of historical events is the “sum of individual wills” seems almost tailored to the Egyptian protests. We hear the same sentiment in the words of Wael Ghonim, the Google marketing executive who became one of the West’s favorite representatives of the Egyptian protests. In a Newsweek interview, Ghonim sounds almost like Tolstoy chaffing against “the historians”: “What you don’t understand, and it seems what you don’t want to understand, is that this protest doesn’t have real organizers. It’s a protest without a leader.”3 His protestations gained him the title, in a New York Times headline, of a “reluctant hero.”4 War and Peace helpfully observes that “the ancients left us examples of heroic poems in which heroes constitute the entire interest of history, and we still cannot get used to the fact that, for our human time, history of this sort has no meaning” (754). The epic model of an independently striving hero was inadequate to the story of Russia during the Napoleonic wars, and it remains inadequate to the story of the strivings of the Egyptian people.
Western pundits who have outwardly accepted that there was no primary human leader in the Egyptian protests still contrived a digital-age redemption of the heroic model of history, substituting a personified “new media” figure for the human leadership that Ghonim and others disavowed. The real ”heroes” of the Egyptian revolt became Facebook and Twitter, continuing a trend that probably began in 2009 when one of Bush’s national security staffers, Mark Pfeifle, recommended Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its “role” in the Iranian protests.5 It seems like we (in the West, at least) will only accept that the revolt was the “sum of individual human wills,” if we can imagine funneling these individual wills through what War and Peace would call a “historical unit,” an ”always arbitrary” figure that appears to concentrate and express diverse human wills (822). If there appears to be some trace of chauvinism in our appetite for the Western hero of social media, and some lingering orientalist logic in our inclination to reduce the complexity of the Egyptian revolt, War and Peace offers possible consolation in the fact that we are by nature susceptible to traps of this sort:
The totality of causes of phenomena is inaccessible to the human mind. But the need to seek causes has been put into the soul of man. And the human mind, without grasping in their countlessness and complexity the conditions of phenomena, of which each separately may appear as a cause, takes hold of the first, most comprehensible approximation and says: here is the cause. (987)
Facebook has become the most comprehensible cause to minds ill-equipped to understand the ”totality of causes.” The error of our infatuation with the supposed role of social media in the Egyptian protests is the same error Tolstoy sees in “great men” theories of history: “A weaker phenomenon is taken as the cause of a stronger one. The sum of individual human wills produced the revolution and Napoleon, and only the sum of those wills endured them and then destroyed them” (822). In the case of Egypt, as in the case of the French Revolution, a greater phenomenon – the sum of individual sentiments of rage, defiance, enthusiasm, hope, horror, weariness, poetry, music, friendship, and love, and the unique personal modes of organizing and expressing these wills – has been presented as the child and instrument of social media. War and Peace suggests that our equation is inverted.
* * *
The approach that War and Peace offers as an alternative to the historians’ “great man” accounting of history is rather convoluted, however, and warrants consideration on its own terms before I insist any further on its correspondence with the revolt in Egypt. The book’s central historical thesis is basically a theory of determinism, in which the laws that govern human action are fixed, but too complex to be grasped by human understanding. We retain an illusion of freedom as a result, and this illusion is equally necessary to the fulfillment of the predetermined historical design, to the ”concept” of humanity, and to morality. But the narrative voices of War and Peace complicate what might appear to be a fairly straightforward theory of elusive, but real, determinism, by layering convoluted metaphors and qualifications over this central tenet, and by describing the effervescent content of personal lives with lush idiosyncrasies that seem antithetical to the idea of predetermined design. The conflict between the aforementioned “two sides” of human experience does not easily resolve in favor of the ‘prescribed’ swarmlike side, and this conflict is merely one manifestation of a deeper, more general conflict at the heart of War and Peace, both thematically and structurally: the battle between form and content. A full appreciation of the book’s theory of history, and the related issues of freedom and necessity, accordingly requires close attention to the book’s form as well as its thematic content.
The thematic opposition between form and content appears most prominently in the question of the balance between individual freedom and historical necessity. According to the narrator, “Man lives consciously for himself, but serves as an unconscious instrument for the achievement of historical, universal human goals” (605). Historical events are caused by the sum of individual human wills, but simultaneously, and somewhat incongruously, a person’s individual will molds him or her into “an unconscious instrument” of history. To wit, the narrator informs us that the “countless persons” who took part in the Napoleonic wars acted according to “their personal qualities, habits, conditions, and aims. They feared, boasted, rejoiced, resented, reasoned, supposing that they knew what they were doing and that they were doing it for themselves, and yet they were all involuntary instruments of history” (682). According to War and Peace, we unwittingly fulfill “historical, universal human goals” precisely through attending to our personal concerns, through negotiating our lives around our personal fears, joys, theories and grudges.
To clarify the contradictory relationship between the freedom apparent to an individual, and the greater purpose served by this ostensible freedom, the narrator compares the situation to the relationship between an atom and the greater system of which it is part:
As the sun and every atom of the ether is a sphere complete in itself and at the same time only an atom of a whole that is inaccessible to man in its enormity – so, too, every person bears his own purposes within himself and yet bears them in order to serve general purposes that are inaccessible to man. (1137)
In this analogy, we are free at an infinitesimal scale, and we shape our selves according to our own purposes, just as an atom comprises a system of protons, neutrons, and electrons, independent of the ”ether” and the enormous whole of which it is a miniscule part. And just as a natural system requires its atoms to be independently composed of subatomic particles that will draw the atoms into molecular combination, we bear our apparently individual purposes in order to unwittingly bind our lives with a much greater, inaccessibly enormous system. Our individual purposes, in other words, must feel wholly ours, wholly free and personal, in order to guide us into covalent conformity with broader, general, historical purposes.
Freedom, in this view, is not an absolute quality. It is a necessary conviction that drafts us into involuntarily fulfilling an elusive general purpose. The narrator tells us that freedom is a matter of perspective: “The ratio of freedom to necessity decreases or increases depending on the point of view from which the action is examined” (1204). It depends both on the point of view of the observer evaluating a phenomenon, and on the relationship between the phenomenon and the broader world of events: “Our notion of freedom and necessity gradually decreases or increases, depending on the greater or lesser connection with the external world, the greater or lesser distance in time, and the greater or lesser dependence on causes in which we examine the phenomenon of human life” (1208).
The greater our distance from the phenomenon we observe, the more clearly will we recognize its relation to the broader world of events, and the more clearly will we recognize the causal necessity of what we are observing. Individuals at the heart of the swarm evidently lack this benefit of distance; hence they imagine their actions follow purely from independent will.
At a formal level, the narrative voice of War and Peace fluctuates in order to sketch both sides of human experience, shifting between points of view and altering the apparent ratios of freedom to necessity. An intimate, “novelistic” voice discloses the personal lives of men and women moving through drawing rooms and battlefields. This voice describes with lavish attention the sounds, smells, tastes and colors of these private lives, the upheavals of love and faith, joy, sorrow, vanity, and shame. It fixes attention upon tiny, radiant details, which have no discernible relation to the plot or “general purposes” of the book, such as the thin line of hair that floats above a pretty woman’s upper lip, or a prisoner’s bare foot as it lifts to scratch an itch on his leg while he awaits execution. This voice then gives way to a detached survey of the “swarmlike” movements of armies, the “monotonous living waves of soldiers,” “the monotonous tramp of thousands of feet” (139; 270). This second voice pronounces upon the monotony of drawing rooms with the same almost dismissive detachment, generalizing personal feelings to a degree that makes they appear inevitable, as when, for instance, three otherwise intimately-sketched women experience “what always happens with lonely women who have long lived without the society of men” (226). On my count (and with help from Google Books), some variation of the phrase “as always happens” appears at least fifteen times in the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, and it equally generalizes rote performances of social and political ritual, and the most deeply personal experiences, such as a family’s response to a loved one’s death, a man’s experience as a war prisoner, and a young soldier’s thoughts as he heads home to take charge of his family’s faltering financial affairs. These two narrative voices are joined by a third, which attempts to construct a theoretical framework, an abstract system to account for the contrasting perspectives of the other two voices. This is the essayistic voice that condemns “the historians,” that reflects upon the ”two sides” of human life, and that attempts to explain the capitulation of the individual, abstractly free side of man to the general, swarmlike side.
Virginia Woolf wonderfully rendered the effect of this narrative oscillation when she observed that Tolstoy’s work makes us “feel that we have been set on a mountain-top and had a telescope put into our hands.”6 ”Everything is astonishingly clear and absolutely sharp,” she writes. “Then, suddenly, just as we are exulting, breathing deep, feeling at once braced and purified, some detail — perhaps the head of a man — comes at us out of the picture in an alarming way, as if extruded by the very intensity of its life.” The fine details of a man’s head, or the feathery mustache hovering over a pretty woman’s lip, and a man’s relief of an itch in the final moments of his life, alarm us with the intensity of inner life that they seem to express, because this intensity strains against the literary medium in general, and especially because these details surge from the strict theoretical frame within which Tolstoy’s essayistic narrator has set his characters. Just as we feel we are beginning to understand the movement of the swarm, some intensity of life overwhelms the picture, subverting its apparent coherence.
Moreover, while we can see from our mountain-top vantage point that laws indeed guide the movements we observe, War and Peace insists that the general purposes served by these laws remain unintelligible to us. The same natural limitations of the human mind that thwart historians and “great men” prevent all seekers from discerning the “general purposes” guiding personal and historical events: “Never does a single order appear spontaneously and not include in itself a whole series of events; but each order follows from another and never pertains to a whole series of events, but always only to one moment of the event” (1195). Our access is restricted to singular moments within a “shifting series of events,” a “consistent, ceaseless carving” of the event’s meaning in relation to the larger order (825). This limitation means that we will never identify absolute necessity: “We will never know the entire chain, because it is endless, and again we will never get complete necessity” (1209). Complete necessity eludes us not because of some irreducible, actual freedom, but because our vision is flawed. The mortal human mind cannot apprehend the “endless” chain that produces it, and some surplus of living intensity will consequently continue to alarm us by its apparent indifference to ”general purposes.”
The narrator does not actually regret these intellectual limitations. After all, they preserve the illusion of freedom that paradoxically makes us fulfill historical necessity. The idea of freedom is also essential to the “concept” of man, and “if, having allowed the smallest remainder of freedom to equal zero, we were to recognize in some case – for instance, a dying man, a fetus, an idiot – a total absence of freedom, we would thereby destroy the very concept of the man we are examining; because once there is no freedom, there is no man” (1209). Not only would we destroy the concept of a human being if we were to explain away the idea of freedom, we would also “take away the moral responsibility of the people who produce events” (1198). War and Peace is as dedicated to the question of how to live a good life – what “moral responsibility” entails in political participation, sex, economic relations, religion, friendship, family life, and love – as it is to the question of the causality of historical events. This essential quality of the text would be rendered moot if its theoretical voice were to discover absolute necessity.
The moral facet of the debate between freedom and necessity sheds light on the nature of that apparently free side of man, the kernel of freedom attested to when a superfluous, pulsing detail leaps from the picture and dashes the appearance of absolute necessity. This inner freedom encounters its own particular restriction in the form of the body, reproducing at an individual level the more general conflict between freedom and necessity. There is an “inner force” deep within characters, according to the intimate, novelistic voice: a “soul,” or “something that was best” in them (777; 343 and 389). The characters of War and Peace consider this essential inner force to be “independent of anything in the world and higher than anything in the world,” and yet they recognize that it is still bodily bound to the world (343). To Prince Andrei, this condition produces a “terrible opposition between something infinitely great and indefinable that was in him, and something narrow and fleshly that he himself, and even she, was” (467). This personal inner struggle against the material necessity of the body is like a synecdoche of the universal conflict between freedom and necessity, as the inner force strives in vain to transcend its narrow and fleshly human condition.
War and Peace explicitly extends the opposition of freedom and necessity into the metaphysical and aesthetic realms by linking this opposition with another set of opposing terms: form and content. The epilogue’s extended reflection upon the laws of history compares the idea of “necessity without freedom” to the idea of “form alone without content” (1210). Likewise, the contrasting notion of ”freedom without necessity” implies “unconditional freedom outside space, time, and causes, which, by the very act of being unconditional and unlimited by anything, would be nothing, or content alone without form” (1210). Historical necessity thus corresponds to other formal restrictions, like the materiality of the body or aesthetic form, which painfully limit mortal experience while simultaneously making it possible. Freedom and necessity, content and form, are the opposing terms that describe the central, presiding paradox of our embodied yet spiritual, historical and personal, human condition.
The tension of these dualisms is replicated in the aesthetic of War and Peace, in a multilayered battle between the book’s form and content. The abundant, ecstatic novelistic voice that portrays the ”personal life” of man is the textual equivalent of an “inner force,” something that strives to be independent of the boundaries of the book, to be “outside space, time, and causes.” But, like humans suspended in a “terrible opposition,” this force can only manifest through conditions and limits imposed by the form of the book. Content cannot exist meaningfully without form.
The materiality of the literary medium is not the only “form” defining the book’s “content.” The conflict is propagated within the text through its contrasting voices, as the ebullient, excessive novelistic voice struggles against the scaffolding erected by the essayistic and telescopic voices. The book performs the very thing its lectures warn is futile for the human mind, aiming to synthesize, moralize, and derive abstract principles or lessons about history and the historical method. If this theoretical form were to dominate content successfully, the personal stories of War and Peace would flatten into inevitability, merely fulfilling their necessary movement according to the laws prescribed by the essayistic voice. A mustached upper lip would be revealed to be necessary, and a condemned man’s leg would itch according to law. A triumph of either the essayistic voice or the telescoping perspective would destroy the book’s concept of humanness, what Woolf aptly calls “the very intensity of its life.”
These essays have attracted harsh criticism as redundant and detrimental defections from the central dramatic content of the work. They undoubtedly repeat themselves, and they reiterate ideas already introduced through characters. Prince Andrei, for instance, wonders, “‘What theory and what science could there be in a matter of which the conditions and circumstances are unknown and cannot be determined, in which the strength of those active in war can still less be determined?’” (643). He eventually decides that the best a person can do under such conditions of limited human knowledge is to follow the model of the Russian commander in chief, Kutuzov, who “understands that there is something stronger and more significant than his will – the inevitable course of events – and he’s able to see them, able to understand their significance, and, in view of that significance, is able to renounce participating in those events, renounce his personal will and direct it elsewhere” (745). According to the loose logic of War and Peace, the commander of the army is noble for renouncing his illusions of actually commanding, and he is wise in his detached and reflective perspective regarding events no single human can control. Kutuzov, in Andrei’s appraisal, anticipates and embodies the essayistic voice’s recommendation that we approach phenomena by “renouncing the knowledge of an immediate, comprehensible purpose and admitting that the final purpose is inaccessible to us” (1132).
War and Peace‘s characters intuit that personal life is likewise influenced by forces stronger than their individual wills. Nikolai Rostov begins his relationship with Princess Marya, whom he will eventually marry, with a feeling that he is giving “himself up to the power which (he felt) was irresistibly drawing him somewhere” (953). Prince Andrei, whose existential phases are often marked by his observation of the sky, refers to the sky at one point as a “vault,” contrasting his happier perceptions of the “boundless, ever-receding vault of the sky” with his present sense of the sky as a ”low, definite, oppressive vault” (628). In both cases, the sky is figuratively conceived as a fixed limit encasing human experience. The apparent contradiction in the image of a “boundless, ever-receding vault” accords with the vague, never fully elucidated, religious tone of the determinism running through War and Peace. In the words of the essayistic narrator, “Only a divinity, without cause, by its will alone, can determine the direction of mankind’s movement” (1195). The sky is like an image of the causeless cause, lofty and infinite in itself, and also a “boundless, ever-receding vault” encasing personal experience. Prince Andrei’s paradoxical perception of the sky intuits its fixed nature, and also its involvement with the infinitesimally free inner force deep within him. Another moment in which the sky touches Prince Andrei emphasizes this spiritual undercurrent:
He looked at the sky Pierre had pointed to, and for the first time since Austerlitz saw that high, eternal sky he had seen as he lay on the battlefield, and something long asleep, something that was best in him, suddenly awakened joyful and young in his soul. [...] He knew that this feeling, which he did not know how to develop, lived in him. The meeting with Pierre marked an epoch for Prince Andrei, from which began what, while outwardly the same, was in his inner world a new life. (389)
The sky, for Prince Andrei, touches “something that was best in him,” and stirs it into life. The apparent freedom of the “high, eternal sky” kindles the apparently free inner force within Prince Andrei, even while Andrei’s own reflections later acknowledge this sky as both free and fixed, a paradoxically ever-receding vault. That which is “best in him,” his soul, is intrinsically linked to the endless chain of causes that both comprises and composes him. Prince Andrei’s contradictory perception of the sky encapsulates the contradictory situation of a human entangled in an intricate web of freedom and necessity.
Perhaps it is Pierre, the “seeker” of War and Peace and the character who most consistently yields to surrounding forces, who finally attains a perspective that most directly expresses the conclusions rearticulated by the theoretical narrative voice. Driving himself nearly mad with questions about the nature and meaning of human life, Pierre feels “as if the main screw in his head which held his whole life together, had become stripped. The screw would not go in, would not come out, but turned in the same groove without catching hold, and it was impossible to stop turning it” (347). The image of the ceaselessly turning screw characterizes much of Pierre’s intellectual life in the book, until he arrives at the conclusion that “it’s impossible to unite thoughts” into an absolute philosophy (844).
The recognition offers him relief, and leads him to a moderated ambition: “But to hitch together all these thoughts – that’s what’s needed!” (844). Pierre never manages to “hitch together” his thoughts, though, and perhaps this ambition still outstrips his capacity. But the language of hitching thoughts together, rather than trying to synthesize them into a unified theory, resembles the essayistic narrative voice’s view (amidst much screw-turning of its own) that historical and personal events form an endless chain, in which we might see individual events “hitching together,” without ever perceiving the full order.
Pierre’s final “revelation” takes this suspension of the urge to unite data a step further. Near the end of the book, he “abandon[s] the spyglass” with which he has been “gaz[ing] into the distance” in search for the “unfathomable and infinite,” and he “learn[s] to see the great, the eternal, and the infinite in everything [… and he] joyfully contemplate[s] the ever-changing, ever-great, unfathomable and infinite life around him” (1104). Because he cannot discern the ever-great principles, he realizes that he should stop looking for them. And once he does, and surrenders himself to the unfathomable and infinite life that surrounds him – to the bursting, rich life that the novelist can represent better than the historian – he discovers a better way to live. According to this formulation, we can vaguely perceive the ever-great, without seeing its form; we can see that some infinite form suffuses content, and that content is merely the manifestation of what must exist, according to the ever-great form. Our human senses are attuned to recognize content, and if we perceive it in a certain, humble and disinterested manner, we can partly grasp the form of which this content is the messy and partial materialization.
In the estimation of many critics, Tolstoy ought to have followed the path indicated by Pierre, and trusted his novelistic eye rather than repeatedly interrupting that eye’s contemplation by turning his “mental spyglass” toward the abstract. English critic Percy Lubbock, for instance, lamented that Tolstoy did not trust his “power of making a story tell itself,” and thus “[thrust] into his book interminable chapters of comment and explanation, chapters in the manner of a controversial pamphlet, lest the argument of his drama should be missed.”7 Lubbock advised readers to simply skip ahead whenever their eyes come across the phrase “the historians,” because it assuredly signals another digression in which Tolstoy’s “artistic sense deserts him.” Ivan Turgenev criticized the passages for the philosophy they express, calling it “the conceit of a half-educated person,” emblematic of the “instability and immaturity of [Tolstoy's] thought.”8 Flaubert, who otherwise admired Tolstoy and War and Peace, wrote to Turgenev in horror, “Il se repète! Et il philosophise!” as though Tolstoy were committing a cardinal literary sin by mixing philosophizing into his story-telling.9 The digressions undoubtedly interrupt and disrupt the story-telling that readers probably consider to be the heart of the book, and they seem redundant given “the argument of his drama.” Tolstoy, moreover, might have shunted this essayistic impulse into what many would likely consider a more appropriate venue. As Boris Eikhenbaum pointed out, “any journal from the early 1860s contained articles and polemics on these themes” of freedom and historical causality.10
Isaiah Berlin’s essay The Hedgehog and the Fox offers a somewhat more forgiving assessment of these “chapters of comment and explanation.” Berlin’s title and approach draws from a line attributed to Archilochus, the ancient Greek poet: “The fox knows many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing.”11 From this aphorism, Berlin develops a metaphor according to which people may be divided into two broad categories. Hedgehogs, in Berlin’s interpretation, “relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate [...] a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance” (3). Foxes, by contrast, “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, […] moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves,” rather than trying to “fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes selfcontradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision” (3). The hedgehog can be a dogmatic fanatic, in other words, and the fox can be a flake.
Berlin argues that Tolstoy was a unique and tortured compound of the two, “by nature a fox,” although he “believed in being a hedgehog” (4). In even stronger words, Berlin calls Tolstoy “a fox bitterly intent upon seeing in the manner of a hedgehog” (75). The essayistic passages presumably interrupt the drama in moments when Tolstoy’s anguished desire to be a hedgehog erupts, overwhelming the narrative voice, and using it in order to insist (with some self-contradiction) that we are the involuntary instruments of a larger force, a single organizing principle. Throughout most of War and Peace, however, the fox in him runs the show, reveling in details about the heads of men, the mustaches of women, and the itchiness of the condemned.
According to Berlin’s terms, the final “thesis” of War and Peace, that we are subject to an elusive but fixed determinism, seems like an attempt to placate the hedgehog, while indulging the fox. The fox is necessary where the hedgehog’s vision fails. Slightly adapting Berlin’s terms, I see Tolstoy – or the narrator of War and Peace – as a hedgehog with a blind spot: a blind spot that eclipses the very heart of the matter. No law discernible to human minds can explain away the freedom of the “inner force,” which also implies that the narrator can never give full representation to this “inner force,” whose evasion of formal coherence would presumably make it too slippery for linguistic enclosure. The narrator welcomes these limitations, improvising around them by drawing upon fox-methods and letting the fox-voice occasionally run amok.
Tolstoy’s accounts of his writing process suggest a correspondence between this account of the narrative strategy of War and Peace and his own views of writing. In a letter he wrote to his friend Nikolai Strakhov, apropos of Anna Karenina but still pertinent as a glimpse of his mid-career ideas about the creative process, Tolstoy describes writing as an effort to “bring together ideas linked among themselves”:
In everything, almost everything, I have written, I was guided by the need to bring together ideas linked among themselves in order to express myself, but every idea, expressed by itself in words, loses its meaning, is terribly debased, when taken out of that linkage in which it is found. The linkage itself is not constituted by an idea, I think, but by something else, and to express the basis of this linkage directly in words is quite impossible; but it is possible only indirectly – in words describing images, actions, situations.12
Writing, for Tolstoy, strives to represent a vast system of linked ideas, a system from which individual elements cannot be extracted, studied, and expressed directly. A writer is simply another feeble human being, bound to the inadequate medium of words, and the “indirect” devices of images, actions, and situations are the only tools by which he can partly grasp the system he strives to see and represent. A writer can sketch characters and situations with incredible richness, and hope that a faint approximation of the “vault” containing human action and sentiment might materialize indirectly from the compound of detail. The form, again, might be glimpsed in flashes through the richness of content.
The evolution of the book that became War and Peace reflects in material terms the aesthetic struggle to bring ideas and events together in a system that can never be complete. Tolstoy had initially intended to write about a Decembrist revolutionary returning to Russian society from Siberian exile in 1856. To fully tell this story, though, he was compelled to shift his historical setting back to 1825, in order to describe the actual uprising. But that story, he realized, was integrally related to the political and spiritual atmosphere of Russia following Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from a smoldering Moscow.
Tolstoy himself described this transformation of the book as though it occurred through a force greater than his individual will: “I involuntarily moved back from the present (that is, 1856) to 1825, the period of error and misfortune of my hero [and then, later] I again dropped what I had begun, and began in 1812.”13 The author became the “involuntary instrument” of his story. One final regression appeared necessary, as Napoleon’s defeated withdrawal could only be fully represented in the context of the French victory over allied Russian and Austrian forces at Austerlitz in 1805, and the intervening years of tenuous accord between Tsar Alexander and Napoleon.14 Setting the beginning of his book in 1805, Tolstoy never reached the story he had originally imagined. Given War and Peace‘s understanding of the endless chain of events, and the innumerable causes behind any single event, one could imagine the author historically regressing even further, and never writing any book at all. The formal peculiarity of the book he did finally write makes it seem as though War and Peace deliberately avoids the pretense of full, direct representation.
To simply dismiss the digressive theoretical passages as co-optations of the narrative voice by the “hedgehog” is to overlook the significance of their strange failure to achieve what they attempt. The essayistic voice fails to provide any “unitary inner vision,” just as humans must fail to understand the laws of necessity, and rather than merely concluding abstractly that “we will never get complete necessity” because of our limitations, the passages structurally and stylistically perform the failure of this effort. They are unstable, restlessly revising and exchanging metaphors. In the passage quoted at the beginning of this essay, for instance, the narrator invokes the image of a “ship of the people” riding the historical seas. Elsewhere, he uses the metaphor of a clock, describing the battle of Austerlitz as “a slow movement of the world-historical hand on the clockface of human history” (258). He borrows mathematic expressions, describing his search for a “differential of history,” an ”unknown x” necessary in order to express “known historical facts in equations” (822; 1034). He summons the image of a cone to explain the inverse relation between a person’s abstract power and his or her direct involvement in events (1197). History is likened to a bee that stings a child, with a ”final purpose” that cannot be discovered by the stung child, a beekeeper, or a botanist (1138). “Great men” are like theater actors performing parts, and elsewhere they are likened to sheep, who do not understand that a farmer does not fatten them in deference to their “genius” (1136-1137; 1132). The essays double back upon the same themes again and again, each time shifting the emphasis slightly and revising the metaphor.
The passages travel in logical as well as figurative circles. Although the book’s final sentence calls upon us to “renounce a nonexistent freedom and recognize a dependence we do not feel,” the reasoning that carries us toward this conclusion is anything but conclusive (1215). Passages frequently repeat and revise descriptions of the paradoxical balance between individual will and predestination, without improving the clarity: “To the question of what constitutes the cause of historical events, a different answer presents itself, which is that the course of world events is predestined from on high, [and] depends on the coincidence of all the wills of the people participating in those events” (784). The relationship between the “two sides” of human life is as murky as ever in this proposition that a divinely predestined course of events depends upon a coincidence of individual wills. The premise that kings and other “great men” are particularly enslaved to history loses coherence in relation to the book’s broader thesis that an absolute, but hidden, necessity guides every action of every individual. My favorite example of the essentially paralogical mode of these passages is the following short paragraph from the epilogue:
What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the sum total of wills transferred to one person. On what condition are the wills of the masses transferred to one person? On condition that the person express the will of the whole people. That is, power is power. That is, power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand. (1193)
The essays are full of such tautologies and other general liberties with logic. The narrator finally confesses: “In the last analysis, we arrive at an eternal circle, at that utmost brink at which, in every domain of thought, the human mind always arrives, if it is not toying with its subject” (1200). This realization about the fate of the human mind in “every domain of thought” does not prevent the narrator from another fifteen pages’ worth of traveling the circle, however.
The essayistic digressions wind through War and Peace like some widening theoretical gyre, or a spiraling ribbon that the narrator never pulls taut. The book remains in a state of baggy looseness, which is all the more remarkable because of its repeated protestations about the existence of stern immutable laws. Neither the “personal” nor the “swarmlike” sides of experience abides by the sketchy parameters established by the essayistic voice. “Never does a single order appear spontaneously,” the narrator says of historical events, and the observation is likewise true of War and Peace, where the three orders of the three narrative voices never merge (1195). Our rational efforts to discern the laws of experience will never “arrive” at anything more definite than the eternal circle discovered by these digressions, an endless cycle between freedom and necessity, form and content. This circle is not like the orb of a vault we can perceive wholly at a glance, but rather like an intellectual track that we follow step by step, eternally, with the same indeterminacy as the digressive passages of War and Peace.
Tolstoy initially defended the strangeness of his book in an article published in the magazine The Russian Archive in March of 1868, while War and Peace was still being serialized in another magazine. After advising readers that War and Peace was “not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle,” he continued, “War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.”15 The statement appears to dismiss his critics with a paternalistic shrug, an elliptical version of ‘it is what it is.’ But in the 1873 edition of War and Peace, Tolstoy caved to his critics; among other concessions, this edition omits the digressive “philosophical-historical discourses” altogether, and moves the “military-theoretical” passages to an Appendix titled “Articles on the Campaign of 1812.”16
Such revisions detract from the paradoxical accord between form and content that War and Peace finally strikes in its own textual body. There is a marvelous synchrony between the novel’s philosophical-historical questions about causality, freedom and necessity (the “two sides” of historical, social man), its metaphysical questions about the soul and the body (the two sides of individual, spiritual man), and its aesthetic performance of the contradiction between form and content that produces literature (the two sides, we might say, of the book). The book becomes a synecdoche for the human subject, and for the laws of history, in which form emerges out of, yet strictly defines, content.
As I mentioned earlier, the essays represent form attempting to dominate content, and it is precisely their failure – their “immaturity and instability,” in Turgenev’s words – that makes them strike an unsteady, paradoxical balance with the other voices of War and Peace. In their strange selfcontradictions and irresolutions, the essays become themselves “novelistic,” although Tolstoy would have resisted the label. The author’s protests notwithstanding, War and Peace is in fact one of the literary world’s most strangely compelling representatives of the “novel” as theorized by two influential 20th century literary scholars. Berlin’s diagnosis of Tolstoy as a fox intent on seeing the world as a hedgehog, and my revised inversion of this assessment, essentially anticipate György Lukács and Mikhail Bakhtin’s characterizations of the inherently paradoxical literary form they call the ”novel.”17
Lukács argues in The Theory of the Novel that novels are epics for a skeptical age, literary attempts to give expansive and intensive representation to the condition of being human, undertaken under the quintessentially “modern” shadow of the expectation of failure.18 For Lukács, the novel hopelessly takes up the project once undertaken in confidence by epics, when the world still appeared to meet ”the soul’s inner demand for greatness, for unfolding, for wholeness,” and “beauty [was] the meaning of the world made visible” (30; 34). Tolstoy’s determinism hints at his idiosyncratic theological views, and he would not have shared Lukács’ atheistic idea that the “novel is the epic of a world that has been abandoned by God,” nor would he have agreed with Lukács’ assessment of art as man’s compensatory attempt to produce the beauty and order otherwise lacking in an uncreated world (88). But Tolstoy’s hedgehoggish foxiness, his self-consciously deficient attempt to reproduce the divine order of the world, gives War and Peace the same “problem of form” that Lukács writes is the ”dissonance special to the novel” (71). Novels are born of a constant, unresolved oscillation between the abundance of particulars that enliven their characters and narrative, and the literary artifice that strives to combine these foxish “many ends” into the single “system” of the book. Novels emerge in the messy opposition between form and content, architecture and detail. In this vision, a “novel” is the formal, textual trace of a battle between freedom and necessity, which neither must ultimately win.
Mikhail Bakhtin further stresses the essential incompleteness of novels in his description of their “polyphonic” and dialogic nature. Bakhtin’s “novel” is a textual space that integrates disparate voices and sets them into a relation he calls “interanimation,” a collaborative reciprocity of mutual definition and enlivenment, rather than a contest for dominance and unification.19 A work is ”novelistic” if no single voice – such as the author’s – subsumes the others, and if the work’s ”languages” circulate in an endlessly shifting dialogue. Such a work is indeterminate and open, “a living contact with unfinished, still-evolving contemporary reality” (7). War and Peace‘s style of ”telescoping” between abstract panoramas of the swarm and intimate close-ups that reveal the quivering content of personal lives, awkwardly framed by its startling digressions into abstract, ambiguous theory, suffuses the text with this living indeterminacy of multiple, unresolved voices. The essayistic narrator is like another character whose voice struggles for self-expression, burdened by an awareness of the impossibility of fully expressing an always incompletely-known truth. The voices of the essayistic passages are as essentially “novelistic” as the lush descriptions of ballrooms, starlit forests at Christmastime, battlefields and prison camps.
As readers, we might prefer the voice of the novelist, and one definite accomplishment of the ”polyphonic” fragmentation of War and Peace is that the value of the novelistic approach becomes more apparent than ever. Where the vision of “necessity” falls short, the freedom of the novelist intervenes, to delightful, superfluous excess.
* * *
Reading War and Peace in February, I began to wish for a large, loose and baggy account of the protests in Egypt.
The story of Tahrir Square calls for both novelistic lushness and a self-consciously rickety scaffolding of commentary. The “historians” have not yet had a chance to contort our impressions of the ongoing protests in the Middle East and North Africa, but the popular press has set a tone consistent with the chronicles of Napoleon that so exasperated the narrator of War and Peace. Global efforts to theoretically reckon with this (seemingly) sudden season of revolution are intrinsic to the story of the “Arab Spring.” We still search for a “differential of history,” a “great man” or a technology to which we can assign responsibility for the fact that hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of human beings gathered over the course of eighteen days to demonstrate against Hosni Mubarak. We are still striving to detect the design of these “swarmlike” movements, to find a primary cause, as if it were possible to extract and examine one link from an endless chain.
A Tolstoyan tale of Tahrir would flaunt its own limitations, and comment upon them, and compound them by performing the ostentatiously flawed attempt to tame abundant human content with narrative form. A Tolstoyan Tahrir could address – without resolving – the challenge of describing “the movement of mankind, proceeding from a countless number of human wills,” while recognizing that this movement “occurs continuously” (821). A Tolstoyan Tahrir might acknowledge its defenselessness against the same dilemma that ensnares historically-contingent man in War and Peace, as this new baggy monster would struggle to understand and represent historical truth under the shadow of knowing that “any chosen historical unit is always arbitrary” (822). The imperceptible laws that bind a historian, a “great man,” and humans in general, also bind the writer. And just as the historical setting of War and Peace slid from 1856, to 1825, to 1812, and finally to the story that spans from 1805 to early 1813, the writer trying with futile determination to create a picture of the 2011 revolt in Egypt might feel the story pulling her backwards in time, to Khaled Said’s death in 2010, then to the foundation of the April 6 Youth Movement in 2008, and then further back, to the mid 2000s and the foundation of Kefaya, the first major group that demonstrated for regime change. Or, perhaps 1981 would be a good year to begin the story, with President Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak’s ascension, and the reinstallation of emergency law. Perhaps, though, the story really begins in 1952, with the revolution that gave the square the name Tahrir, which is Arabic for “liberation.” The only thing for a feeble, limited, but determined writer to do in such a situation is to rely on the “intensity of life” to tell its own story, to suggest its inseparability from the continuous movement of mankind through indirect intimations, evoking the scents, sounds, doubts and hopes of the human beings bringing the two sides of their lives into synchrony in Tahrir Square.
If a hedgehoggish fox (or a foxy hedgehog) were to attempt to give “truthful” representation to the eighteen days of the January 26th Revolution, such a foxhog might write about the efflorescent confluence of faith, ambition, vanity, desire, love, patriotism, selfishness, and mundane pathos, in the souls of every one of the millions of protestors, and in the beleaguered soul of Mubarak, in his son, in the soldiers standing bewildered at the edge of the square with guns in their arms, in Suleiman, in women spending days in their kitchens preparing food for the men and women in Tahrir Square and Alexandria and Mansoura. The hedgefox would scan the crowds of Tahrir Square like Tolstoy scanning the battlefield of Austerlitz, then dive into the “infinitesimal” elements of “arbitrarily chosen” individuals, and the narrative would linger at the scale of illusory freedom each of them feels, even as they are subsumed to the historical movement. Our foxhog would note the flushed cheeks and shining eyes of a teenage boy shouting amidst strangers, enraptured, like young Nikolai Rostov awaiting the glance of the Tsar, by his first experience blending his personal life with the life of the swarm. Our foxy hog would describe the mixture of dawning adolescent political consciousness with the boy’s inextinguishable awareness of the bodies of young women standing so close to him, so unknown to him, whose inner selves he can only imagine from the way that their muscles stretch and contract beneath their thin clothing as they wave placards, and from the whiffs of jasmine, sandalwood, mint and sweat, that rise hazily above the fever of the crowd.
We might narratively follow another young man, twenty-eight years old, from a village near Tanta in the Nile Delta, who decides not to go to work on his father-in-law’s farm on January 28th – who rides a bus for a couple of hours, standing stoically as a burning cramp creeps along the right side of his body, from his lower back through his shoulder blades and up the arm that sleeps in the grasp of a leather strap hanging from the roof of the old bus. We might follow this young man as he arrives in Cairo in the evening, when the light is swallowing purple and tangerine shadows, blurring into the smoggy haze of the big city, and lending the skyscrapers, the orchid trees and the palm trees, a misty and dreamlike unreality. We might learn how he suddenly feels faint and ill as the bus draws to a stop, and imagines for an instant that there is something rotting in his gut, like a putrid onion, leaching fear and remorse about the suffering wife he has left behind, whom he is unsure if he still loves, who bore him a child too early, too small and weak, and who has turned vague and quiet toward him ever since their son died in an incubator. This young man perhaps does not know why he has come to Cairo, what he is hoping to find. Heroism? God? Himself? A purpose to affix to the days or decades that remain for him, of working, eating, sleeping, and living with a woman who seems unable, or unwilling, to reawaken to her life?
And we might trail a seventeen-year-old girl whose wealthy family lives blocks from Tahrir Square, in a home filled with sunlight and houseplants and paintings purchased by her discerning mother during visits to her aunt in New York City – a girl whose youthful energy cannot focus, but sputters frenetically and ignites half-finished hobbies, projects, friendships and loves – a girl whose best friend since nursery school has recently discovered in herself a fervent faith in Allah, and with it, strong disapproval for our young woman’s frivolous and unfocused enthusiasms. The girl has perhaps been reading the novel The Yacoubian Building, and has heard a rumor that its author, Alaa Al Aswany, would be in Tahrir Square, and she feels certain, through her young bones and untested marrow, that she has been called like an epic heroine to take part in the revolution. We might trail her as she sneaks from her home early one morning, while her family sleeps and the cool gray light before dawn swells into the streets, and she lightly skips along the wide road in the direction of the square. She hears and feels the force of so many bodies before her eyes take them in. The first things she sees are the formidable tanks and soldiers, and the twisting razor wire, but she creeps quietly onward in the direction of the Qasr al Nil Bridge. She lingers perhaps outside the barricades, her wide eyes attempting to see everything, and she listens to the quiet rustlings of those who have not slept that night, who sit in small circles of murmuring men and women, hugging chilly arms around chilly knees, as they discuss (she presumes, from her position outside the twisting razor wire) the future. We might note how the light changes in her eyes, as she sees a thin young man, a few years older than she, enviously watching a woman carry hot fūl to a man and child not far from him. The foxhog might tell us how her feet move, and how the soft, quick sound of her steps hurrying back to her awakening family seems to her like the sound of her heart, as she prepares the words with which she will tell her parents that they must start cooking, and they must spend the day cooking and taking food to the people in Tahrir Square.
We might be interested in Wael Ghonim, or perhaps, rather, a fictionally-conjured, middleaged blogger, and the first thing our foxy narrator will tell us is whether this man has ever been in love, truly, bewilderingly. The fox will wonder if this blogger likes himself, and if he values kindness, and whether he watches silly television shows after long and exhausting days at his tech job. Our fox will tell us what this man feels when he listens to Beethoven, and what images fill his dispersing mind as he drifts into and out of sleep. Perhaps this middle-aged blogger sees metaphors in sunrises, and believes in some version of God, and perhaps that belief was once unexpectedly shaken by the gruff indifference of a stranger on public transportation. His faith is perhaps shaken again, more dangerously, by the eight days in late January and early February that he spends in a dark cell in police custody. Our fox will tell us about the dampness and the stench of the cell, and the dim and haunting sounds by which our dissident blogger fathoms the fates of unseen fellow prisoners. Our fox will tell us about the young guard who brings our blogger some tea on the third morning of his imprisonment, a young man who has read the words of this older man under his watch, and who yearns to ask him questions, and to ask for forgiveness, but who reminds himself of his duty and simply passes the prisoner his tea with – the prisoner thinks – a quivering twitch in his right cheek, below the eye. The young man perhaps frowns and glares at the prisoner, and then a light flickers in his eye, as he silently grants the humanity of the man held under his watch. The moment of their shared gaze distends and seems to suggest possibilities to both of them: about Egypt’s future, about friendship, about movement outside the walls of Tora prison. But then the young man’s eyes darken and he turns with a grunt, disappears down the corridor, and leaves the prisoner to watch the steam twisting ribbons above the cooling cup of tea, wondering if this young man with the quiver in his cheek will be present when he is interrogated, and perhaps tortured, with hot irons, electric wires, fists and boots and threats to his family.
Our fox will also tell us about the wife of the twenty-eight year old man from the Nile Delta, who follows her husband to Cairo after a day of thinking angrily about the note that he left her. She arrives in Cairo on the Day of Rage, passes through the barricades near the Bridge, and is greeted by cheers and chants of strangers welcoming her to the “free,” the “revolutionaries.” Our fox will tell us of her anger, her very personal rage, first at these enthusiasts, and then at herself, for feeling a stirring of “something that was best in her.” Something in her that has been hibernating since her child’s death reawakens as the strangers greet her with wide smiles and eyes alight with the special glow of exhaustion enflamed by inspiration; something inside her unfurls, stretching hesitant tendrils from her soul toward the hope and community of these strangers. She tells herself the feeling is foolish, narcotic, and false; she tells herself, with the stern inner voice that is always prepared to intervene with a lecture in such moments of possible surrender, that the whole protest movement is foolish and narcotic, selfish, and vain; that men like her husband (how will she ever find him? she wonders) have protests in the same way that other men have affairs. And she will set about finding her husband with a heart full of love that has been mangled beyond recognition by despair and her obstinate commitment to her private sadness. And in this way, she will play her part in the protests of Tahrir Square, and Mubarak’s abdication.
All of these people whose “real lives” take them – for countless reasons and according to an endless string of causes – to Tahrir Square, play a part in the swarm, and are moved along with the force that exceeds them, but which they help to compose. And through sketching a teenage boy and girl, a struggling young couple, a middle aged blogger and, perhaps, a liberal grandmother whose son works in Mubarak’s administration, we get as close as we ever will to sensing the momentum and purpose of the swarm.
War and Peace points to the way that a literary account, a tangle of form and content, might represent this movement, while also representing attempts to represent and understand the movement. War and Peace improvises around our human inability to fully see the relationship between the two sides of man, and our inability to understand the strange combination of all these individual people. If we agree with Tolstoy (and we don’t have to), and we believe that the protesters in Tahrir Square act under illusions of distinction and agency, while merely fulfilling roles prescribed by the momentum of the swarm they unconsciously produce, we also sense, with Tolstoy, that the only way to begin to grasp the shifting force of history is to understand, as a novelist does, the “souls” of these men, women, and children who lived for eighteen days in Tahrir Square.
1 Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Trans Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Vintage, 2008. p 605. Subsequent quotes will be attributed in the text, with parenthetical citations.
2 James, Henry. “Preface” to The Tragic Muse. New York: Penguin Classics, 1995. p 4.
3 qtd in Mike Giglio, “The Facebook Freedom Fighter.” Newsweek 13 February 2011. Web. 1 April 2011. http://www.newsweek.com/2011/02/13/the-facebook-freedom-fighter.html
4 Fahim, Kareem, and Mona El-Naggar. “Emotions of a Reluctant Hero Galvanize Protesters” The New York Times. 8 February 2011. Web. 20 April 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/world/middleeast/09ghonim.html
5 See his op-ed to the Christian Science Monitor: “A Nobel Peace Prize for Twitter?” Christian Science Monitor. 6 July 2009.
Web. 26 April 2011. http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2009/0706/p09s02-coop.html
6 ”The Russian Point of View.” The Common Reader: First Series. New York: Harcourt, 1953. p 185.
7 Lubbock, Percy. The Craft of Fiction. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1921. p 35
8 qtd. in Boris Eikhenbaum, Tolstoi in the Sixties. Trans Duffield White. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis, 1982. p 229. (We should perhaps weigh this particularly harsh appraisal against the recollection that Tolstoy and Turgenev were estranged at the time, following a quarrel in 1861 sparked by Tolstoy’s crudely-voiced disapproval of Turgenev’s parenting methods, after which Tolstoy challenged Turgenev to a duel. For full details of the drama, see pp 171-174 in A.N. Wilson’s Tolstoy [New York: Norton, 1998].)
9 “He repeats himself! And he philosophizes!” Flaubert, Gustave. Lettres inédites à Tourguéneff. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 1946. p 218.
10 Eikhenbaum, 196.
11 Berlin, Isaiah. The Hedgehog and the Fox: An essay on Tolstoy’s view of history. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1953. p 3. Subsequent quotes will be attributed in the text, with parenthetical citations.
12 April 23, 1876 letter to Strakhov; qtd p 49 in Natasha Sankovitch, Creating and Recovering Experience:: repetition in Tolstoy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.)
13 qtd in Eikhenbaum, p 126.
14 Wilson discusses this regression of the historical setting on p 188, and 217-220. Eikhenbaum goes into great detail about Tolstoy’s drafting and revising of the book that became War and Peace, throughout his book, but especially pp 115-127.
15 “Words Apropos of the book War and Peace.” Appendix to the Pevear and Volkonsky translation, 1217.
16 Eikhenbaum 239.
17 I should note, here, that both Lukács and Bakhtin say quite a lot about Tolstoy and War and Peace, and that my reading of the book alongside their theories does not align with their own appraisals of War and Peace. This does not seem to me to be a problem; my paper is what its author wanted to express, in the form in which it is expressed (Tolstoy’s cheeky apologia applies to my paper as a whole, which is not strictly academic, still less is it journalism, still less is it the collection of stories it imagines).
18 Lukács, György. The Theory of the Novel: a historico-philosophical essay on the forms of great epic literature. Trans. Anna Bostock. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1971. 30-35. Subsequent quotes will be attributed in the text, with parenthetical citations.
19 Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. See esp pp 47-49. Subsequent quotes will be attributed in the text, with parenthetical citations.