Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 11, 2023
December 4, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
See discount terms and conditions.
Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy
was born into a large and wealthy Russian landowning
family in 1828, on the family estate of Yasnaya
Polyana. Tolstoy’s mother died when he was only two years old, and
he idealized her memory throughout his life. Indeed, many critics
believe that the angelic Princess Mary in War and Peace is
modeled on this idealized memory of the author’s mother. The family
moved to Moscow when Tolstoy was nine. Shortly afterward, his father
was murdered while traveling. Being orphaned before the age of ten, albeit
without financial worries, left Tolstoy with an acute awareness
of the power of death—an idea central to all his great works.
Though an intelligent child, Tolstoy had little interest
in academics. His aunt had to work hard to persuade him to go to
university, and he failed his entrance exam on his first attempt.
Eventually, at the age of sixteen, Tolstoy matriculated at Kazan
University. He studied law and Oriental languages, showing an interest
in the grand heroic cultures of Persia, Turkey, and the Caucasus
that persisted throughout his life. He was not popular at the university,
and was very self-conscious about his large nose and thick eyebrows. Ultimately,
Tolstoy was dissatisfied with his education, and he left the university
in 1847, without a degree.
In 1851, Tolstoy visited his brother
in the Russian army and then decided to enlist himself shortly afterward.
He served in the Crimean War (1854–1856)
and recorded his experience in his Sevastopol Stories (1855),
in which he developed techniques of representing military actions
and deaths that he would later use in War and Peace. During
his time in the army, Tolstoy produced a well-received autobiographical
novel, Childhood (1852),
followed by two others, Boyhood (1854)
and Youth (1857).
In 1862, Tolstoy married Sofya
Andreevna Behrs. He devoted most of the next two decades to raising
a large family, managing his estate, and writing his two greatest
novels, War and Peace (1865–1869)
and Anna Karenina (1875–1877).
In the years just prior to his marriage, Tolstoy had visited western
Europe, partly to observe educational methods abroad. Upon returning,
he founded and taught at schools for his peasants. His contact with
his own peasants led to a heightened appreciation of their morality,
camaraderie, and enjoyment of life, as evidenced in his celebration
of Platon Karataev in War and Peace. Indeed, Tolstoy
became quite critical of the superficiality of upper class Russians,
as we can sense in his portraits of the Kuragin family in War
and Peace. Ultimately, Tolstoy developed a desire to seek
spiritual regeneration by renouncing his family’s possessions, much
to the dismay of his long-suffering wife.
Tolstoy’s life spanned a period of intense development
for Russia. The country was transformed from a backward agricultural economy
into a major industrialized world power by the time of Tolstoy’s
death in 1910. This period witnessed major
debates between two intellectual groups in Russia: the Slavophiles,
who believed Russian culture and institutions to be exceptional
and superior to European culture, and the Westernizers, who believed that
Russia needed to follow more liberal, Western modes of thought and
government. We see traces of this debate about the destiny of Russia—whether
it should join Europe in its march toward secular values and scientific
thought, or reject modernization and cherish the traditional, Asiatic
elements of its culture—in Nicholas Rostov’s dismissal of modern
Western farming techniques in War and Peace and
his distinctly Russian style of land management. We also see this
debate in the novel’s contrast between the logical Western mind
of the arrogant Napoleon and the more holistic and humanitarian
Russian minds of Pierre and Kutuzov. During this time, Russia was
also undergoing a crisis of political thought, with a series of
authoritarian tsars provoking liberal and radical intellectuals
who demanded European constitutional rights—or even revolution—in
Russia. Tolstoy’s critical portrayal of leadership in War
and Peace owes much to the Russian liberals’ attack on
Tolstoy’s turn to religion in his own life left an imprint
on all his later writings. Works such as A Confession (1882)
and The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1893)
focused on the biblical Gospels’ ideals of brotherly love and nonresistance
to evil. The character of Pierre in War and Peace illustrates
Tolstoy’s moral commitment to humanity in a way that transcends
class and nationality. Developing a reputation as a prophet of social
thought, Tolstoy attracted disciples who came to his estate at Yasnaya
Polyana seeking out his wisdom.
In 1898, Tolstoy published a radical
essay called What Is Art?, in which he argued that
the sole aim of great art must be moral instruction, and that on
these grounds Shakespeare’s plays and even Tolstoy’s own novels
are artistic failures. Increasingly frustrated by the disparity
between his personal moral philosophy and his wealth, and by his
frequent quarrels with his wife, Tolstoy secretly left home in November 1910,
at the age of eighty-two. He fell ill with pneumonia during his
travels and died several days later in a faraway railway station.
Tolstoy was mourned by admirers and followers around the world,
and to this day is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in
To English-speaking readers, the names of the characters
in War and Peace may be somewhat confusing, as
there are a number of name-related conventions in Russian that do
not exist in English.
Each Russian has a first name, a patronymic, and a surname.
A person’s patronymic consists of his or her father’s first name
accompanied by a suffix meaning “son of” or “daughter of.” Hence,
Princess Drubetskaya is addressed as Anna Mikhaylovna (daughter
of Mikhail), Count Bezukhov is called Kyril Vladimirovich (son of Vladimir),
and so on. Characters in the novel frequently address each other
in this formal manner, using both the first name and patronymic.
When characters do not address each other formally, they
may use informal nicknames, or diminutives. Sometimes, these nicknames
bear little resemblance to the characters’ full names. For instance,
Nicholas is sometimes called Kolya (the standard nickname for Nicholas
or Nikolai); Natasha is sometimes called Natalya (her full name,
for which Natasha is the diminutive).
Furthermore, surnames in Russian take on both masculine
and feminine forms. In War and Peace, for instance,
Andrew’s surname is Bolkonski, while his sister Mary’s surname takes
the feminine form, Bolkonskaya. Likewise, Count Rostov is married
to Countess Rostova, and their sons have the surname Rostov while
their daughters have the surname Rostova.
Keeping these conventions in mind helps to distinguish
characters as they are addressed by different names throughout the
novel. However, the use of these conventions varies in different
editions of War and Peace, as some translators
choose to simplify or eliminate name variants in order to make the
novel more accessible to an English-speaking audience.
Ace your assignments with our guide to War and Peace!