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Winter/Spring 2020: Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Illustration for War and Peace

Illustration to War and Peace. Artist Dmitry Shmarinov, 1953-1955

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

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 Duration: 12 weeks (January – April 2020)

Blended Class Format (Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom): This is a blended course. This means that we will meet synchronously through a live webinar using Electa software once a week for 12 weeks for an hour and a half. We will also meet online using Canvas learning management system, 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: The time and day for the class will be arranged to be as convenient as possible to all students (no synchronous class during Spring break). Synchronous classes will 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. A brief video orientation overview of the online classroom will be available at least a week before the class starts. The classroom will include an Announcements area used for weekly updates, the Discussions area, the Modules area, the Syllabus area, and the Assignment area. Students will post their weekly short reflection paragraphs and comments on other students’ work 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. No paragraph is required for the first class.

There will be a general Q&A discussion forum where questions about class requirements and assignments may be asked. Students are encouraged to participate actively on all forums and extra points will be awarded for helping others and building an online community. Students will be working on their final papers in April.

Course Requirements/Amount of Outside Work: 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 actively discuss the assigned reading during the synchronous session. The workload will include weekly supplemental reading (essays, criticism, and history); watching films; weekly short written assignments and comments; and up to two PowerPoint presentations on relevant, individually-researched topics. In addition, students will be expected to write and revise one analytical paper (5 to 9 pages long in the MLA format).

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

Age/Maturity Level: 14+. 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.

Prerequisites: Honors-level high school English and History 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 and history, the course is intended neither to be an introduction to English composition nor to history and literary analysis. In the past, students with significant experience in analyzing history, literature, and writing have been the most successful in these classes. I highly recommend to consult Reading and Writing about Literature: A Portable Guide by Janet E. Garner, which is a very good resource.

Evaluations and Transcripts: Written or voice evaluations will be provided for all writing assignments and presentations. A detailed participation rubric will be posted online under the Course Materials area and under the Syllabus area for grading criteria and expectations. 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.

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 papers: 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

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 participation in live webinars. Headsets are strongly encouraged to reduce echo.

Estimated Cost: $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.

Number of Students: Minimum 6 students, maximum 16 students.


Artist Nadya Rusheva, 1960s.

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 2020
Synchronous Meetings on Thursdays from 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm CT

Class 1: Jan 23; Week of Jan 16-23 War and Peace, Book One, Part One
Class 2: Jan 30; Week of Jan 24-30 War and Peace, Book One, Part Two
Class 3: Feb 6; Week of Jan 31-Feb 6 War and Peace, Book One, Part Three
Class 4: Feb 13; Week of Feb 7-13 War and Peace, Book Two, Parts One and Two
Class 5: Feb 20; Week of Feb 14-20 War and Peace, Book Two, Part Three
Class 6: Feb 27; Week of Feb 21-27 War and Peace, Book Two, Parts Four and Five
Class 7: Mar 5; Week of Feb 28-Mar 5 War and Peace, Book Three, Part One
Class 8: Mar 12; Week of Mar 6-12 War and Peace, Book Three, Part Two
Class 9: Mar 19; Week of Mar 13-19 War and Peace, Book Three, Part Three
No Class on Mar 26 (Spring Break Week Mar 20-26)
Class 10: Apr 2; Week of Mar 27-Apr 2 War and Peace, Book Four, Parts One and Two
Class 11: Apr 9; Week of Apr 3-9 War and Peace, Book Four, Parts Three and Four
Class 12: Apr 16; Week of Apr 10-16 War and Peace, Epilogue – Parts One and Two and Appendix “Some Words about War and Peace
No Class Week of Apr 17-13: First Draft of the Final Essay is due on April 23.

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 acknowledgement and citation, as they contribute to a critical essay’s thesis.