Skip to content

Tolstoy’s War and Peace – Teen Literature Class for Winter/Spring 2023

Designed for teens who love literature and writing, this online course will introduce students to the amazing world of 19th century Russian fiction and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Illustration of Pierre

Pierre Bezukhov – Artist Nadya Rusheva, 1960s.

Our class will focus on close textual analysis of the material read at home, supplemented by biographical, historical, and critical information introduced at each session. I will draw upon my Russian background to provide the students with a unique opportunity to appreciate some of the pleasures of the original Russian versions that are inevitably lost in translation. We will look closely, for example, at the semantics of the Russian and English words for “war” and “peace” to discover that they may have different meanings and connotations.

Course Description
Students will learn about the Napoleonic wars of 1805 – 1813 and the historical situation in Europe and Russia of that period. We will explore Tolstoy’s view of history, and his conception of the role of “so-called great men in historical events” (Tolstoy, Leo “Some Words About War and Peace”). In our discussions we will focus on the way Tolstoy shows us the deep internal spiritual work in his main characters and discuss the genre of War and Peace. The discussions will also include a close look at the simplicity and lucidity of Tolstoy’s writing. One of the devices he uses is the repetition of details that characterize a particular person the best.

Tolstoy is a master of contrasts: we will compare not just particular War and Peace episodes, but the formal life in St. Petersburg and the relaxed lifestyle in Moscow; life in the cities vs. life in the country estates; and the use of Russian and French languages by the Russian nobility. At the final meeting, the teacher will help students analyze Tolstoy’s ideas of the duality of freedom and necessity as presented in the Second Epilogue and other theoretical chapters within War and Peace.

I would like students to mark the passages in the book that proved hard to understand, and I will reserve some time during each class to answer all the questions. I love questions and recognize that it is not the easiest book to conquer. It is uplifting, though, and I will do my best to help everyone understand Tolstoy’s style and ideas. The first reading assignment is probably the most difficult one, as many characters appear at once. (To my students: I promise that you will know who they are by the end of the first class. You may want to leave enough time to read this assignment without rushing through it, though.)

Required Text:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude and revised and edited by Amy Mandelker, Oxford University Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-19-923276-5

Recommended Text:
Russian Thinkers by Isaiah Berlin (We will read Berlin’s famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox”)

Syllabus – Winter/Spring of 2023 on Wednesdays, times and starting date TBD
Class 1: War and Peace, Book One, Part One
Class 2: War and Peace, Book One, Part Two
Class 3: War and Peace, Book One, Part Three
Class 4: War and Peace, Book Two, Parts One and Two
Class 5: War and Peace, Book Two, Part Three
Class 6: War and Peace, Book Two, Parts Four and Five
Class 7: War and Peace, Book Three, Part One
Class 8: War and Peace, Book Three, Part Two
Class 9: War and Peace, Book Three, Part Three
Class 10: War and Peace, Book Four, Parts One and Two
Class 11: War and Peace, Book Four, Parts Three and Fo
Class 12: War and Peace, Epilogue – Parts One and Two and Appendix “Some Words about War and Peace”
One week after Class 12: First draft of the final essay is due.

Tuition:  $299.00. There will be 15% discount for the siblings taking the class. Payment is due before the first session. Payment will be accepted through PayPal. Both credit card payments and cash transfers are accepted at It is not necessary to have a Paypal account to pay with a credit card via 90% of class fees are refundable if a student withdraws before the official start of the semester. 50% of class fees are refundable during the first two sessions of the semester. After the second session, no refunds are given for any reason.

Prerequisites: Honors-level high school English classes or AP English Composition or Literature are prerequisites. Students are expected to have experience writing essays. While I will encourage students to develop their ideas and style and to improve their skills in writing about literature, the course is intended neither to be an introduction to English composition nor to literary analysis. In the past, students with significant experience in analyzing literature and writing about it have been the most successful in these classes. I highly recommend Reading and Writing about Literature: A Portable Guide by Janet E. Garner, which is a very good resource.

Level: College-level

Age/Maturity Level: 15+. We are going to read adult, college-level fiction. Russian fiction may contain sexual themes and episodes of disturbing violence not appropriate for younger readers. I feel strongly against having very young children present and want the teens to feel that our discussions are a place where they can express the most difficult and controversial ideas openly.

Number of Students: Minimum 7 students, maximum 16 students.

Blended Class Format (Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom): This is a blended course. This means that we will meet synchronously through a live webinar using Zoom software once a week for an hour and a half. We will also meet online using Canvas learning management system during the week, and participation in all online activities is required. Students will find that the synchronous and asynchronous components of the class are interdependent and integrated.

Synchronous Component: Synchronous classes will take place on Wednesdays (the time will be determined based of students’ availability) and consist of a short 15 to 20-minute lecture by the teacher, students’ presentations, and group discussions. The combination of lecture, presentations, and discussions is a format that should prepare teens for the college environment.

Asynchronous Component: Online participation is required every week. The classroom will include an Announcements area used for weekly updates, the Discussions area, the Modules area, the Syllabus area, and the Assignments area. Students will post their weekly short reflection paragraphs on the Weekly Reflections Discussion forum. A good question is as valued as a comment. Students need to finish reading the assigned chapters, write a paragraph, and comment on other students’ paragraphs before the synchronous session. Students are encouraged to participate actively on all forums and extra points will be awarded for helping others and building an online community.

Course Requirements/Amount of Outside Work/Contact Info: This is a college-level class, and as such it has a corresponding workload and expectations. The reading will be considerable – up to 150 pages per week. Students are expected to read the assigned selections in advance of each online discussion and be prepared to discuss actively what they have read during the synchronous session.

The workload will include weekly supplemental reading (essays, criticism, history, poetry, and philosophy); watching films; weekly short written assignments and comments; and two PowerPoint presentations on relevant, individually researched topics. Students will also be expected to write and revise one analytical paper (7 to 10 pages long in the MLA format) each semester. All students are expected to take responsibility for submitting their assignments on time.

The teacher will log on to the online classroom nearly every day. The Q&A discussion forum is generally the best place to ask most questions. The teacher will also be available for individual consultations through e-mail and Skype/Zoom calls. Communication with students is important to me!

Evaluations and Transcripts: Written evaluations will be provided for all writing assignments and presentations. At the end of each semester, students will receive grades on the final paper and an end-of-the-course grade. Detailed course descriptions and student evaluations will be sent to the students; these can also be sent to colleges/universities upon request. Although the class is not officially accredited, the grades and evaluations have been appreciated by colleges and universities and quite useful to former students in the college application process.

Grades: Grades are based on a scale of 100 points and are distributed among major assignments as follows (I won’t rely on Canvas for awarding grades but will use a holistic approach):
• Active participation in online weekly discussion forums: 30 points
• Active participation in the synchronous session discussion: 25 points
• Presentations during the synchronous session: 15 points
• Final analytical paper: 30 points
• Helping others on the forums will give students extra points!
Grading scale: A: 90-100; B: 80-89; C: 70-79; D: 60-69, F: 59 or below

Illustration to War and Peace. Artist Andrei Nikolaev, 1953-1955

Learning Outcomes:
1) Read literary, historical, and cultural texts with discernment and comprehension and with an understanding of their conventions and the dominant intellectual, political, and cultural trends of the period.
2) Draw on relevant cultural and/or historical information to situate texts within their cultural, political, and historical contexts.
3) Perform critical, formal analyses of literary texts and discover the role of literature in society, specific literary movements, genres, techniques, and devices.
4) Conduct research, organize collected material, and write a research paper.
5) Write focused, analytical essays in clear, grammatical prose.
6) Employ logic, creativity, and interpretive skills to produce original, persuasive arguments. Improve the ability to articulate ideas; ask relevant questions; formulate and support points; respond productively to others’ ideas.
7) Employ primary and/or secondary sources, with proper acknowledgment and citation, as they contribute to a critical essay’s thesis.

How to Apply for the Course:

If you are interested in taking the class, please do the following:
1. Copy and paste the application below from “Student Application” through all of the “Statement of Intent” into the body of an email.
2. Complete all the questions, and type your name and the date in the Statement of Intent. Please include “Student Application for Teen Russian Literature Course” in the subject of your email.
3. Email the completed Student Application and Statement of Intent directly to me at jkdenne at aol dot com.
Note: All students under the age of 18 must include the name and signature of a parent or legal guardian on the application.

I will respond as soon as possible to all applications received by email.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Julia Denne



Student Name and Age:
Student Email:
Parent Name (if under 18):
Parent Email (if under 18):

NEW STUDENTS ONLY: Please cut and paste a 500-word (or less) sample of your recent academic writing, which represents you as a writer. You can include part of a longer work. Choose writing that you feel reflects your independent writing ability.

Please describe why you’re interested in taking this class. What do you hope to gain from it? What is your background as a reader or writer, and why do you think this course is a natural next step in your education? (One or two short paragraphs are fine!)

I have read the course description and understand what this course will require from me. I further pledge to participate fully in the course. I take responsibility for completing all assignments by the required due dates. The work I submit will be solely my own composition. Plagiarism is grounds for dismissal from the course with a failing grade. Even though I am submitting this electronically, I understand that my signature is still binding.
Student Name:
Parent (if under 18):