100 Days of War and Peace


Following on other successful community reading projects, The City of Literature now invites you to join us for “100 Days of War and Peace.” Spend the 100 days between Feb. 1 and May 10, 2021, reading Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel with fellow readers from across the globe.

The project is again led by Anna Barker, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Iowa, who led our reading projects with The Decameron, Paradise Lost, and Gilgamesh in 2020. The main conversation will take place on the special Facebook group created for the project, but you also can follow along with the assigned readings here, as well as participate in discussion on a message board hosted on our website.

Zoom chats
Anna will lead a Zoom discussion of each volume as it concludes.
Volume One
Volume Two
Volume Three
Leo Tolstoy biography talk

Volume Four and wrap-up is scheduled for 4 p.m. CDT on Friday, May 21. Register here.

The official version of the book that will be used is the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, but you can follow along with any version you have on hand. You can find a free, downloadable version at Project Gutenberg: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Anna has written a number of introductions to various aspects of the book as we gear up for the Feb. 1 start, so read below to learn more about the context of this great work of modern literature.

Reading schedule

Feb. 1: Volume One, Part One, Chapters I, II, III
Feb. 2: Volume One, Part One, Chapters IV and V
Feb. 3: Volume One, Part One, Chapter VI
Feb. 4: Volume One, Part One, Chapters VII, VIII, IX, X, XI
Feb. 5: Volume One, Part One, Chapters XII, XIII, XIV, XV
Feb. 6: Volume One, Part One, Chapters XVI, XVII, XVIII
Feb. 7: Volume One, Part One, Chapters XIX, XX, XXI
Feb. 8: Volume One, Part One, Chapters XXII and XXIII
Feb. 9: Volume One, Part One, Chapters XXIV and XXV
Feb. 10: Volume One, Part Two, Chapters I and II
Feb. 11: Volume One, Part Two, Chapters III, IV, and V
Feb. 12: Volume One, Part Two, Chapters VI, VII, VIII
Feb. 13: Volume One, Part Two, Chapters IX, X, XI
Feb. 14: Volume One, Part Two, Chapters XII, XIII, XIV
Feb. 15: Volume One, Part Two, Chapters XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII
Feb. 16: Volume One, Part Two, Chapters XIX, XX
Feb. 17: Volume One, Part Two, Chapter XXI, Part Three, Chapter 1
Feb. 18: Volume One, Part Three, Chapters II, III
Feb. 19: Volume One, Part Three, Chapters IV, V
Feb. 20: Volume One, Part Three, Chapters VI, VII
Feb. 21: Volume One, Part Three, Chapters VIII, IX, X
Feb. 22: Volume One, Part Three, Chapters XI, XII, XIII
Feb. 23: Volume One, Part Three, Chapters XIV, XV, XVI
Feb. 24: Volume One, Part Three, Chapters XVII, XVIII, XIX
Feb. 25: Volume Two, Part One, Chapters I, II
Feb. 26: Volume Two, Part One, Chapters III, IV, V, VI
Feb. 27: Volume Two, Part One, Chapters VII, VIII, IX, X, XI
Feb. 28: Volume Two, Part One, Chapters XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI
March 1: Volume Two, Part Two, Chapters I, II, III
March 2: Volume Two, Part Two, Chapters IV, V, VI, VII, VIII
March 3: Volume Two, Part Two, Chapters IX, X
March 4: Volume Two, Part Two, Chapters XI, XII, XIII
March 5: Volume Two, Part Two, Chapters XIV, XV, XVI, XVII
March 6: Volume Two, Part Two, Chapters XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI
March 7: Volume Two, Part Three, Chapters I, II, III, IV
March 8: Volume Two, Part Three, Chapters V, VI, VII, VIII
March 9: Volume Two, Part Three, Chapters IX, X, XI, XII, XIII
March 10: Volume Two, Part Three, Chapters XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII
March 11: Volume Two, Part Three, Chapters XIX, XX, XXI, XXII
March 12: Volume Two, Part Three, Chapters XIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI
March 13: Volume Two, Part Four, Chapters I, II, III, IV
March 14: Volume Two, Part Four, Chapters V, VI
March 15: Volume Two, Part Four, Chapters VII, VIII, IX
March 16: Volume Two, Part Four, Chapters X, XI, XII, XIII
March 17: Volume Two, Part Five, Chapters I, II, III
March 18: Volume Two, Part Five, Chapters IV, V, VI, VII
March 19: Volume Two, Part Five, Chapters VIII, IX, X, XI
March 20: Volume Two, Part Five, Chapters XII, XIII, XIV, XV
March 21: Volume Two, Part Five, Chapters XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX
March 22: Volume Two, Part Five, Chapters XX, XXI, XXII
March 23: Volume Three, Part One, Chapters I, II, III
March 24: Volume Three, Part One, Chapters IV, V, VI
March 25: Volume Three, Part One, Chapters VII, VIII, IX
March 26: Volume Three, Part One, Chapters X, XI, XII, XIII
March 27: Volume Three, Part One, Chapters XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII
March 28: Volume Three, Part One, Chapters XIX, XX, XXI
March 29: Volume Three, Part One, Chapters XXII, XXIII; Part Two, Chapters I, II
March 30: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters III, IV
March 31: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters V, VI, VII
April 1: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters VIII, IX, X
April 2: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XI, XII, XIII, XIV
April 3: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XV, XVI, XVII
April 4: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XXII, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI
April 5: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI
April 6: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI
April 7: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV, XXXV
April 8: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX
April 9 : Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters I, II, III, IV, V
April 10: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters VI, VII, VIII, IX
April 11: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV
April 12: Volume Three, Part Two, Chapters XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII
April 13: Volume Three, Part Three, Chapters XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII
April 14: Volume Three, Part Three, Chapters XXIV, XXV
April 15: Volume Three, Part Three, Chapters XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII
April 16: Volume Three, Part Three, Chapters XXIX, XXX
April 17: Volume Three, Part Three, Chapters XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII
April 18: Volume Three, Part Three, Chapters XXXIII, XXXIV
April 19: Volume Four, Part One, Chapters I, II, III, IV
April 20: Volume Four, Part One, Chapters V, VI, VII, VIII
April 21: Volume Four, Part One, Chapters IX, X, XI, XII
April 22: Volume Four, Part One, Chapters XIII, XIV, XV, XVI
April 23: Volume Four, Part Two, Chapters I, II, III, IV, V, VI
April 24: Volume Four, Part Two, Chapters VII, VIII, IX, X, XI
April 25: Volume Four, Part Two, Chapters XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI
April 26: Volume Four, Part Two, Chapters XVII, XVIII, XIX; Part Three, Chapters I, II, III
April 27: Volume Four, Part Three, Chapters IV, V, VI, VII, VIII
April 28: Volume Four, Part Three, Chapters IX, X, XI
April 29: Volume Four, Part Three, Chapters XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII
April 30: Volume Four, Part Three, Chapters XIX; Part Four, Chapters I, II, III
May 1: Volume Four, Part Four, Chapters IV, V, VI, VII, VIII
May 2: Volume Four, Part Four, Chapters IX, X, XI, XII
May 3: Volume Four, Part Four, Chapters XIII, XIV, XV, XVI
May 4: Volume Four, Part Four, Chapters XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX
May 5: Epilogue, Part One, Chapters I, II, III, IV, V
May 6: Epilogue, Part One, Chapters VI, VII, VIII, IX
May 7: Epilogue, Part One, Chapters X, XI, XII, XIII
May 8: Epilogue, Part One, Chapters XIV, XV, XVI
May 9: Epilogue, Part Two, Chapters I, II, III, IV
May 10: Epilogue, Part Two, Chapters V, VI, VII, VIII
May 11: Epilogue, Part Two, Chapters IX, X, XI, XII
May 12: Appendix, A Few Words Apropos of the Book War and Peace

Introduction 1

Napoleon I statue in Cherbourg-Octeville, unveiled by Napoleon III in 1858.

What better way of starting our journey through the snowy pages of Tolstoy’s War and Peace than on the sunny beaches of the Mediterranean island of Corsica where Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769. Remarkably, Napoleon was conceived as a citizen of the Corsican Republic – a newly independent former territory of Genoa – and was born a citizen of France, after the French royalist forces defeated the Corsican republican forces in the Battle of Ponte Novu on May 8-9, 1769. And just as remarkably, these multiple identities and political allegiances shaped Napoleon for the rest of his life.

In France, he was always an outsider who spoke French with an accent. A young man who was the beneficiary of a French Military Academy scholarship during the waning years of the Bourbon monarchy, he started his military career in the service of the French Republic – yet was seduced by the lure of power, established the First French Empire and crowned himself its first emperor.

A huge fan of Julius Caesar, Napoleon worshiped the late Roman Republic’s greatest general’s legacy and considered himself Caesar’s direct intellectual and ideological descendant. After all, since Caesar, who was not French, could conquer Gaulle – future France – then so can the non-French Napoleon! A copy of Caesar’s Conquest of Gaulle, his account of his military champagne, will make an appearance on the shelf of one of the characters of War and Peace – and it just happens to be Napoleon’s favorite book – Tolstoy knows stuff! (I will point out the page number and line when we get to that chapter of War and Peace!)

And, Napoleon will end his life very similarly to its beginning – an islander – a prisoner-dweller of the distant island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, under constant guard of the English authorities, far away from the world of global politics which he learned to control and subordinate to his interests for over a decade. An islander who ends his life on an island, a brilliant military commander who serves a republic yet usurps monarchist power, a cultural, linguistic, and political outsider, who becomes the greatest unifier of Europe since the times of the Roman Empire and the most consequential European ruler since Charlemagne (748-814 CE), Napoleon is the most fascinating and controversial figure of the Nineteenth Century! But what was he doing in Russia in 1812?! Not so fast, my dear reader!

Statue of Napoleon as a Roman Consul, Piazza Foch, Ajaccio, Corsica.

 I realize that many of you started reading War and Peace in the past and allowed Tolstoy to demoralize you! Don’t let him – he is very good at it – his collected works at the University of Iowa Library consist of 90 – yes NINETY – volumes! This time you will finish this gorgeous monster of a novel – and that’s that!

This is my 16th or 17th time teaching it – in addition, I organized 2 public readings of War and Peace – in 2012 when we commemorated the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and in 2019 when we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the novel’s publication. Each time it took 120-130 readers, 53-55 hours and 4-5 days to read the entire novel out loud – we always stopped for the night because we are only human!

I teach many other authors annually – from Homer and Milton to Goethe and Dostoevsky – but War and Peace is just special. It always awakens the dormant military commander in me who is compelled to lead gushing crowds of readers in to battle with Tolstoy’s vast and sprawling talent and Napoleon’s monumental and flawed genius! Quoting the immortal Shakespeare and the indefatigable Lady Macbeth: “But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” This shall be our motto for all 100 days of War and Peace!

My copy of War and Peace, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation, first edition – and a totally useless Napoleon bookmark!!!

One more helpful reading tip – copy the character list from your edition of War and Peace – and keep it in front of you as you are reading/listening to the book. Yes, all those endless lists of first names and family names and patronymic names and nicknames – both French and Russian – can be daunting to say the least! But after about 30-40 pages you will be able to spot the true heroes of the novel – and then your list of characters will be consulted only occasionally.

The list of historical characters of War and Peace is just as daunting – below please find a helpful portrait compilation. And remember – we are reading only 10-14 pages – that’s 20-45 minutes of reading daily – you will be overwhelmed with names for the first 30-40 pages – then the torrent will subside – and you will start falling in love with EVERYONE! Tolstoy will throw many historical facts at you in the first chapters – but don’t you fret – you have me to guide you! Plus – the novel starts IN FRENCH! Don’t worry about that either – I don’t know ANY French at all – I speak Russian and Hungarian – but I’ve been through War and Peace 20 times and my lack of French did not dampen my enthusiasm!

The first few chapters are all about Napoleon; you will be Napoleon experts in no time! Just keep going – get to the chapter where one of the characters visits the other character’s library – with a copy of Caesar’s Commentary on the shelf – and these two men start talking about – what else – women and glory! And then one of these men will go to a rowdy Russian officer debauch complete with a drank bear! Don’t worry, I didn’t give anything away! What Tolstoy does with these characters and scenes is pure magic and soon you will be imploring for another 50 pages and staying up till dawn because Tolstoy will enchant your soul!!! And that’s a promise!

Introduction 2

Monument to Napoleon and his brothers, Place de Gaulle, Ajaccio, Corsica.

Napoleon was not just a person or a name – it was a family brand! Napoleon’s father, Carlo Buonaparte, a Corsican-Italian lawyer, immediately understood the importance of French presence on the island, became Corsica’s representative to the court of Louis XVI, and placed himself into advantageous administrative positions that allowed his five sons to receive scholarships to elite French institutions.

Napoleon’s mother, Maria Letizia, was a rock and the entire family was teetered to her powerful matriarchal presence. Incidentally, the fact that Napoleon’s family included five brothers and three sisters, same as with Tolstoy’s children who lived to adulthood, is one of those inconsequential historical coincidences. Napoleon was the second child and brother who could never be accused of rising too high and leaving the family in the dust! He elevated all his siblings and generously handed out royal titles to his brothers and married his sisters into European royalty! Here is a list of the eight siblings with their titles at the height of Napoleon’s power – not bad for a bunch of islander commoners!

  • Joseph, King of Spain
  • Napoleon I, Emperor of the French
  • Lucien, 1st Prince of Canino and Musignano
  • Elisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany
  • Louis, King of Holland
  • Pauline, Princess and Duchess of Guastalla
  • Caroline, Queen of Naples
  • Jerome, King of Westphalia

This list will help you identify Napoleon’s siblings in the early chapters and throughout War and Peace. In subsequent introductions I will write about Napoleon II, Napoleon III, and, of course, Josephine! She deserves a chapter – or a book – or several volumes – of her own! What a woman!

Napoleon and Josephine at the espousal of Jérôme Bonaparte and Catharina of Württemberg, by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1807.

This family had style! Napoleon and Josephine at the espousal of Jérôme Bonaparte and Catharina of Württemberg, by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1807. Lucien is the only Napoleon sibling who is absent in this painting.

Introduction 3

Napoleon II, also known as Franz, Duke of Reichstadt, by Leopold Bucher.

And now a note on the three Napoleons! The only Napoleon who concerns us is Napoleon I, who established the First French Empire in 1804. That’s where we meet him at the start of War and Peace. Tomorrow, I will write a note about the French Revolution of 1789 and by February 1 I will lead all the readers through all the major stages of the revolution and the rise of Napoleon I from an impressionable young Corsican to his imperial throne! Bur today I will comment on the other Napoleons to get them out of the way and avoid all confusion in the future!

Napoleon II was the son of Napoleon I from his second marriage to Marie Louise of Austria. He was born in Paris on 20 March 1811 when his father was the ruler of the vast majority Continental Europe and the most powerful monarch in the world! His infant portrait will make a brief, but consequential appearance in Volume III of War and Peace (I will note the line number and page number when we get there!!!). Napoleon I intended to create a contiguous Continental European Empire that would be inherited by Napoleon II – but in 1812 Russia happened and all hell broke loose! To make the long and complicated story short – Napoleon II lived out his inconsequential life in Vienna and died at the age of 21. He spent his childhood and youth under the vigilant guidance and supervision of his Austrian Habsburg relatives who retained their sprawling empire at the end of the Napoleonic Wars under the stipulation that the young prince will NEVER reach Paris and will NEVER claim the throne on France. Today, he is buried next to his father in Paris – but that is a story for a later date – I promise to return to it on May 11!

Napoleon III, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

Napoleon III (1808-1873), was the nephew of Napoleon I and the grandson of Napoleon’s first wife Josephine! Every time I teach War and Peace, I tell my students that Napoleon III was Josephine’s revenge! Napoleon I divorced her because she could not give him an heir, thus the marriage to Marie Louise of Austria, who gave him Napoleon II. Josephine had two children from her first marriage, a boy and a girl – are you still following this sordid family saga?

So – in order to perpetuate the bloodline, Napoleon’s younger brother Louis married Josephine’s daughter from her first marriage Hortense de Beauharnais – and voila – the future Napoleon III was born! After Napoleon I was deposed, France attempted to go back to Bourbon rule and went through a succession of weak and ineffective monarchs and two more revolutions, in 1830 and 1848. This volatility was utilized by Napoleon III who declared himself emperor in 1852, created the Second French Empire, erected a number of monuments to his uncle Napoleon I in Corsica and elsewhere, drastically reshaped and reconstructed Paris creating all the broad avenues we are familiar with today – and was deposed in 1870 the traditional French way – through a revolution! He was the last monarch of France which to this day remains a republic.

And now that we cleared the confusion between all those Napoleons and all those French empires – I will dedicate the next few notes to Napoleon I and the various stages of his rise to power! War and Peace starts in 1805 – we need to get from 1789 to 1805 by February 1!

Introduction 4

July 14, 1789, Storming of The Bastille, by Jean-Pierre Houel.

Why did the most powerful country in Europe, France, succumb to the brutal devastation of the 1789 revolution and get entangled in not one or two – but seven continental coalition wars between 1789 and 1815? The basic answer is very simple – because France was the most powerful country in Europe! Not just volumes, but whole libraries have been written about the French Revolution of 1789 – and the subsequent revolutions of 1830, 1848, and 1870. I will attempt to fit all the basic facts into this brief introduction!

I would be a negligent historian if I would fail to note that the 18th century was a French century. And French leaders worked tirelessly to achieve the apotheosis of French culture for generations. Three kings in particular made French-centric foreign policy advancements that solidified France’s continental dominance in the 18th century.

Frances I (1494-1547) – whose sister Marguerite de Navarre wrote the Heptameron which we just finished reading through a Facebook course a couple of weeks ago – created an alliance with Ottoman Turkey (and its emperor Suleman the Magnificent) which lasted for three centuries, was the longest geopolitical alliance in French history, and patronized the Turkish territorial expansion and warfare against the Russian and Austrian Empires – rivals for French dominance on the continent. You can just imagine what the European monarchs thought of a Christian king who created a powerful alliance with a Muslim country that was devastating fellow Christian countries!

If Frances used Muslim Turkey against Christian Austria and Russia, Louis XIII (1601-1643) (one of the main characters of Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers) funded and supported German Lutherans against German and Austrian Catholics in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). This war resulted in the deaths of one third of the German speaking population of Europe and the disintegration of a united Germany which will not resurface till the end of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.

And finally Louis XIV (1638-1715), the glorious Sun King, fought everyone in Europe at some point during his 72 year reign and accomplished the unimaginable – he placed his grandson on the throne of Spain thus eliminating the centuries-long Hapsburg domination of the Iberian Peninsula. As a matter of fact, the current Spanish king Felipe VI is a descendent of the French Bourbon line – which hasn’t ruled France since 1830 – ah, the irony of fate!

With the Turks keeping Russia and Austria in check under direct French patronage, Germany diminished and devastated by the Reformation Wars that France financed, and Spain ruled by a French Bourbon king – you would think France had it made! But not so fast – what about England?! As France was solidifying its superpower status on the European continent – England was expanding its exploration of North America.

The clash of France and England in North America was inevitable since France controlled the Mississippi River and New Orleans and England controlled the Saint Lawrence River and the northern route into the heartland of the continent – thus the French and Indian War (1754–1763) that resulted in a devastating defeat for the French in 1763. This loss set in motion a number of geopolitical events that brought about the American Revolution of 1776 – the French simply had to have their revenge and supporting the colonists’ fight against England gave them the opportunity to strike England indirectly through their support of George Washington and his fellow revolutionaries. It is not accidental that the lovely DC park next to the White House is called Lafayette Square and hosts the statues of the Marquis de Lafayette and Comte Jean de Rochambeau – famous Broadway super stars of late – who assisted the cause of the American Revolution not only because of their love of liberty, but because of France’s vicious rivalry with England! The French were openly supporting the American Revolution both financially and logistically and were overjoyed when they managed to inflict such a spectacular blow to the British Empire!

By 1780 France eliminated all European competitors and turned the 18th century into an unequivocal French triumph – French music, literature, art, fashion, architecture became the gold standard throughout Europe. Thus all the French in War and Peace – Russian and European elites accepted the French culture as the height of sophistication and adopted it lock, stock and barrel!!! But why was this culture destroyed by a violent revolution at the peak of its glory?! The answer is as un-poetic as it gets – finances. Decades and centuries of warfare left France the last superpower standing – and this victory came at an astronomical cost. This – and numerous other factors – contributed to the strange and implausible set of circumstances that led to the taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the establishment of France’s national holiday which is still commemorated with an annual military parade – and, most importantly, led to the creation of the “Let them eat cake!” meme that is still in wide circulation today!

What did everyone is Europe think of the extraordinary events taking place in France – storming of palaces, arrest of the king, beheadings of tens of thousands of aristocrats and eventually the king and queen, staggering lawlessness, anarchy, starvation, and complete national collapse? It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving country, they thought – remember, France has been fighting – and defeating – all of its neighbors for centuries. Between 1789 and 1815, seven European monarchist coalitions were formed and sent into battle against revolutionary France – and we get to witness several of these battles, including the Battle of Ulm and the Battle of Austerlitz, in Volume One in War and Peace! How was an economically devastated France, drowning in blood and lacking allies, capable of fighting and defeating the combined armies of Europe over and over again in the course of two decades? If your answer is Napoleon – you are on the right track! Answers tomorrow!

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, 1782.

Marie Antoinette, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778.

I knew I could get your attention with a portrait of Marie Antoinette – and the self-portrait of the artist who painted Marie Antoinette!!! With dozens of new members joining the group, I would like to encourage everyone to read my preliminary notes in chronological order – so far I posted 2 reading announcements, 2 reading tips and 4 introductions! Several more introductions to come before the reading begins on February 1!!! All the preliminary information gives the readers a step by step historical foundation and an understanding of the events described in the novel. Starting on page one, Tolstoy will bombard us with historical events, names and facts – and we will be ready for him!!! As he Russian General Suvorov used to say – “Тяжело в учении — легко в походе” or “The harder the training, the easier the battle”! Happy reading!

Napoleon, 1927.

If you are looking for something Napoleonic to do this weekend – I can’t recommend this film enough! It’s epic, it’s silent, it’s black and white, it’s very long, it’s old – and it’s absolutely brilliant! Here is a list of revolutionary techniques used by the director Abel Gance: fast cutting, extensive close-ups, a wide variety of hand-held camera shots, location shooting, point of view shots, multiple-camera setups, multiple exposure, superimposition, underwater camera, kaleidoscopic images, film tinting, split screen and mosaic shots, multi-screen projection, and other visual effects. As we progress through the novel, I will recommend other films – the 1927 Napoleon ends precisely during his First Italian Campaign – that’s where I will end today’s introduction!

Introduction 5

Bonaparte at the Pont d’Arcole, by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, 1801, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Please remember this painting – Tolstoy will lead one of his characters to the reenactment of this glorious Napoleonic moment at the end of Volume One of War and Peace!

What can I say about Napoleon?! His wars cost Europe 6 million lives, he saved the French Revolution in order to subvert it and triumph over it, he fought everyone in Europe for 20 years and won spectacular victories, he was a brilliant general who changed the theory and practice of warfare, he unified Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire, his set of laws, the Napoleonic Code, still forms the basis of several Constitutions around the world, he used political propaganda to advance his interests, he created a new style of art, architecture, and fashion, he lost everything he ever achieved, he changed the course of history.

The Corsican Bonaparte family benefited tremendously from French patronage in the waning years of the Bourbon monarchy. Napoleon moved to the mainland at the age of 9 and studied at a religious school in Autun and a military academy in Brienne-le-Chateau. Napoleon was a native speaker of Corsican and Italian – he started studying French at 10 and was bullied in school for his accent and provincial manners.

After a successful graduation from the military academy, Napoleon enrolled at the Ecole Militaire in Paris, France’s elite military establishment! I wish I could have observed Napoleon’s face when he beheld Paris for the first time – it must have been quite a revelation for him! Napoleon was a brilliant student of mathematics and graduated as a commissioned artillery officer – and that’s where his career stopped. The revolution of 1789 dislodged all established connections and disrupted all existing order and the young Napoleon was forced to return to Corsica.

The provinces and oversees French territories revolted against France’s centralized power at the onset of the revolution (I wish I could have time to discuss the Haitian Revolution – it was a tremendous event!) and despite their allegiance to France, the Bonaparte family remained strong Corsican nationalists and independence supporters. Corsican politics became a tumultuous mix of royalist, revolutionary and nationalist tendencies and the Bonaparte family had to flee the island in 1793 – never to return to the place of their birth.

When I visited the Napoleon museum in Ajaccio, I saw a curious lithograph that depicted this departure in characteristic Romantic style – Mamma Leticia was seated in the center of a sailboat, clutching the 3 sisters to her bosom, the 4 brothers were each placed at an oar, rowing with heroic determination – and Napoleon was standing on the prow and pointing the way forward – to France! At this point Napoleon changed his name from “Napoleone di Buonaparte” to the more French sounding “Napoléon Bonaparte.”

The Revolution was in its fifth year and since so many of the royalist officers have been executed and revolutionary officers died on the battlefields of the War of the First Coalition – the young and ambitious officer who was willing to serve the republic started realizing that he may have prospects in a world that was crashing all around him. Napoleon’s first consequential military commission was as an artillery commander of the republican forces at the Siege of Toulon. Under the cover of darkness, in a downpour, he commanded his men to roll heavy cannons up a hill and by sunrise these cannons were aimed at the British fleet which was blockading the city (he used the same tactics as General Washington during the British siege of Boston).

In the early chapters of War and Peace, Tolstoy will make a reference to Napoleon’s genius and bravery during the lifting of the siege of Toulon for which he was promoted to the rank of a brigadier general at the age of 24. The Committee of Public Safety noted the courageous actions of the young general and decided to give him an entire army! 1796 was a great year for Napoleon – the young general was noticed by his superiors, his career was advancing rapidly – and on March 9 he was married in a civil ceremony to Josephine de Beauharnais! Two days after the marriage, Bonaparte left Paris to take command of the Army of Italy. The painting presented below depicts Napoleon’s heroism during his First Italian Champaign where he led his troops in the storming of a bridge by the town of Arcole, 25 kilometers from Verona, during the War of the First Coalition, against the Austrian Army. One of the characters of War and Peace will consider this moment in Napoleon’s life to be the greatest moment of glory one can achieve on the battlefield!

Many of you loved the Marie Antoinette portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun! Vigée Le Brun was one of the most famous French and European artists of the 18th century and an elected member of several art academies. Below please find two more portraits she painted of Marie Antionette. Vigée Le Brun was a court favorite and painted the portraits of many French as well as Russian aristocrats. I really need to give a talk about this woman artist super star!

Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1783.

Marie Antoinette and her Children, 1787.











Many of you commented on the Napoleon portrait I posted yesterday – and inquired about his haircut! Here is a comment I posted earlier today – with a portrait of the woman who rejected the young Napoleon!

Désirée Clary, former fiancé of Napoleon Bonaparte, first Swedish Queen of the House of Bernadotte, by Fredric Westin.

The Revolution outlawed wigs – too aristocratic – so haircuts went through an experimental stage! Even women were sporting short haircuts for a while! In this painting Napoleon is the epitome of the Romantic hero – disheveled hair, pale complexion, determined gaze, one hand clutching a sword, the other a flag, purposeful motion, billowing sash – and a glimmer of light on the horizon!!! Young men worshiped him and wanted to emulate him in everything – young women, needless to say, were much more discriminating – he was rejected by his first fiancé, Désirée Clary! Good thing too – she married the future king of Sweden – and today’s king, Carl XVI Gustaf, is a descent of the woman who rejected the young Napoleon Bonaparte!




Desiree, 1954 Theatrical release poster

Since I mentioned Désirée Clary, here is my second film recommendation – a biographical-historical film that takes unfortunate liberties with both biography and history! Nonetheless, the film is mandatory viewing if you are a fan of Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, and/or Merle Oberon. Yes, Marlon Brando is Napoleon! Happy viewing!







 I would like to recommend a third film – and after this I PROMISE to start writing my Josephine Introduction! Yes, yes, I know, Tolstoy would NOT approve of Peanuts, but here is a brief synopsis of this hilarious cartoon:

“Charlie Brown is partnered with the Little Red-Haired Girl to write a book report. At first, he is excited to have a chance to be with her, but she is called away for a week to deal with a family illness, leaving Charlie Brown to write the report alone. Hoping to impress both the Little Red-Haired Girl and his teacher, Charlie Brown writes his report on the collegiate-level novel War and Peace.”

I’ve never laughed this hard during any other movie viewing – ever! The War and Peace part is quite long – 10-15 minutes – and absolutely brilliant! If you feel that reading War and Peace is an unimaginably daunting task – please watch Charlie Brown’s adventures with Leo’s Toy Store by Warren Peace!

Introduction 6

When the world goes back a semblance of normal – whenever and whatever that may be – and you get the opportunity to visit Paris, please find the willpower to tear yourselves away from the magnificence of everything that surrounds you – and visit Malmaison. There, in the seclusion of a quiet linden alley, you will find the spirit of Josephine!

Josephine at Malmaison, 1801, Francois Gerard.

Where to begin?! Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was born into a family of plantation owners on the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1763. Yes, she too was an islander. Yes, she was older than Napoleon who was born in 1769. And yes, Napoleon was her second husband. In her first marriage she was known as Rose De Beauharnais, her husband was a French aristocrat and officer who kept mistresses and visited brothels and was guillotined in 1794, on the Place de la Révolution in Paris. Josephine was released from Carmes Prison 5 days later because the instigator of the Reign of Terror, Maximillian Robespierre, was himself imprisoned and eventually executed.

The harsh realities of revolutionary prisons undermined Josephine’s health, she had to live by her wits in order to secure a future for the two children she had with Alexandre De Beauharnais, Eugene De Beauharnais (1781–1824) and Hortense De Beauharnais (1783–1837), and she became a survivor who succeeded beyond her wildest dreams! Both of her children married into aristocratic families, through her daughter Hortense, Josephine became the grandmother of the French Emperor Napoleon III (see my earlier note on the 3 Napoleons), and today the kings and queens on the thrones of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Luxemburg are all descendants of Josephine!

Empress Josephine in coronation costume, 1807-1808, by Francois Gerard.

But what about Napoleon?! She met the young general in 1795 at the time when she was the mistress of Paul Barras, a revolutionary politician and leader of the Directory. Napoleon was absolutely smitten – Rose was older, sophisticated, aristocratic, she knew stuff – and, more importantly, she knew people who could be of use to Napoleon. Napoleon wrote long gushing love letters and besieged her with proposals till the said yes! Bonaparte preferred the aristocratic Josephine to the plain Rose – thus she entered history as Josephine Bonaparte! Two days after their wedding, Napoleon left for his First Italian Campaign – and Josephine promptly took a young lover, the dashing hussar officer Hippolyte Charles! It seems Napoleon always loved her more than she loved him – yet his reaction to her betrayal was swift – he threatened divorce! Josephine pleaded by his closed door through the night – Napoleon softened – but the marriage was compromised and the two learned to live with each other and subordinate their personal desires to their political interests, eventually becoming the most powerful couple in the world!

To say that Napoleon’s family, especially his mother and sisters, despised Josephine would be a terrific understatement! She was an older widow with children, and they wanted something much more suitable for their brilliant Napoleon – but this issue was complicated by the fact that Napoleon’s sisters felt small and provincial in the presence of the cosmopolitan Josephine! More family drama in my introduction dedicated to Napoleon’s coronation!

Napoleon was fighting wars, winning battles, rising to power, and taking mistresses – but his partnership with Josephine was solid and their power interests coincided – till the two outsider islanders who spoke French with an accent became the first emperor and empress of the French, and at this point of complete triumph, the issue of succession finally undermined the marriage irrevocably. Napoleon needed a son – and he and Josephine amicably agreed to a separation during an 1810 formal divorce ceremony attended by Napoleon’s triumphant mother! Napoleon did not love the Austrian princess he married – his cynical statement – I married a womb – spoke volumes…

Napoleon insisted Josephine retain the title of empress even after their divorce was finalized – she retired to her personal chateau Malmaison – and dedicated her final years to her grandchildren and her rose garden – the most beautiful in Europe!!! Her friends were European monarch – the Russian emperor Alexander I – one of the main characters of War and Peace – was a close confidant who visited her in Malmaison after he defeated her former husband in 1812. She died in 1814 at the age of 50 at her bellowed Malmaison. At the time, Napoleon was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba and was not informed of her death by his minders. He found out about it from a French magazine – Napoleon locked himself in his room for days and mourned her passing for the rest of his life… When he died on the Island of Saint Helena in 1821, his final words were “France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine”…

Introduction 7

As much as I would LOVE to fit ALL of Napoleon’s great and not so great military accomplishments into one introduction, I am only human and find this a daunting task to say the least! Luckily for us, Tolstoy will make frequent references to Napoleon’s pre-1805 deeds on the pages of War and Peace! And now – the fun stuff!

Napoleon Lane, Iowa City.

Iowa City readers will find it particularly endearing that the original name of Iowa City was – are you seated and holding on to something solid – yes, you guessed it, Napoleon, Iowa! When the decision was made to turn Iowa City into a territorial capital, the location shifted to the cliffs above the Iowa River – but the original location is still marked with the name of the hero under our consideration – Napoleon Lane and Napoleon Park! Some of my students proposed having a safe and distanced meeting in Napoleon Park in the course of this reading – and as much as I would love to do it in the dead of Iowa winter to approximate the weather conditions of Volume III of War and Peace, we might wait till April! Announcement to follow!

So why does the Iowa flag look JUST like the French flag and why are there still so many Napoleon related towns in Iowa – Bonaparte, Waterloo, Marengo? The answer is simple – because Iowa was a French territory and an integral part of French Louisiana which was sold in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte to Thomas Jefferson who doubled the territory of the United States with this deal! Yes, Napoleon was our glorious leader between 1799, when he became First Consul of France, and 1803, when Louisiana was transferred to the United Sates. But why did Napoleon find it necessary to sell such an enormous territory to Jefferson, a territory that the French managed to hold on to despite their significant losses in the French and Indian War (see my earlier post on French history)? If you answer is money, you are partially correct! But the much more glamorous answer is – Horatio Nelson! Yes, the one who is perched on the column in the middle of Trafalgar Square in London! Here is a very brief account of these complicated historical events!

After Napoleon’s First Italian campaign, (see my earlier introduction) which resulted in the destruction of the 1,100 year old Venetian Republic and the looting of Venetian treasures (please never attempt to praise Napoleon in Venice – you will lose all respect!), Napoleon embarked on the most glorious campaign of his career – he decided to conquer Egypt and drive out the Ottoman Turks who ruled there in the 18th century (please see my earlier note on Francis I and his treaty with Suleiman the Magnificent).

Napoleon, who was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1798, considered this mission an exploration opportunity and set out for Egypt with a large army and with 167 scientists, mathmagicians, geologists, naturalists and chemists. An absolutely unprecedented and stunning discovery was made in 1799 during this expedition – one of Napoleon’s officers unearthed a stone with inscriptions in Greek, Egyptian and in hieroglyphics – and Egyptology was born! The Rosetta Stone, as it became known, has been on display in the British Museum for the past 200 years because the British defeated Napoleon – but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

France was becoming an expansionist country and this fact was worrying England – remember, Britannia rules the waves! Napoleon’s entry into Egypt unnerved the English who needed to protect their vast imperial holdings in India and Africa. London had a plan and his name was Horatio Nelson. Nelson defeated Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of the Nile (August 1-2, 1798) thus limiting Napoleon’s maneuvers and securing England’s trade routes. But England did not rest – they preemptively attacked and destroyed the Danish feet in the Battle of Copenhagen (April 2, 1801) because they feared Denmark may ally with Napoleon and he may use their navy against England.

With the French and Danish fleets gone, Napoleon was limited to creating a continental empire and holding on to oversees possessions in the absence of a strong navy was proving an impossibility. Thus, on April 30, 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed, and France had to figuratively batten its hatches and limit all future expansion within the confines of Europe. Do you see Russia in the distance yet? Eventually all of Napoleon’s plans to best England at sea came to a crashing halt on October 21, 1805 during the most famous naval battle of the Napoleonic period, the Battle of Trafalgar. The same Horatio Nelson who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile, annihilated the combined French and Spanish navies off the coast of Spain thus assuring England’s naval superiority for the next 150 years, a splendid burial in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and an imposing monument in Trafalgar Square in central London!

The size of French Louisiana in 1803 was truly stunning! Look at Iowa – we are as French as French can be!

Introduction 8

Today, I will post four paintings depicting Napoleon during significant moments of his military and political career. Each one of these images utilizes political propaganda to portray Napoleon in a positive and heroic light. Tomorrow, I will comment on these paintings and tell you the stories behind the images!

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, 1798, by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1868.


Antoine-Jean Gros’s 1804 painting “Napoleon visiting the bubonic plague victims of Jaffa”


Francois Bouchot’s 1840 “General Bonaparte during the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire”


Jacques-Louis David’s 1805 “Napoleon Crossing the Alps”


Introduction 9

Introduction 8 contains four paintings depicting Napoleon in heroic or romantic light, which I presented without commentary. Now that you had a chance to examine and study these paintings, I can reveal some less than glorious facts about the events they depict. All these paintings can be considered splendid examples of political propaganda which focused on exaggerating and romanticizing Napoleon’s accomplishments in order to create the mythology that surrounds him to this day. But, as you will soon find out, Tolstoy demands the unvarnished truth – so let the unmasking begin!
In the Jean-Leon Gerome’s 1868 painting “Bonaparte Before the Sphinx,” Napoleon is depicted in a contemplative pose, engaged in an intellectual dialogue with the greatest symbol of Ancient Egyptian art. After all, this is the general who, while encouraging his men before the Battle of the Pyramids, exclaimed “Forward! Remember that from those monuments forty centuries look down at you.” The Egyptian Campaign may have been presented to the French general public as a success, but it was an unqualified disaster! Yes, Napoleon may have marched into Egypt with an army of scientists and, thanks to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, singlehandedly established the field of Egyptology (see my earlier introduction), but he also unleashed unprecedented looting of art treasures that has not been experienced on this scale during any prior military conflict. Remember I implored you to never praise Napoleon in Venice? He took vast quantities of treasures from the city – including the bronze horses from Basilica San Marco. Venetian churches were looted to pay the wages of his soldiers. The looted art treasures of Egypt, Spain, Prussia, Austria, Russia and many other European countries were transferred to France, exhibited in the palaces of Napoleon and his supporters, melted down, sold, or traded for two decades and this process was not reversed until the Congress of Vienna in 1815 established the rules and parameters for the repatriation of these artifacts.
In addition, Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was a strategic disaster since Napoleon lost his fleet to the English and Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile (see my earlier introduction) and had no means of extracting his stranded army out of the Middle East. In the course of this campaign, some of Napoleon’s troops were infected with the plague and Antoine-Jean Gros’s 1804 painting “Napoleon visiting the bubonic plague victims of Jaffa” depicts Napoleon as he is comforting his sick soldiers in the Armenian Saint Nicholas Monastery in Jaffa. The painting was commissioned to quell reports that Napoleon had ordered fatal doses of opium to be given to plague victims during his retreat from Syria. Once again, a moment of calculation bordering on criminality was presented as an act of compassion. The wife of one of the main characters of War and Peace will make a reference to this event in the early chapters of the novel.
The third painting under consideration, Francois Bouchot’s 1840 “General Bonaparte during the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire” (18 Brumaire corresponds to November 9 – the names of all the months were changed when France converted to the revolutionary calendar in 1789), depicts Napoleon resolute and calm surrounded by shouting and agitated members of the Council of Five Hundred. Napoleon is presented as the savior of France in this composition, but the coup itself was orchestrated by Napoleon who deposed the five-member Directory and proclaimed himself the Consul of France. The Directory may have been corrupt and ineffectual, but Napoleon’s power grab was not designed to preserve the ideals of the revolution – he wanted to reserve absolute power for himself.
And the fourth and final painting I posted a couple of days ago contains the most egregious deviation from truth of all the Napoleon portraits. In Jacques-Louis David’s 1805 “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” (which I used as the main image for our Facebook page) the general is depicted galloping up a steep slope on a dashing steed, full of youthful energy, gesturing towards the summit of the mountain and inviting us to follow him to victory! The graffiti underneath of the front hoofs of the horse reveals the names of former military leaders who conquered the Alps – the Carthaginian general Hannibal (247 – 181 BCE) and the Frankish king Charlemagne (748 – 814 CE). Napoleon is following in their footsteps and his name is already inscribed on the stones for posterity. This portrait of Napoleon epitomizes that aesthetic of the Romantic era – larger than life heroes achieving everlasting glory. Below please find the more realistic 1850 painting by Paul Delaroche who presents a very different account of the event – the crossing of the Alps was accomplished on a sure footed mule with our hero wrapped in a drab gray coat!!! I always show these paintings side by side and ask my students to choose what they prefer – glorious fiction or unvarnished truth! If you have chosen fiction – flowed us on this adventure!

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, May 1800, by Jacques-Louis David, Belvedere Version, 1805.




Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, by Paul Delaroche, 1850.


Introduction 10

And now – a note on the coronation! In the very first paragraph of War and Peace Napoleon is compared to the Antichrist – you need to be made aware just what made those French speaking Russian aristocrats this furious!

The Coronation of Napoleon, by Jacques-Louis David, 1804.

The coronation of Napoleon and Josephine took place on Sunday, December 2, 1804, (11 Frimaire, Year XIII according to the French Republican post-revolutionary calendar – see my earlier note) in the Notre-Dame in Paris. No French king has ever been crowned in the Notre-Dame until that date – Napoleon wanted to create a new type of leadership structure and state organization in France – an empire instead of a monarchy – thus the establishment of new rituals and traditions. All French kings were crowned in the Reims Cathedral – this fact features prominently in the history of the Hundred Years’ War – the glorious Joan of Arc saved the city of Reims from the English precisely so that the king Charles VII could be crowned in the Reims Cathedral – otherwise his rule would lack legitimacy making him a weak defender of French national interests. But Napoleon was not going to become a king – so tradition be damned!
Norte-Dame, constructed in the 12th century, was a Parisian landmark with impeccable historical pedigree that towered over the entire city – a perfect place to proclaim the birth of the newly minted French Empire! Instead of relying on monarchist attributes – such as the traditional symbol of France – the fleur-de-lis – Napoleon looked for inspiration in pre-Bourbon dynastic lineages and introduced the golden bee associated with the Merovingian rulers of France. ALL the coronation regalia was designed exclusively for the occasion in the newly minted Empire Style that was so hugely popularized by Jane Austen who was Napoleon’s contemporary! Yes, all those empire-waist dresses her heroines sport are the invention of Napoleon Bonaparte of the First French Empire – thus the name of the dress style! Note the lack of corsets and wigs in the world of Jane Austen – the revolution abolished them so enthusiastically that the women of the continent took a deep sigh of relief, and just like their sisters in the 1960s who burned the cursed bras, deposited the corset – at least temporarily – on the dust heap of history!
Where did Napoleon get the inspiration for Empire Style fashion, art, and decorative ideas? The Roman Empire of course (see my earlier note). Napoleon managed to emulate both Julius Caesar – the glorious general and last dictator of the Roman Republic – and Octavian Augustus, Rome’s first emperor – yes, Napoleon knew his Livy and Tacitus! All those splendid features such as loose dresses ornamented with high belts, Roman-style tiaras, exquisite flowing shawls, Greek, Roman and Egyptian designs in fabrics, jewelry and furniture, palms, laurels and acanthus leaves, lyres, vases, lions and sphinxes, obelisks and pyramids were interwoven to create objects of unprecedented sophistication and breathtaking beauty!
As I mentioned earlier – Napoleon had a great sense of style! Not only was this new Empire Style triumphant in Paris – with buildings such as the Arc de Triomphe and La Madeleine and Place Vendome – the craze spread all over Europe and our much anticipated Russians created numerous buildings in St. Petersburg in the French Empire style – Kazan Cathedral, Alexander Column, General Staff Building!!! As one of the characters of the brilliant Russian film “Russian Ark” (2002) pointed out – we didn’t fight against the style – we fought against Napoleon!
Needless to say – ALL the outfits of ALL the attendees of the coronation were designed for the occasion! Remember all that money Napoleon received from Jefferson for Louisiana?! Money well spent!
Napoleon created new titles and new ranks and new costumes and uniforms were design for each of these positions! Just the ermine-lined trains of Napoleon and Josephine weighed 80 pounds!!! Do you remember those Josephine hating sisters of Napoleon? As they were carrying the train while Josephine was ascending the stairs, they slightly yanked it causing Josephine to almost topple – you can just imagine what Napoleon said to them after the festivities – I bet he denied them a title and a province or two for such insubordination!
Napoleon was establishing a new empire with new claims to legitimacy and a new style – in this brave new post-revolutionary world he actually orchestrated a vote during his solo-rule as France’s First Consul for the establishment of himself as France’s First Emperor – and received wide support! The French wanted strong centralized power after the outrages and lawlessness of the revolution – and Napoleon was their candidate for emperor-hood – he brought France glory on the battlefields – and he was giving France a new prominence in Europe and the world. The decision to make him emperor was approved in May of 1804 and the preparation for the coronation – which cost close to 10 million francs – lasted six months. It was an absolutely spectacular affair the pomp of which could not be matched by any monarch in the world! Napoleon refused to allow Pope Pius VII to crown him emperor and placed the imperial crown on his own head – he achieved everything he accomplished by his own wits and courage – he owed his crown to no one but himself! And he insisted that the Jacques-Louis David painting depict the moment when he is bestowing the imperial crown on his muse and partner Josephine! Note the prominent position Napoleon’s mother Leticia is occupying in the center of the balcony in the center of the painting. Guess what – she never attended the coronation!
Remember a painting of all the Napoleon siblings I posted a couple of weeks ago – I noted that of the eight, only Lucien was missing. Napoleon’s falling out with Lucien did not sit well with Mama Leticia who did not want any discord in the family – thus her refusal to attend the coronation without Lucien. Regardless – Napoleon instructed the painter David to make his mothers the focal point of the composition – take that, mom! Lucien was a true revolutionary and supported Napoleon during the coup of 18 Brumaire (see my earlier note) since he was the President of the Council of Five Hundred and wanted to give his bother’s claim to power legitimacy, but Lucien could not accept his brother’s imperial ambitions! Guess what – he was not alone. Brilliant young men, such as the English poet William Wordsworth and the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven, saw in Napoleon a new kind of leader, someone who was not born into wealth and power and who did not achieve his position through inheritance, were sorely disappointed when he became the very thing he was attempting the triumph over – an absolute monarch. Beethoven, who was writing his Third Symphony dedicated to Napoleon in 1803 – crossed out the dedication when he found out about the imperial coronation. On the one hand, Beethoven’s revolutionary hero disappointed him with his ascension to a throne – on the other hand, all the European and Russian aristocracy was shocked as well – how dare this no-name upstart elevate himself ABOVE them all! And that’s the sentiment we encounter on page one of War and Peace where Napoleon is compared to the Antichrist by the Russian court and worshipped as the hero of the revolution by passionate young men with bright eyes and fiery souls!

Introduction 11

So many Russian tsars – so little time! Let’s focus on four!
Ivan IV (1530-1584) is mistakenly known as Ivan the Terrible in the West – in Russian the meaning of his name “Гро́зный” or “Grozny” is closer to “thunderous” or “formidable” or “fearsome.” He transformed Russia from a mediaeval state into a formidable empire.

Portrait of Ivan IV, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897.

During his reign, he built on the legacy of his grandfather, Ivan III or Ivan the Great, who was the first consolidator of the independent Russian city states around the centrally located Moscow. Ivan III’s wife was Sophia Palaiolog who was the niece of the last emperor of Byzantium that fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Sophia brought with her the coat of arms of the Byzantine emperors – the two headed eagle – one looking East – the other looking West – and the idea that since both Rome and Byzantium have fallen – Moscow shall be the Third Rome and will stand firm against all attempts of destruction. This concept is essential for our understanding of both 1812 and 1941!!! Ivan III and Sophia’s grandson Ivan IV the Formidable expanded the Russian state he inherited from his father and grandfather through the conquest of the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan in the East – Russia could not expand to the West or South because of the strength of its southern (Ottoman Turkey) and western (Holy Roman Empire) neighbors. Ivan IV will call himself Russia’s first tsar – the word derives of the Roman Caesar – but designates not Russia’s affinity to Rome and the Western Roman Empire, but to the Byzantine Empire that lasted for over one thousand years, from the time when Emperor Constantine moved the capital to Byzantium till the Ottoman Turkish conquest in 1453. The Slavic city states adopted Eastern Christianity from the Byzantine Empire who became their greatest economic, cultural, religious and geopolitical ally. With this connection severed in 1453 – the unification of the Russian city states into a strong centralized alliance was essential for national survival.

Both Ivan III and Ivan IV reformed Russia’s laws and finances in order to make the system more functional in administering a rapidly glowing country that was turning into an empire. Through a set of unimaginably complicated historical circumstances Ivan IV ended up being the last significant ruler of Russia of the Rurik linage that has been in charge for 700 years. A period known at the Times of Troubles (1598-1613) followed that saw Russia’s population halved due to famine and attacks by Sweden, Poland and Ottoman Turkey all of whom invaded the teetering state. After years of disintegration and chaos, in 1613 Russia’s aristocrats unanimously elected and swore allegiance to a new ruling family that they promised to defend – the Romanovs. The most famous of these rulers will become Peter I or Peter the Great (1672-1725).

Peter I, Emperor and Autocrat of Russia, by Paul Delaroche, 1838.

He was super tall, he was temperamental, he was tempestuous, he was strong-willed, and he wanted the world!!! He was the younger brother of Prince Ivan who became an indecisive and inefficient tsar and after his death Peter started pulling Russia in his favorite direction – West!!! As the most famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin pointed out – Peter I wanted to carve a widow into Europe!!! Peter realized that the European powers were becoming fabulously wealthy from their exploration of oversees colonies and he knew Russia did not stand a chance as a nation without developing a navy. Peter apprenticed himself to ship builders in Rotterdam and learned how to build ships the hard way – from scratch!!! He traveled to European courts and established Russia’s diplomatic relations with the young Louis XV in Paris and William and Mary in London where he met Isaac Newton – Peter LOVED science, technology, and all the latest inventions of his age!!! In order to secure Russia’s access to the Baltic Sea he fought the great superpower Sweden for 21 years in the Great Northern War which ended in disaster for the Swedish Empire in 1709 at the Battle of Poltava (Pushkin wrote an phenomenal poem about it – I wish I could read it to you in Russian!!!) To this day, Russian Fleet Day is celebrated in St Petersburg with the equestrian statue of Peter I, known as the Bronze Horseman, in attendance! Peter was the founder of the Baltic Fleet and through his victories against Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – the largest country in Europe at the time – expanded Russia’s borders into modern day Ukraine, Estonia and Lithuania. The one country he could not defeat – and he did try – was Ottoman Turkey – that victory will be accomplished by the greatest Russian monarch of them all – who was not even Russian – Catherine II or Catherine the Great (1729-1796)!

Profile portrait of Catherine II, by Fedor Rokotov, 1763.

There is so much information and disinformation about this absolutely magnificent empress and woman that I strongly recommend reading the Robert Massie biography of Cathartine when you get a chance – his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Peter the Great is phenomenal as well! Catherine was a German princess who was shipped to Russia to marry the grandson of Peter I – Peter III – who did not inherit a single trait from his tenacious grandfather – positive OR negative! It’s as if they were not even related! After the death of Peter the Great’s daughter Elizabeth I, the short reign of Peter III was marked mostly by indecision – he was deposed in a military coup and murdered – the coup instigators, the Orlov brothers, put Catherine on the throne – and Russia was never the same!!! Catherine fought multiple wars against Ottoman Turkey and emerged triumphant when she expanded Russian territory all the way to the Black Sea – an event that culminated in the formation of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Russia managed to deny Ottoman Turkey a presence on the northern shores of the Black Sea thus stopping the perpetual warfare on its southern border. Since the conquest of Byzantium in 1453, Ottoman Turkey expanded into Europe to include Greece, all the Balkan countries, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Hungary and southern Austria. To commemorate the Turkish retreat, Catherine travelled to Crimea with her Austrian counterpart Emperor Joseph II (Holy Roman Emperor, brother of Marie Antoinette, patron of Mozart) and the two monarchs created a geostrategic alliance of Russia and Austria since both countries were under Ottoman Turkish attacks for centuries. This alliance will be on full display at the end of Volume One of War and Peace during the battle of Austerlitz, otherwise known as the Battle of the Three Emperors – of Austria, Russia and France.

Equestrian portrait of Alexander I, by Franz Kruger (1797-1857).

Catherine was an enlightened monarch who corresponded with Diderot and Voltaire, worshipped French culture, lavished money on art and education, opened the first women’s institute of higher learning in Europe, Smolni Institute, reformed Russia’s finances, and surrounded herself with brilliant statesmen and military leaders such as Potemkin and Suvorov (multiple references to both in War and Peace). She founded 120 cities throughout Russia, supported the development of Russia’s industries and natural resource exploration and when she died Russia was a world power with world power ambitions.

Alexander I was Catherine’s grandson who came to power when his father, Catherine’s son Paul, was murdered in the Mikhailovsky Castle in St Petersburg. Alexander was 16 and he promised that during his rule everything will be just like under grandmother! And since he is one of the main characters of War and Peace – more about him throughout our reading!

Introduction 12

If you thought that some of the facts I presented in my earlier introductions were striking if not downright scandalous – just wait till I deliver my soliloquy on Tolstoy – to say that he was a controversial figure is a vast understatement! You may even decide to skip reading War and Peace from sheer disgust! But truth above all – nothing less would satisfy Tolstoy!
Note to my former and indisputable students – you know a great deal more about Tolstoy than the information I will reveal in this initial note – PLEASE NO SPOILERS – WAIT TILL MAY! You know what I am talking about, right?! Everyone else – intrigued?!
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy – or Лев Николаевич Толстой – was born in the Tula region of central Russia in Yasnaya Polyana – or Clear/Bright Glade – an ancestral estate of his mother on September 9 (Old Style August 28) 1828. A historical note – Russia did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar used in Western Europe till the Revolution of 1917 – in the original Russian ALL the dates of War and Peace are noted in Old Style – meaning 13 days off, based on the Julian Calendar (named after Julius Caesar) which was used in Russia till the 20th century! Tolstoy was the youngest of four brothers – a sister Masha was two years Tolstoy’s junior and their mother died shorty after giving birth to the baby girl. Tolstoy was two when his mother passed away and at nine, after the death of his father, Tolstoy’s upbringing and education were left in the care of numerous aunts who had a hard time restraining the wild and unruly brothers Tolstoy! To say that they were party boys would be a gross understatement! Tolstoy tried to get a college degree at the University of Kazan, but both his attempt at studying oriental languages and jurisprudence failed and Tolstoy became a collage dropout at 19! Yes, the kid who never finished college is responsible for the 90 – NINETY – volume collected set at the University of Iowa library! By the way, Russia’s Academy of Arts and Silences is in the process of publishing a new 100 volume edition of his works – much has been edited and rediscovered since the 90 volume edition was published between the 1920s and 1950s.
Tolstoy’s older brothers got him into all sorts of trouble – and dragged him to brothels which he started frequenting at the age of 13. He will write about this experience in his deeply controversial and thinly autobiographical novella The Kreutzer Sonata (1889). Many of the male characters of War and Peace will go “there” – Tolstoy’s euphemism designating brothels. As a consequence of his fast and furious living, Tolstoy ended up in the hospital with gonorrhea at the tender age of eighteen. And that’s where a miraculous event occurred – Tolstoy had to stay put long enough that he had the opportunity to write a few things down and the first paragraph of his daily – which he will keep with alarming honesty for the rest of his life – is revelatory:
“It’s now six days since I entered the clinic, and for six days now I’ve been almost satisfied with myself. … I caught gonorrhea where one usually catches it from of course… Here I am completely alone, nobody disturbs me, I haven’t any servants here, nobody helps me – consequently nothing extraneous has any influence on my reason or memory, and my work must necessarily make progress. But the chief advantage is that I’ve come to see clearly that the disorderly life which the majority of fashionable people take to be a consequence of youth is nothing other than a consequence of the early corruption of the soul.”
EXTRAORDINARY words from a young man in his circumstances!
When Tolstoy was nineteen, he inherited the family estate Yasnaya Polyana – his brothers and sister got equal shares of the lands and holdings when their inheritance came out of litigation. Tolstoy asked for the estate where he was born and where he has not lived since his childhood and his love for Yasnaya Polyana will permeate all of his writing. Desire for a more settled life tied Tolstoy to the fields and forests of the estate – ALL of Tolstoy’s contemplations about the joys of country life and the soul-clarifying benefits of agricultural labor – both in War and Peace and ESPECIALLY in Anna Karenina (1877) – were inspired by his personal experiences with estate management. But the young Tolstoy was passionate and impulsive – he demanded too much from himself: “At the same time Tolstoy started compiling rules for developing his willpower. These included getting up at five and going to bed no later than ten, with two hours permissible for sleeping during the day. He resolved to eat moderately, and nothing sweet, to walk for an hour every day, to carry out everything he prescribed for himself and visit a brothel only twice a month.” (Bartlett, 79). Needless to say, this rigid plan of self-improvement failed in a spectacular fashion – as did all of his early agricultural endeavors. The lure of city life and cosmopolitan pleasures brought Tolstoy back to Moscow and St Petersburg – and the partying resumed. How else would he be able to describe a spectacular officer debauch with such passion and accuracy at the start of War and Peace?!
But even Tolstoy felt that this cannot continue indefinitely – gambling debts and expenses were escalating, and the fear of disease was real – he will write about both with great insight in War and Peace, Anna Karenina and The Kreutzer Sonata. One of Tolstoy’s older bothers joined the military and Tolstoy saw army life as a way out – what an idealistic delusion!!! The women, the drinking and the gambling followed him to his first important military deployment – in Chechnya. If you are asking – THE Chechnya? – the answer is yes. War and Peace was written by an army officer who fought in the Caucasus and wrote two revelatory novels about his experiences there – the autobiographical The Cossacks (1863) and the historical Hadji Murat (1896-1904). Tolstoy’s legacy is still treasured in a museum dedicated to his life in the city of Grozny in Chechnya. The ever self-critical Tolstoy will write the following passage about his years in the army later on when he will be suffering from doubt and guilt while working on one of his most controversial books, Confession (1882):
“I cannot think of those years without horror, loathing, and heartache. I killed men in war, and challenged men to duels in order to kill them; I lost at cards, consumed the labor of the peasants, sentenced them to punishments, lived loosely and deceived people. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder – there was no crime I did not commit, and for all that people praised my conduct, and my contemporaries considered and consider me to be a comparatively moral man.”
These sentiments will be echoed by many male characters in War and Peace.

Tolstoy in his army uniform in the rank of an ensign between his deployment to Chechnya and The Crimean War, 1854.

Tolstoy’s second important deployment was to Crimea at the start of the Crimean War that saw our old buddy Napoleon III and England’s Queen Victoria ally with Ottoman Turkey to attack Russia’s interests in the Black Sea region (see my earlier note on Russian tsars). When students ask me – did Tolstoy fight against Napoleon – my answer is both yes and no – he did not fight again the War and Peace Napoleon – but against his nephew Napoleon III (see my earlier note on the three Napoleons). Or we can put it this way – Tolstoy was on one side and Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale, or the Lady with the Lamp, were on the other side! The ceaseless bombardment of the city of Sevastopol by the British, French and Turkish forces leveled the city’s defenses and Tolstoy’s unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war in his Sevastopol Sketches (1855) brought him national recognition. Tolstoy, an officer and a war correspondent reporting from the battlefields of the Crimean War, wrote about the courage of the common soldier and the deplorable demoralization of men in wartime. The most famous and often quoted passage from “Sevastopol in May” reads as follows:
“Where in this tale is the evil that should be avoided, and where the good that should be imitated? Who is the villain and who the hero of my story? All are good and all are bad…. The hero of my tale – whom I love with all the power of my soul, whom I have tried to portray in all its beauty, who has been, is, and always will be beautiful – is Truth.”
And this truth-seeking young man who was willing to jeopardize his most cherished relationships in this titanic search for truth wrote the greatest work of fiction ever created, War and Peace! Forward, dear reader!