Tolstoy replays history

A783b100-cd65-11e4_1136684hAndrei Zorin at the Times Literary Supplement:

The first instalments of the text that would later be known as War and Peace were published 150 years ago in the journal Russkii vestnik (The Russian Herald), under the title 1805. With this title, Tolstoy emphatically shifted his focus away from the novel’s main characters or message to its temporal dimension. In fact, Tolstoy seems to have been the first major author in world history to have tried to make a year the protagonist of a novel (Victor Hugo’s 1793 appeared nine years later). Yet, as was evident to readers from the very beginning, the narrative was always destined to spill over to the following years, and thus the title of the novel was bound to change. The reader’s attention was to be focused not on the isolated period defined in the title, but on the flow of history itself.

Indeed, from the start of his work on the future War and Peace, Tolstoy was particularly eager to distinguish his venture from a conventional novel. In all three variants of the introduction that he drafted more or less simultaneously with the early versions of the first chapters, he insisted that his book defied generic categorization. Draft One: “Traditions both of form and content oppressed me . . . . I was afraid that my writing would fall into no existing genre, that it would be neither novel, nor tale, neither long poem, nor history”. Draft Two: “We Russians in general do not know how to write novels in the sense in which this genre is understood in Europe . . . . with a plot that has growing complexity, intrigue and a happy or unhappy denouement”.

more here.