E f322 • Tolstoy's War and Peace
2:30 PM-4:00 PM
Ortega y Gasset may have had War and Peace in mind when he wrote that "to enjoy a novel we must feel completely surrounded by it on all sides." This course will offer students a chance to immerse themselves in Tolstoy's epic novel. In fact, War and Peace can only be called a novel in an approximate sense, for it is among other things a meditation on the problem of writing history as well as a restless attempt to redefine the boundaries of literature. If Natasha, Prince Andrei, and Pierre Bezukhov remain with us long after we have finished the book, so does the society they inhabit, as a result of Tolstoy's phenomenal ability to connect individual destinies to the surrounding world. Reading War and Peace opens us up to the strangeness of the past, to the arbitrary and accidental nature of events, and to the multiplicity of fates involved. Above all, War and Peace refutes the tendency to think of history as the product of a few great men. As Tolstoy wrote in the Second Epilogue, "modern history, like a deaf man, answers questions no one has asked."
In reading War and Peace, the course will explore the work's historical background and critical reception, its filiations with other works of historical fiction, and its connections with the opera by Prokofiev ("War and Peace") and various film versions of the novel.
1. Regular attendance and participation.
2. Completion of required reading by the date assigned (see syllabus)
Short Essay (5 pages) 20%
Long Essay (10-12 pages), thesis statement and outline (2 pages) 40%
Final Exam 20%
Quizzes/Informed participation in class discussion 20%
NOTE: Course essays offer a chance to explore in-depth issues raised in readings and discussion. They do NOT require extensive secondary research. They should, however, reflect a close yet imaginative reading of Tolstoy's masterpiece. Quizzes: Throughout the semester there will be approximately 5-6 unscheduled quizzes in a brief in-class essay format.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (Norton Critical Edition)
Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers