Leo Tolstoy's 186th birthday: Here's War and Peace in 186 words

Because although we should read it from cover to cover, realistically…

Boyd Tonkin
Tuesday 09 September 2014 14:33 BST
Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy (Getty)

What better way to celebrate the birthday of Leo Tolstoy than to read his monumentally weighty tome War and Peace…?

Well, for those who don't quite have time to get through all 561,093 words (Oxford World's Classics edition) of it, The Independent has produced its own marvellously abridged version.

So, on the 186th anniversary of Tolstoy's birth, here it is; in 186 words.

Petersburg, 1805: glitzy party at Anna Scherer’s. Napoleon is on the march. Kuragins? Flashy, dodgy crowd, especially minx Helene. Rostovs? Nice, penniless Moscow clan, with headstrong son, Nikolai.

Gauche, thoughtful Pierre Bezukhov: a count’s bastard, super-rich (when dad dies) but adrift. Unhappily wed Andrey Bolkonsky’s the real warrior toff, but those dark nights of the soul! Pierre marries flighty Helene.

Catastrophe! Rows, affair, duel, break-up (and Helene’s bad end) guaranteed. Andrey, Nikolai confront Napoleon at Austerlitz: Russian debacle. Widowed, Andrey falls for blooming Natasha, who’s ensnared by married cad Anatol Kuragin.

Do-gooding Pierre tries to save the world: fails.

1812: here’s fateful Napoleon again, making history (but what is history?), invading Russia. Bloody slaughter at Borodino; Russia resists. Andrey’s injured, Pierre a fugitive, then PoW. Rostovs flee as Moscow fall.

Amid the misery, Natasha grows up fast; Pierre too, helped by saintly peasant. Nikolai rescues Maria, the dying Andrey’s sister. Napoleon retreats. Hurrah!

Liberated, Pierre bonds with Natasha; Nikolai and Maria spliced. Poor cousin Sonya, Nikolai’s long-suffering intended! Two new families: happily ever after?

Almost but what does it all (time, history, freedom, destiny) really mean?

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