The novel revolves around the exploits of the impoverished but beautiful and devious Becky Sharp who craves wealth and a position in society. Calculating and determined to succeed, she charms, deceives and manipulates everyone she meets. A novel of early 19th-century English society, it takes its title from the place designated as the centre of human corruption in John Bunyan’s 17th-century allegory. Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky. The Divine Comedy describes Dante’s descent into Hell with Virgil as a guide, his ascent of Mount Purgatory and his encounter with his dead love Beatrice, and finally, his arrival in Heaven.
I found myself invested in and identifying with so many of the characters, despite the novel taking place two centuries ago. First editions, autographed and signed books from feminism to the occult, naval history to crime. West is best-known for such fictional works as The Return of the Soldier, but this travel book, a study of Balkan history and ethnography, is a rigorous yet exhilarating experience. But seriously, there is something in Tolstoy’s genius, in the way he lets you into the private worlds of his characters, which allows you to reflect on your own sense of self . As one of those people who always imagines himself as one of the characters of a novel when reading it, I have swiftly realised that, tragically, I am far closer to the socially awkward Pierre than the dashing Andrei. In fact, an exchange between the two men early on made me realise this.
Tolstoy himself had always had a great fondness for little Tatyana. Her liveliness and spontaneity offered the inspiration for the character of Natasha Rostov. Many episodes of the novel, such as the young Natasha asking Boris to kiss her doll, or Natasha’s despair after being abandoned by Anatole, are taken from real incidents in Tatyana’s life. In modern Russian, the words for ‘peace’ and ‘world’ are identical, a fact which has led to an urban myth that Tolstoy intended his novel to be called War and World. The Cyrillic alphabet was modernised after the 1917 Revolution; prior to this, the words for ‘peace’ and ‘world’, though pronounced the same, were spelt differently.
Tolstoy brilliantly moves from battle field to drawing room and back to battle field, keeping the reader eager to discover the outcome of each drama as it unfolds. The reader may find themselves falling in love with more than one character, both romantically and intellectually, that is the magic of Tolstoy’s creations. As for the novel itself recommendation is superfluous for anyone who has once read this marvellous book.
It’s characters and structure are magnificent – there are scenes that made me excited, nervous, tearful and joyful! I wlll be bereft without my daily excerpt and I envy anyone who is yet to read this for the first time. Don’t be put off by the length or any fear that lingers from its reputation.
The other side to this is that he intentionally caused his own family to suffer financially. Surely any parent can see how cruel and thoughtless that is? Being kind to strangers but cruel to his family seems to be a recurring theme in Tolstoy’s life. Some fantastic narrators and some really poor ones that make it hard to follow the story. Don Quixote has become so entranced by reading romances of chivalry that he determines to become a knight errant and pursue bold adventures, accompanied by his squire, the cunning Sancho Panza.