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MonkeyNotes-War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
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Realism

Leo Tolstoy established his name as the foremost Russian writer of the nineteenth century. His tales are highly interesting and believable. War and Peace, considered his masterpiece, though bulky in size is absorbing. Tolstoy could achieve this feat through realistic portrayal of events and people in the novel. Many of the situations in the novel ring true to life because they are based on certain live experiences of Tolstoy. Tolstoy had joined the army in 1851 and later, participated in the Crimean war. Thus, he had first hand experience of a soldier and fighting on the battlefield. However, since he did know much about 1812, he referred to a book called Reminiscences of an Eyewitness of the French Occupation of Moscow in 1812, with a View of the Fire of Moscow. In the words of Victor Shlovsky "Tolstoy took a number of minor details from this work; the plundering of a family, the snatching of earrings from a woman, the rescue of a child from fire: not reference to major events but descriptions of particular details. Tolstoy took a part of in order that the reader, convinced by the part, should see the whole as a reality. In this he was repeating human perceptions which sees the particular first."

In recreating the scenes of war and the invasion of Moscow, Tolstoy combined life experiences, factual details through books, psychological perception and artistry. Thus, the battlefield comes alive with sound and action. Thus, the master story teller presents the scene of confusion after the battle of Austerlitz : "One of the guns in the rear that had just moved on to the dam turned into the ice. Crowds of soldiers from the dam began to run onto the frozen millpond. The ice cracked under one of the foremost soldiers, and his leg slipped the water; he tried to right himself and fell in up to the waist. The nearest soldiers hesitated; the driver of the canon stopped his horse, but the shouting from behind continued: "Onto the ice! Why are you stopping? Go on! Go On!" And cries of terror were heard in the crowd." The dilemma of the soldiers and their sorry plight, emerges before the eyes of the readers.


Tolstoy was against using poetic or stilted language to describe situations. "In his works he usually tries to show the superiority of the simple and natural over the sophisticated and artificial." Thus, even ordinary scenes at home are made convincing and effective. Tolstoy describes the scene between the protagonist and his wife in their bedroom thus: "From the moment they were alone together and Natasha, wide-eyed with happiness, stole up to him, suddenly seizing his head and pressing it to her breast and saying: "Now you are mine, all mine! You shan’t escape!" - from that moment there sprang up a conversation that was contrary to all the laws of logic, contrary because entirely different subjects were talked of at the same time." Only a man, who had experienced such bliss, could describe this scene of conjugal harmony! Tolstoy beautifully combined autobiographical details with artistic description to create a scintillating scene of realism.

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