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Winter/Spring 2014 – Tolstoy’s War and Peace


Tolstoy’s War and Peace has been designed to help teens understand and enjoy War and Peace, regardless of previous exposure to the novel. We will focus on close textual analysis of the book, supplemented by biographical, historical, cultural, artistic, and critical information that I will introduce at each class. I will draw upon my Russian background to provide students with a unique opportunity to appreciate some of the pleasures of the original Russian version. For example, we will talk about the semantics of the Russian and English words for “war” and “peace,” comparing the different meanings and connotations.

We will discuss 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”). We will learn about the Napoleonic wars of 1805 – 1813 and the historical situation in Europe and Russia of that period.

wwwwDiscussions will also include the genre of War and Peace and the simplicity and lucidity of Tolstoy’s writing. One of the devices he uses is repetition of details that characterize a particular person the best. We will also focus on the way Tolstoy shows us the deep, internal spiritual work of his main characters. Tolstoy is a master of contrasts: we will compare not just particular episodes and characters from the novel, but the formal lifestyle of St. Petersburg and the relaxed lifestyle in Moscow; life in the cities vs. life in country estates; and the use of Russian and French language by the Russian nobility. At the final meeting, we will 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.

Class Time and Format:
Each class will consist of a 20 to 30 minute lecture, students’ presentations, and group discussion. The combination of lecture, presentations, and discussion is a format that should prepare teens for the college environment.

There will be two sessions. Classes will not meet the first week of May due to AP exams.
Evening session: Wednesdays from 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm CST beginning February 12, 2014 and ending May 14, 2014
Morning session: Thursdays from 10:00 am – 11:30 am CST beginning February 13, 2014 and ending May 15, 2014

Age/Maturity Level: 13+ (mainly because of the content). We are going to read adult, college-level fiction. War and Peace contains sexual themes and episodes of extreme violence. I feel strongly against having very young children present. I want the teens to feel that our discussions are a place where they can express the most difficult and controversial ideas openly.

wwwCourse Requirements and Workload: The amount of reading will be considerable – up to 150 pages per week. Students are expected to read the assigned works before each session and be prepared to discuss what they have read. In addition, the workload will include the reading of supplemental texts from various fields (essays, criticism, history, poetry, and philosophy); watching suggested film; writing short assignments for each class; and making one or two presentations. One analytical paper (4 to 7 pages long in the MLA format) is expected. I will work closely with each student on their papers. As the class is discussion-based, students are expected to take an active part in all discussions. I will be available for individual consultations through e-mail, Skype, and phone calls.

Prerequisites: Students are expected to have experience writing essays and know the MLA format. While I will encourage students to develop their ideas and style, the course is not intended to be an introduction to English composition.

Evaluations: Written evaluations will be provided via email for all writing assignments and presentations. I will be evaluating the final paper, participation, and presentations with in-depth comments. I plan on giving grades on the paper (the final draft) and an end-of-the-course grade.

Paragraphs: 20%
Paper: 35%
Class Discussion: 30%
Presentations: 15%

Cost: $239.00 per semester. 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.

You may decide to buy War and Peace. The edition I recommend is easily found through Amazon and is under $12. The e-book version will be very hard to read because of multiple footnotes and end notes, and I will be referring to particular pages in the class.

Number of Students: Minimum 7 students, maximum 12 students.

Technical Requirements: All students must have a PC or Macintosh with internet access and a supported browser to participate in courses. High-speed internet is strongly recommended. A microphone or headset is required for live webinars. Headsets are strongly encouraged to reduce echo.
I would like the students to mark the passages in the book that proved hard to understand. I’ll reserve time each class to discuss them. I love questions, and recognize that War and Peace isn’t the easiest book to conquer. It is uplifting, though, and I will do my best to help the students understand Tolstoy’s style and ideas. The first reading assignment is probably the most difficult one, as many characters appear at once. I promise that everybody will know who they are by the end of the first class. Please allow enough time to read the first assignment without rushing through it.

Class 1 Feb 12/13 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book One, Part One
Class 2 Feb 19/20 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book One, Part Two
Class 3 Feb 26/27 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book One, Part Three
Class 4 March 5/6 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Two, Parts One and Two
Class 5 March 12/13 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Two, Part Three
Class 6 March 26/27 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Two, Parts Four and Five
Class 7 Apr 2/3 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Three, Part One
Class 8 Apr 9/10 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Three, Part Two
Class 9 Apr 16/17 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Three, Part Three
Class 10 Apr 23/24 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Four, Parts One and Two
Class 11 Apr 30/May 1 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Book Four, Parts Three and Four
Class 12 May 14/15 Reading Assignment: War and Peace, Epilogue – Parts One and Two and Appendix “Some Words about War and Peace”

Texts (required):
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

Notes on the Translation: Many translations of War and Peace are excellent, and I examined a large number of them, including the translations by Constance Garnett, Rosemary Edmonds, Ann Dunnigan, Anthony Briggs, and Pevear/Volokhonsky before choosing this translation for our class. I find the revised and edited Maude translation closest to the Russian text. It has fewer obvious mistakes when compared with the Russian version of War and Peace, while the translations by Edmonds and Dunnigan are less awkward and show the elegance and simplicity of Tolstoy’s style quite well. I think that all translations are valuable, and it is not possible to state which one is the best. To give one example, I found that Constance Garnett’s translation, recently much criticized in the press in order to stimulate interest in the new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, is the only translation that shows some of the main themes of the book properly (I am going to talk more about the problem of translation during the class). The Maude translation came out in the 1920s, and Louise and Aylmer Maude were personal friends of Leo Tolstoy. It is the standard translation read in most American universities. It has long been considered the best English version of Tolstoy’s masterpiece. You won’t see any modern American slang in the dialogues, or any expressions not common in Tolstoy’s time. The translation has been corrected and revised several times, and many mistakes have been eliminated. I love Aylmer Maude’s notes, which help the reader understand the Russian history and traditions. The edition I chose restores the French passages completely, and names are given in their Russian forms. The book also contains several maps, a list of principal characters and guide to pronunciation, a list of historical characters in War and Peace, and a list of dates of principal events.

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

Recommended Film:
War and Peace. Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. DVD (405 min) by Kultur DVD, 1968. It has English subtitles.

Biographies and Books about Tolstoy (not required):
Tolstoy: A Russian Life by Rosamund Bartlett, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
Tolstoy by Henri Troyat, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967
Tolstoy by A. N. Wilson, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1988
Tolstoy and His Wife by Tikhon Polner, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1945
Song Without Words: The Photographs & Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy by Leah Bendavid-Val, National Geographic, 2007
Tolstoy As I Knew Him: My Life At Home and At Yasnaya Polyana by Tatiana Kuzminskaya, Macmillan Company, 1948
Gorky’s Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences by Maxim Gorky, Yale University Press, 2008
The Liberation of Tolstoy: A Tale of Two Writers by Ivan Bunin, Northwestern University Press, 2001
Books on Russia, Its Culture, History, and Literature (not required):
The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture by James H. Billington, Vintage Books, 1970
Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes, Metropolitan Books, 2002
The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn by Solomon Volkov, Knopf, 2008
Land of the Firebird by Suzanne Massie, Heart Tree Press, 1980
The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia by John Channon and Rob Hudson, Viking, 1995
Life on the Russian Country Estate: A Social and Cultural History by Priscilla Roosevelt, Yale University Press, 1995
A History of Russian Literature: From Its Beginning to 1900 by D. S. Mirsky, Northwestern University Press, 1999
A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism by Andrzei Walicki, Stanford University Press, 1979
The Cossacks: An Illustrated History by John Ure, The Overlook Press, 2002
Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace by Dominic Lieven, Viking Penguin, 2010
In the Service of the Tsar Against Napoleon: The Memoirs of Denis Davidov, 1806-1814, Greenhill Books, 1999
The Cavalry Maiden: Journals of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars by Nadezhda Durova, Indiana University Press, 1988


Illustrations by Nadya Rusheva