War and Peace

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
War and Peace
Original Title: Война и миръ
Written by: Leo Tolstoy
Central Theme: Russians being russians in the early XIX Century.
Synopsis: War and Peace defies summary.
Genre(s): Historical novel
First published: 1869
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"I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."
"Tolstoy carelessly neglects to include a boat race."

It is the year 1805. Napoleon Bonaparte has installed himself as Emperor of France, and he makes war on Austria and Russia in his bid to establish France as the supreme nation on Earth. In Petersburg, Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of Count Kirill Vladimirovich Bezukhov, attends a soirée at Anna Pavlovna's, a maid of honor to the Russian empress. On St. Natalya's Day, guests gather at the Rostov mansion at Otradnoe to pay their respects to Countess Rostov and her daughter Natasha. Some days later, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky declares to his father that he is going to join the Russian military and achieve glory, just as Napoleon did...

Okay, we give up. War and Peace defies summary. Anyone who has read the book inevitably fumbles trying to explain what it's about. That paragraph up there? That's an oversimplification of the introductory chapters. It leaves out Princess Drubetskaya's approaching Prince Vassily Kuragin at Anna's soirée to ask a favor in getting her son into a high, safe position in the military. It leaves out the play of the children at Otradnoe after-hours, and the Childhood Marriage Promises that result. It leaves out how Andrei is leaving behind a pregnant wife with his father and sister while he goes out looking for glory. It leaves out how three ruffians tie a policeman to a bear and throw both of them off a bridge while drunk.

Famous for its massive size and alleged unreadability. Oh, and did we mention it was written by Leo Tolstoy? It was.

Note: Due to a version of Spell My Name with an "S", translations over the years have listed the character names with minor differences in spelling, and this is reflected in some examples on the wiki. For example, Maria=Marya, Nikolai=Nicholas, Andrei=Andrew, and so on.

The book was adapted to film several times. The 1956 American version, starring Audrey Hepburn as Natasha cut out a lot of things so it was only 208 minutes long. The Soviet version made in the 1960s by Sergei Bondarchuk was more accurate. It was released in four parts, with a total running time of over 8 hours. With inflation taken into account, it's the most expensive film in history.

WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Tropes used in War and Peace include:
  • Adorkable: Pierre.
  • An Aesop: You know Magnificent Bastards? No, none of those here.
  • Apron Matron: Marya Akhrosimova.
  • Arranged Marriage: The Rostovs attempt to get Nikolai hitched with plenty of other girls, that meddlesome Childhood Marriage Promise to Sonya notwithstanding.
    • Pierre's marriage to Elena Kuragin also counts.
  • Author Avatar: Pierre and Prince Andrei are both avatars of Leo Tolstoy, or are in part based on him.
  • Author Filibuster: The book becomes less fiction as it goes on and more philosophy of history essay.
    • There's an entire second epilogue devoted to tearing down the Great Man of History theory that was in vogue in the 19th century. It comes after all of the plot has been resolved, feel free to skip it considering that Tolstoy is rehashing the exact same argument he made in the book and you've already read one of the longest works of fiction in existence.
  • Badass Bookworm: Pierre, a shy, clumsy, overweight, myopic intellectual, happens to be remarkably strong and also very brave.
  • Battle Royale With Cheese: The action at Schöngraben, the battle of Austerlitz, most played straight with the Battle of Borodino.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Thoroughly averted when it comes to female characters. The beautiful ones are either outright evil (Hélène) or just selfish and shallow, like Vera, Mlle Bourrienne or Sonya.
  • Beta Couple: In the Distant Finale, Nikolai and Marya to Pierre and Natasha.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Pierre. For all his shy and gentle character, he is not above turning into a roaring monster when angered.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: The Russian aristocracy spoke primarily in French, and this is dutifully replicated. There are also snippets of German.
  • Break the Cutie: Anatole likes the women. Poor Natasha...
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Between Helene and Anatole.
  • The Caretaker: Princess Marya Bolkonsky.
  • Casanova: Anatole Kuragin.
  • The Cassandra
  • Character Filibuster: Plenty of 'em, usually when they're arguing with each other.
  • The Chessmaster: Prince Vassily Kuragin is a sort of social Chessmaster who engineers plots to further or consolidate his station in life. Also, every single general in Kutuzov's staff after the Battle of Borodino fancies himself a Chessmaster.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Nikolai and Sonya.
  • Christmas Episode: There is, in fact, a part or several chapters entirely devoted to the Rostovs at Christmastime after Nikolai returns from a tour of duty.
  • Cincinnatus: Field Marshal Kutuzov.
  • The Clan
  • Colonel Badass: Count Dokhturov exemplifies the trope, but any competent field general in the book has traits of Colonel Badass.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: A favorite activity of Pierre's.
  • The Cutie: Natasha Rostov.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The diplomat Bilibin.
  • Death by Childbirth: Lise, Prince Andrei's wife.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Julie Karagin cannot speak her own language, and Anatole's French is lacking.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose In Life: Pierre and Prince Andrei prevalently, everyone else implicitly.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Prince Bagration at Schongraben, despite his army being massacred, has this odd calm to him. Captain Tushin is more Psychopathic Manchild and doesn't seem to realize he should have retreated hours ago.
  • Distant Finale: About eight years after the final events of the main novel.
  • Doorstopper: This is a big book. It clocks in at over 8,000 pages, the versions you'll see in the store have smaller fonts so it can cram more in per page and still be bound in a single volume.
    • To the point that it is often the memetic example for 'longest book'. Often used in Peanuts for example.
    • The audiobook version clocks in at 7 parts of 8+ hours each, for a grand total of roughly 55 hours. By comparison, you can get done with similarly noted doorstopper Moby Dick in under 24.
    • Understandable, since Tolstoy originally planned War and Peace to span 5 books.
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Eccentric Mentor: Platon Karataev.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Dolokhov.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Rostov children have an "Uncle." We're never told what side of the family or even if the guy has a name.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: And Princes. Lots of both.
  • Evil Chancellor: Doubly subverted with Speransky.
  • Fish Out of Water: Pierre, early in the book, in any social scene that doesn't involve heavy drinking and the boys.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know Napoleon's invasion of Russia fails. And if we didn't, Tolstoy tells us it fails before it happens.
  • Funetik Aksent: Vaska Denisov has a stghrange tic of pghronunciation.
    • Most likely that's a bad attempt of imitating French pronunciation when speaking Russian (very fashionable at the time). Many Russian nobles had a similar accent throughout the XIX century. Even Vladimir Lenin spoke like that.
  • Gambit Pileup: The Author Tract concerns this.
  • Girls with Moustaches: Princess Lisa Bolkonskaya has a small moustache and Tolstoy keeps going on and on about how beautiful it is and how charming it makes her.
  • Goth: Julie Karagin, sort of. While Goth subculture as we know it didn't exist back then, Gothic literature certainly did.
  • Hello, Nurse!: Elena Kuragin, or Hélène, is the most beautiful woman on Earth. There's a reason War and Peace doesn't have pictures.
  • Historical Fiction
  • Humphrey: Dolokhov.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Rostov family slowly descends into this as it attempts to live beyond its means.
  • Inferred Holocaust: While arguing with Pierre, a character who disagrees with him acknowledges that he does have a point, referencing the story of Napoleon's giving aid to the plague-stricken. To those who know what happened in Real Life, however, this line is considerably more ironic and chilling...
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted; Anatole doesn't quite get away with his shenanigans scot-free.
    • Dolokhov, on the other hand, does.
  • Large and In Charge: Subverted with Kutuzov, an old fat man who inspires absolute zilch in his troops.
  • Last-Minute Hookup
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Something like 580 named characters, serving out their roles throughout the story. Maybe a fifth of those are present in the whole book.
    • Made worse for non-Russian speakers in that each character has loads of nicknames or is referred to by their patronymic. For example, Nikolai Rostov is also Nikolushka, Nikolinka, and Kolya.
  • Lost in Translation: The title. "Mir" means not only peace but also an archaic word for "world" or "land", giving the title a second (and ostensibly the true, from author's POV) meaning, "War and the World".
  • Love Dodecahedron: Natasha is at the center of one involving both Author Avatar characters (Andrei and Pierre).
  • Love Triangle: There's the Pierre/Hélène/Natasha, the Nikolai/Sonya/Marya, and the Natasha/Andrei/Anatole.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Dolokhov.
  • Modern Major-General: Weyrother at Austerlitz.
  • Nerds Are Sexy
  • Nice to the Waiter: Natasha's capricious nature is revealed in the way she constantly asks the hired help to perform pointless menial tasks just because she can. One could say that this foreshadows the whole affair with Anatole...
  • No Ending
  • No Name Given
  • Noodle Incident: Dolokhov at one point has "Persian adventures", but this also applies to the various historical events the characters continuously refer to, events no one who didn't live in the early 1800s or isn't a professor of European history with a specialization on the pre-Industrial Revolution era can remember now.
  • Not Quite Dead: Prince Andrei is left for dead after Austerlitz, but makes quite the recovery after people assume he's dead.
  • The Noun and the Noun
  • Number of the Beast: Napoleon's name, calculated in a certain way, adds up to 666. This is brought up in the book.
    • The real Boney had such an uncanny ability to manipulate people into willingly acting as his catspaws, added to his military genius that one might pardon people at the time for wondering if he really WAS the antichrist.
      • Not to mention the Gigantic Comet that was going across the sky as Napoleon was conquering Europe. People honestly believed that the end of days might be close at hand.
    • Also parodied with Pierre Bezukhov. Pierre wants to believe that he is the Chosen One destined to defeat Napoleon, and tries to write his name in such a way as to get the 666 sum. After several attempts he succeeds... but he cheats by using the wrong French article.
  • The Obi-Wan: Osip Bazdeev.
  • Obi-Wan Moment: Osip Bazdeev goes out relatively quietly in his bed, Platon Karataev goes out shot by the French in an unusual moment of calm for him.
    • Prince Andrei seems to have one relatively early in the book, but it's then subverted by the fact that he doesn't actually die.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Captain Ramballe of the French invasion.
  • Once More with Endnotes: They would be true Noodle Incidents without these.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted - there are plenty of Nikolais and Timokhins to go around. Usually because the offspring of one set of characters seems to get the names of their still-living grandparents.
  • Patronymic
  • The Philosopher: Pierre, Andrei at moments, Speransky, and it goes on...
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Andrei and the entire Russian army.
  • Pretty in Mink: Hey, it's Russia.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Sonya's vision of Prince Andrei's death, young Nikolai's dream about the Decembrists. Pierre has his share of these, too.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Captain Ramballe.
  • Put on a Bus: Happens to everyone besides main characters at one point or another.
  • The Siege: Averted; everyone expects Kutuzov to hold Moscow against a French siege, and he instead abandons the city.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: The characters are all realistically written and have depth, but the society the story takes place in makes this squarely level 3.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: There's a character for every point on the scale; the book falls into the middle because of this.
  • Smug Snake: The Emperor Napoleon.
  • Stepford Smiler: Countess Rostov. Not at first, but increasingly so later on.
  • The Strategist: Pfuel.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: At least two, the famous one being between Pierre and Dolokhov.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: How many ways are there to introduce yourself? As many languages as you know, of course!
  • Took a Level in Badass: Happens to different characters, Dolokhov and Nikolai Rostov stand out.
  • Twitchy Eye: A habit of the old Prince Bolkonsky. The other characters aren't sure if it's just him or some sort of mental disease.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: When Old Count Bezukhov dies, everything goes to his bastard[1] son Pierre--the house, the title, the money, everything. His three stepsisters are unpleasantly surprised, to say the least.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Sonya.
  • Upper Class Twit: Ippolit Kuragin didn't get the good looks or manipulative minds of his siblings Anatole and Hélène. He makes up for it by being an idiot.
  • Warrior Poet: Prince Andrei turns into this after Austerlitz.
  • Will They or Won't They?
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Princess Marya.
  1. legitimized in the will