I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace today. Under all those layers of war and peace and rye biscuits, there’s quite a story, isn’t there?
Now, no one is saying it’s not a good book, but I thought it could be a little more accessible if it was stripped completely of context, history, and the human condition for no reason whatsoever and turned into a modest novella of fleeting vignettes.
Forget what you know about War and Peace, and if you don’t know anything to begin with then now is definitely not the time to learn. Instead, I invite you to simply follow my respectful, lightly edited interpretation. All material from the novel, while entirely removed from any frame of reference and therefore textual accuracy, is completely unedited. The chapter headings in bold though, are — perhaps obviously — all mine.
WAR AND PEACE, A NOVELLA
“You know Sonya’s my dearest friend. Such a friend that I burned my arm for her sake. Look here!” She pulled up her muslin sleeve and showed him a red scar on her long, slender, delicate arm, high above the elbow on that part that is covered even by a ball dress. “I burned this to prove my love for her. I just heated a ruler in the fire and pressed it there.”
2. Pierre Is A Gloomy Petulant Teen
“Are you content with yourself and with your life?”
“No, I hate my life,” Pierre muttered, wincing.
“You can’t help thinking. I go to bed after two in the morning, thoughts come and I can’t sleep but toss about till dawn, because I think and can’t help thinking… Everything seems hateful to me… myself most of all. Then I don’t eat, don’t wash… and how is it with you?”
3. Pierre Gets Thoroughly Owned By His Wife
“And how could you believe he was my lover? Why? Because I like his company? If you were cleverer and more agreeable, I should prefer yours…I tell you plainly that there are not many wives with husbands such as you who would not have taken lovers”
A week later Pierre gave his wife full power to control all his estates in Great Russia, which formed the larger part of his property, and left for Petersburg alone.
4. Men Can Have It All
“No, life is not over at thirty-one!” Prince Andrew suddenly decided, finally and decisively.
5. We Are In Fact All Gloomy Petulant Teens Here
She was finishing her last prayer: “Can it be that this couch will be my grave?”
“Death gives relief and death is peaceful.
Ah! from suffering there is no other refuge.”
Julia said this was charming, “There is something so enchanting in the smile of melancholy,” she said to Boris, repeating word for word a passage she had copied from a book.
6. Berg Knows Where It’s At Though
Berg rose and embraced his wife carefully, so as not to crush her lace fichu for which he had paid a good price.
7. An Immature Interlude
“Who are you talking about?”
“About your sister,” ejaculated Denisov testily.
While they were talking a maid thrust her head in at the other door of the sitting room.
“They have brought the cock, Miss,” she said in a whisper.
“It isn’t wanted, Petya. Tell them to take it away.”
“And how does one do it in a barn?” inquired Sonya.
“Well, say you went to the barn now, and listened. It depends on what you hear; hammering and knocking that’s bad; but a sound of shifting grain is good and one sometimes hears that, too.”
“Mamma, tell us what happened to you in the barn.”
Pelageya Danilovna smiled.
“Oh, I’ve forgotten…” she replied.
8. Natasha Loves Everyone
“Don’t talk about it, Natasha. It wasn’t your fault so why should you mind? Kiss me,” said Sonya.
Natasha raised her head and, kissing her friend on the lips, pressed her wet face against her.
“Wonderful!” answered Natasha. “She’s a woman one could easily fall in love with.”
Natasha rose and curtsied to the splendid countess. She was so pleased by praise from this brilliant beauty that she blushed with pleasure.
She heard in the drawing room the animated sounds of her father’s voice and another’s, a woman’s, that made her flush. It was Helene.
Natasha had not time to take off the bodice before the door opened and Countess Bezukhova, dressed in a purple velvet gown with a high collar, came into the room beaming with good-humoured amiable smiles.
“Oh, my enchantress!” she cried to the blushing Natasha.
She did not cease chattering good-naturedly and gaily, continually praising Natasha’s beauty. She looked at Natasha’s dresses and praised them, as well as a new dress of her own made of ‘metallic gauze,’ which she had received from Paris, and advised Natasha to have one like it.
“But anything suits you, my charmer!” she remarked.
A smile of pleasure never left Natasha’s face. She felt happy and as if she were blossoming under the praise of this dear Countess Bezukhova who had formerly seemed to her so unapproachable and important and was now so kind to her. Natasha brightened up and felt almost in love with this woman, who was so beautiful and so kind.
9. Sonya Loves Natasha
As she read she glanced at the sleeping Natasha, trying to find in her face an explanation of what she was reading, but did not find it. Her face was calm, gentle, and happy. Clutching her breast to keep herself from choking, Sonya, pale and trembling with fear and agitation, sat down in an armchair and burst into tears.
Natasha awoke and saw Sonya.
“Ah, you’re back?”
And with the decision and tenderness that often come at the moment of awakening, she embraced her friend.
“Go away, Sonya! I don’t want to quarrel with you, but go, for God’s sake go! You see how I am suffering!” Natasha cried angrily, in a voice of despair and repressed irritation. Sonya burst into sobs and ran from the room.
“I don’t trust him, Natasha. Why this secrecy?”
“Again, again!” interrupted Natasha.
“Natasha, I am afraid for you!”
“Afraid of what?”
“I am afraid you’re going to your ruin,” said Sonya resolutely, and was herself horrified at what she had said.
Anger again showed in Natasha’s face.
“And I’ll go to my ruin, I will, as soon as possible! It’s not your business! It won’t be you, but I, who’ll suffer. Leave me alone, leave me alone! I hate you!”
10. Things Look Up For Sonya
Rostov had received a letter from his parents in which they told him briefly of Natasha’s illness and the breaking off of her engagement to Prince Andrew (which they explained by Natasha’s having rejected him.)
11. Gonna Take My Horse To
The Old Smolensk Road
12. An Interlude From Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
“What swells they are!”
“Don’t mess Mary Hendrikhovna’s dress!” cried other voices.
A small samovar was produced and a cellaret and half a bottle of rum, and having asked Mary Hendrikhovna to preside, they all crowded round her. One offered her a clean handkerchief to wipe her charming hands, another spread a jacket under her little feet to keep them from the damp, another hung his coat over the window to keep out the draft, and yet another waved the flies off her husband’s face, lest he should wake up.
“It is not the sugar I want, but only that your little hand should stir my tea.”
Mary Hendrikhovna assented and began looking for the spoon which someone meanwhile had pounced on.
“Use your finger, Mary Hendrikhovna, it will be still nicer,” said Rostov.
“Too hot!” she replied, blushing with pleasure.
Rostov took a pack of cards and proposed that they should play ‘Kings’ with Mary Hendrikhovna. They drew lots to settle who should make up her set. At Rostov’s suggestion it was agreed that whoever became ‘King’ should have the right to kiss Mary Hendrikhovna’s hand, and that the ‘Booby’ should go to refill and reheat the samovar for the doctor when the latter awoke.
“Well, but supposing Mary Hendrikhovna is ‘King’?” asked Ilyin.
“As it is, she is Queen, and her word is law!”
13. God Damn It, Pierre
No one any longer took notice of Pierre. Once or twice he was shouted at for being in the way.
14. War Sucks More When You’re Handsome
The handsome boy adjutant with the long hair sighed deeply without removing his hand from his hat and galloped back to where men were being slaughtered.
15. Napoleon and Prince Andrew Are Also Sullen and Petulant
Napoleon shrugged his shoulders and continued to pace up and down without replying.
“Now then, what do you want?” asked Napoleon in the tone of a man irritated at being continually disturbed.
“Sire, the prince…” began the adjutant.
“Asks for reinforcements?” said Napoleon with an angry gesture.
Prince Andrew, pale and gloomy like everyone in the regiment, paced up and down from the border of one patch to another, at the edge of the meadow beside an oat field, with head bowed and arms behind his back. There was nothing for him to do and no orders to be given.
Can this be death? thought Prince Andrew, looking with a quite new, envious glance at the grass.
16. Wolzogen Thinks He’s Sooooo Great Though
Wolzogen, nonchalantly stretching his legs, approached Kutuzov with a half-contemptuous smile on his lips, scarcely touching the peak of his cap.
He treated his Serene Highness with a somewhat affected nonchalance intended to show that, as a highly trained military man, he left it to Russians to make an idol of this useless old man, but that he knew whom he was dealing with.
17. Everyone In This Book Is Gay
As soon as Prince Andrew opened his eyes, the doctor bent over, kissed him silently on the lips, and hurried away.
After the sufferings he had been enduring, Prince Andrew enjoyed a blissful feeling such as he had not experienced for a long time.
Above all, they were gay because there was a war near Moscow, there would be fighting at the town gates, arms were being given out, everybody was escaping, going away somewhere, and in general something extraordinary was happening, and that is always exciting, especially to the young.
18. These Are Very Hard Times
“Yes, these are very hard times!” said Berg.
In a queenless hive no life is left though to a superficial glance it seems as much alive as other hives.
The bees circle round a queenless hive in the hot beams of the midday sun as gaily as around the living hives; from a distance it smells of honey like the others, and bees fly in and out in the same way. But one has only to observe that hive to realise that there is no longer any life in it. The bees do not fly in the same way, the smell and the sound that meet the beekeeper are not the same. To the beekeeper’s tap on the wall of the sick hive, instead of the former instant unanimous humming of tens of thousands of bees with their abdomens threateningly compressed, and producing by the rapid vibration of their wings an aerial living sound, the only reply is a disconnected buzzing from different parts of the deserted hive. From the alighting board, instead of the former spirituous fragrant smell of honey and venom, and the warm whiffs of crowded life, comes an odour of emptiness and decay mingling with the smell of honey.
“There’s a fight, lads!” And, still rolling up his sleeve, he went out to the porch.
The lad with the turned-up sleeve gave the smith a blow in the face and cried wildly: “They’re fighting us, lads!”
21. Why Do I Suck So Much
Why did I utter those words? It was by some accident I said them…. I need not have said them, he thought. And then nothing would have happened.
22. Natasha Is At It Again
Princess Mary raised her head, dried her eyes, and turned to Natasha. She felt that from her she would be able to understand and learn everything.
“How…” she began her question but stopped short.
She felt that it was impossible to ask, or to answer, in words. Natasha’s face eyes would eyes would have to tell her all more clearly and profoundly.
Natasha was gazing at her, but seemed afraid and in doubt whether to say all she knew or not; she seemed to feel that before those luminous eyes which penetrated into the very depths of her heart, it was impossible not to tell the whole truth which she saw. And suddenly, Natasha’s lips twitched, ugly wrinkles gathered round her mouth, and covering her face with her hands she burst into sobs.
Princess Mary understood.
23. Petya Is At It Again
Petya was standing at the door when Denisov said this. He slipped in between the officers, came close to Denisov, and said: “Let me kiss you, dear old fellow! Oh, how fine, how splendid!”
And having kissed Denisov he ran out of the hut.
Petya seized hold of him.
“Really!” he cried, “you are such a hero! Oh, how fine, how splendid! How I love you!”
“All right, all right!” said Dolokhov. But Petya did not let go of him and Dolokhov saw through the gloom that Petya was bending toward him and wanted to kiss him. Dolokhov kissed him, laughed, turned his horse, and vanished into the darkness.
Natasha lay on the bed and in the semi-darkness of the room scanned Princess Mary’s face.
Is she like him? thought Natasha. Yes, like and yet not like. But she is quite original, strange, new, and unknown. And she loves me. What is in her heart? All that is good. But how? What is her mind like? What does she think about me? Yes, she is splendid!
“Mary,” she said timidly, drawing Princess Mary’s hand to herself, “Mary, you mustn’t think me wicked. No? Mary darling, how I love you! Let us be quite, quite friends.”
And Natasha, embracing her, began kissing her face and hands, making Princess Mary feel shy but happy by this demonstration of her feelings.
From that day a tender and passionate friendship such as exists only between women was established between Princess Mary and Natasha. They were continually kissing and saying tender things to one another and spent most of their time together. When one went out the other became restless and hastened to rejoin her. Together they felt more in harmony with one another than either of them felt with herself when alone. A feeling stronger than friendship sprang up between them; an exclusive feeling of life being possible only in each other’s presence.
Sometimes they were silent for hours; sometimes after they were already in bed they would begin talking and go on till morning. They spoke most of what was long past. Princess Mary spoke of her childhood, of her mother, her father, and her daydreams; and Natasha, who with a passive lack of understanding had formerly turned away from that life of devotion, submission, and the poetry of Christian self-sacrifice, now feeling herself bound to Princess Mary by affection, learned to love her past too and to understand a side of life previously incomprehensible to her.
25. A Bear, Lads
“A bear, lads,” said one of the men.
A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people. A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers. A beekeeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey. Another beekeeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely says that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race. A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilises the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bee’s existence. Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee.
27. On War
“I do not, and did not, desire war,” he continued, “but it has been forced on me.”
28. On Peace
“No peace, damn them!” he muttered, angry he knew not with whom.
29. On War and Peace and
“Awkward baggage!” he added reproachfully.
“Thank God, there is no more of that!”
Chapter 1 p517; Chapter 2 pp613, 622, 670; Chapter 3 pp552–3; Chapter 4 p738; Chapter 5 pp789, 972; Chapter 6 p823; Chapter 7 pp579, 920, 932; Chapter 8 pp986, 991, 997, 1011; Chapter 9 pp1023, 1026, 1028; Chapter 10 p1144; Chapter 11 p1853; Chapter 12 pp1150, 1152; Chapter 13 p1418; Chapter 14 p1429; Chapter 15 pp1430, 1444–5; Chapter 16 p1438 Chapter 17 p1451; Chapter 18 p1502 Chapter 19p1560; Chapter 20 pp 1572–3; Chapter 21 p1595; Chapter 22 p1738; Chapter 23 pp1866, 1877; Chapter 24 pp1902–3; Chapter 25 p1959; Chapter 26 p2033; Chapter 27 p1099; Chapter 28 p1230; Chapter 29 p1417; Chapter 30p 1502.