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Here are a few facts about the author who was born years ago today , his struggles to bring War and Peace to life, and the lasting impact the work has had in Russia and beyond.

Serializing a work of fiction was common for writers at the time, and a way for Tolstoy to support himself as he continued working on the novel. Tolstoy envisioned a trilogy that centered on the attempted overthrow of Tsar Nicolas I by a group of military officers who became known as The Decembrists.

The second book would focus on their failed uprising, with a third book following the officers during their exile and eventual return from Siberia. As Tolstoy began writing, he was so taken with the time period surrounding the Napoleonic Wars that he decided to make it his sole focus. Tolstoy would often insist that his wife Sofya sit with him while he wrote. The story was a hit with readers, and the publishers of Russian Messenger paid him well.

But Sofya Tolstoy urged her husband to publish the work in book form, arguing that he could earn more money and reach a wider audience. They led to the novel War and Peace , which was only half the final novel. While visiting family in Moscow in , Tolstoy read his relatives sections of his work in progress. The family was surprised to hear numerous similarities between themselves and the characters.

In a novel with as many characters as War and Peace in all , this was, perhaps, inevitable. According to Bartlett, though, this was a common practice for Tolstoy. A historical novel as long and involved as War and Peace required exhaustive research. Tolstoy read as many books about the Napoleonic Wars as he could. He also conducted interviews with veterans and visited battlefields like Borodino.

The War on Paper

So he called on his father in law, Andrey Bers, who clipped old newspaper articles for Tolstoy and reminisced about his childhood in the early s. Tolstoy also turned to historian friends for help, carrying on lengthy correspondences and even bringing some of them to his estate of Yasnaya Polyana. A perfectionist, Tolstoy insisted on getting the introduction right before moving on. Thankfully for him, the rest of the novel came out at a faster pace. The constant churn could be frustrating to the author, who would often clear his head with hunting excursions on his estate at Yasnaya Polyana.

Even after the six volumes of War and Peace were completed, Tolstoy went back and revised. He cut out pages and pages of commentary, eventually whittling the work down to four volumes. But according to Bartlett, Tolstoy knew he was worth more than that, and demanded rubles per sheet. Was War and Peace fiction, or was it non-fiction? The truth, of course, is that it was both. In dramatizing history with such scope and detail, Tolstoy had taken a massive leap towards the modern historical novel.

History, Tolstoy believed, is the chronicle of individual lives, and fiction is the best way to reveal those lives. Many readers were on board, and War and Peace became a smash success. Despite an overwhelmingly positive response to War and Peace from readers and critics, Tolstoy wanted to address those who criticized the work's genre ambiguity.

It is not a novel, still less a [narrative] poem, and even less an historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted to and could express in the form in which it was expressed. The six years Tolstoy toiled away on War and Peace taxed both his mind and body. Toward the end of the writing process, he developed migraines, which he often tried to work through but which would sometimes stop him in his tracks.

After finishing the work, he came down with a severe case of the flu that left him feeling drained for weeks. The author took a prolonged hiatus from writing, focusing instead on learning Greek and building a schoolhouse for the children who lived at Yasnaya Polyana.

Tolstoy was no stranger to war. One is Mrs. Larue, a relative by marriage. Her Creole eyes and rounded shoulders offer grave dangers to Carter.

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Larue conveniently takes passage on the same ship. Though Carter tries feebly to fend her off, he is no match for a woman who spouts Michelet by moonlight and drapes her bare shoulders in a diaphanous veil. The inevitable seduction soon takes place. When the adultery is discovered by the Ravenels, Lillie and her baby son leave Louisiana and the Colonel. Captain Colburne, matured by battle as Lillie is matured by marriage, returns at last to New Boston and wins the pretty widow.

Here she is, at twenty-three, with but one child, and only at her second husband.

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Two-thirds of her years and heart history are probably before her. Women are most interesting at thirty: … then only do they attain their highest charm as members of society. The novel includes social profiles of northern and southern cities, political life in Barataria and Washington, contraband cotton intrigue, a plantation experiment by Dr. Ravenel with Negro freedmen, and a cast of characters drawn from every social class. Such often happens with the theme of temperance.

He still recoils from the evils of drunkenness as he came to know them in the South and in the Army. Nevertheless, De Forest is capable at times of talking like a modern sociologist. This mark of resolute honesty is most clearly manifest in his battlefield and hospital scenes. Compared to them, the bloody episodes in the novels of his more popular contemporaries ring about as true as the libretto of an operetta.

Cooke was a Virginian, and his story helped to initiate that southern conquest of the North by book, myth, and movie that began right after Appomattox and has yet to stop. Here, for example, is a typical battle passage from Mohun : I set out at full gallop, and soon reached the column.

At the head of it rode Young, the beau sabreur of Georgia, erect, gallant, with his brave eye and smile.

The Column thundered on, and as it passed I recognized Mohun, his flashing eye and burnished sabre gleaming from the dust cloud. Spurs were buried in the hot flanks; the mass was hurled at the enemy; and clashing like thunder, sword against sword, swept everything before it.

Unlike Cooke, whose episodes all run together in a welter of adjectives and repeated metaphors, De Forest makes us see and hear each moment of battle. On went the regiments, moving at the ordinary quick-step, arms at a right-shoulder-shift, ranks closed, gaps filled, unfaltering, heroic.

The War on Paper

The dead were falling; the wounded were crawling in numbers to the rear; the leisurely hum of long-range bullets had changed into the sharp, multitudinous whit-whit of close firing; the stifled crash of balls hitting bones and the soft chuck of flesh wounds mingled with the outcries of the sufferers; the bluff in front was smoking, rattling, wailing with the incessant file fire; but the front of the Brigade remained unbroken, and its rear showed no stragglers. The right hand regiment floundered in a swamp, but the others hurried on without waiting for it.

As the momentum of the movement increased, as the spirits of the men rose with the charge, a stern shout broke forth, something between a hurrah and a yell, swelling up against the Rebel musketry and defying it. Gradually the pace increased to a double-quick, and the whole mass ran for an eighth of a mile through the whistling bullets. The second fence disappeared like frost-work, and up the slope of the hill struggled the panting regiments. When the foremost ranks had nearly reached the summit, a sudden silence stifled the musketry.

Elliot Ackerman’s ‘Green on Blue’

The clamor of the charging yell redoubled for a moment and then died in the roar of a tremendous volley. Now the Union line was firing, and now the Rebels were falling.

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Such was the charge which carried the crossing and gained the battle of Cane River. De Forest has allowed his mighty subject to provide the emotion for the events; he has dispensed with the language of metaphor. Herein lies one of his signal contributions to American literature. If a major problem for the modern writer has been to devise ways to purify language of inherited abuses, here is an early forerunner of Crane and Hemingway who has done just that.

This attempt to widen and deepen the American novel-reading audience was singlehanded, premature, and a failure; De Forest was not able to expand the narrow and timid sensibilities of a predominantly feminine clientele wedded to books like Mohun. Almost half a century before Charles Beard and the economic determinists, John De Forest had the insight to play down simple minded abolitionist explanations and to note the importance of cotton, the spirit of capitalistic speculation, and the political party as shaping factors in the sectional conflict.

He saw the war as an immensely complicated confrontation of industrial democracy and a vicious aristocracy. Happily, the common man had triumphed and slavery had been abolished, but the two were not necessarily connected phenomena. Nor were they necessarily happy auguries for the future. It is an image amazingly free of sectional bias.

Through a realistic imagination have been filtered the common experiences of the critical years behind an uncommon vision of the troubled decades ahead. It hovers most of the time in the background, but on one occasion at least finds eloquent voice. That moment comes after the description of the battle of Fort Winthrop, when De Forest ends the chapter, remarking, Those days are gone by, and there will be no more like them forever, at least not in our forever.

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Not very long ago, not more than two hours before this ink dried upon the paper, the author of the present history was sitting on the edge of a basaltic cliff which overlooked a wide expanse of fertile earth, flourishing villages, the spires of a city, and, beyond, a shining sea flecked with the full-blown sails of peace and prosperity.

From the face of another basaltic cliff two miles distant, he saw a white globule of smoke dart a little way upward, and a minute afterwards heard a dull, deep pum! Quarrymen there were blasting out rocks from which to build hives of industry and happy family homes.