Have you seen The Last Station directed by Michael Hoffmann?
It’s a fantastic film and we watched it twice back to back on DVD.
The film tells the story of the last years of Tolstoy’s life. Tolstoy had a tumultuous relationship with his wife Sofya which lasted for many years and resulted in thirteen children. In his eighties Tolstoy made a dramatic escape from Sofya and his comfortable home life and ended up at the tiny railway station at Astapovo where he became very ill and died.
Seeing the film reminded me of the several attempts I’d made over the years to read Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace.
On every occasion I’ve managed a few chapters and given up. It’s a huge novel: well over 1000 pages in the print version but some commentators say it’s the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy himself said War and Peace is “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle”. Tolstoy regarded Anna Karenina as his first true novel.
I think there are two reasons I’ve never got into War and Peace. I’ve always found the Russian names so confusing and have got fed up with having to keep re-reading to sort out the names of the characters. The main reason is that the huge size of the book necessitates a very small print size which is uncomfortable to read. Now with the advantage of Kindle I can adjust the font size and have already found that this has made some obscure classics more accessible. So, I’ve downloaded a currently free version of War and Peace onto my Kindle and this time I’m determined to read it right through.
The book page for War and Peace quotes the opinions of some of the big names in literature.
“The last word of the landlord’s literature and the brilliant one at that.” —Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“The best ever Russian historical novel.” —Nikolai Leskov
“One of the most remarkable books of our age.” —Ivan Turgenev
“This is the first class work!… This is powerful, very powerful indeed.” —Gustave Flaubert
“The best novel that had ever been written.” —John Galsworthy
“This work, like life itself, has no beginning, no end. It is life itself in its eternal movement.” —Romain Rolland
“The greatest ever war novel in the history of literature.” —Thomas Mann
“There remains the greatest of all novelists — for what else can we call the author of ‘War and Peace’?” —Virginia Woolf
“Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction.” —Vladimir Nabokov
I’ve never come across Romain Rolland before but a quick Google tells me he’s a French writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915.
Rolland’s most famous novel is the 10-volume roman-fleuve (a sequence of related, self-contained novels) Jean-Christophe (1904–1912), which bring together Rolland’s interests and ideals in the story of a German musical genius who makes France his second home. The novels explore Rolland’s views on music, social matters and understanding between nations. Most of the Kindle versions of Jean-Christophe are French and I doubt that my rusty recall of the language would get me very far but there is an English translation of the first four volumes which I’ve downloaded. I read the opening of the first novel in the free sample and the style seems surprisingly modern. I’ll let you know how I get on with it but meanwhile there’s War and Peace.
As I said, War and Peace is massive:
Book One set in 1805 has 28 chapters. There are fifteen books and two epilogues. Book Ten set in 1812 has 39 chapters. There are in fact 365 chapters in total so if I was to read one chapter each day it would take a whole year to finish. Watch this space!