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War and Peace and Tolstoy's View of History

Powerful Essays
War and Peace and Tolstoy's View of History

Count Lev Tolstoy wrote abundantly on the philosophical issues that he felt were universally important. One of the most prolific examples of this is his view of history. This is set out most clearly and most famously in his largest work, War and Peace. As Tolstoy claimed himself in a public statement on the work, 'War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express in that form in which it was expressed.' Not only do the themes and incidents in the novel reflect his theory of history, Tolstoy iterates this in less narrative terms in the twelve chapters of the Second Epilogue, described as, 'A general discussion on the historians' study of human life, and on the difficulty of defining the forces that move nations. The problem of freewill and necessity.' The view of history explored by Tolstoy has had few sympathisers and copious critics. Tolstoy predicts this disagreement earlier in War and Peace in his description of 'the life of a bee':

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...The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension. All that is accessible to man is the relation of life to the bee to other manifestations of life. And so it is with the purpose of historical characters and nations.

This presupposition of the impossibility of a total, ultimate view of history helps to explain why Tolstoy, in his view of human actio...

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...rriere, Tolstoy's Pierre Bezukhov - A Psychoanalytical Study, Melksham: Bristol Classical Press, 1993.

Helen Edna Davis, Tolstoy and Nietzsche, New York: Haskell House Publishers Ltd., 1929.

I Cannot be Silent - Writings on Politics, Art and Religion by Leo Tolstoy, Chippenham: The Bristol Press, 1989.

E. H. Carr, What is History?, St Ives: Penguin Books, 1987.

Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Notes

1 F.F. Seeley, Tolstoy's Philosophy of History, From, Ed. Malcolm Jones, New Essays on Tolstoy, Bristol: Cambridge University Press, 1978, p. 176.

2 Ibid., pp. 178 - 183.

3 Edward Wasiolek, War and Peace: The Theoretical Chapters, From, Ed. Harold Bloom, Modern Critical Interpretations - War and Peace, New York, Chelsea House Publishers, 1988, pp. 92 - 97.
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