War and Peace: The Before We Begin Questions

I’ve been wanting to read ‘War and Peace’ ever since I finished ‘Anna Karenina’ and I think that the time has come.

The ‘War and Peace’ read-along at Reading in Bed begins in July

Here are my thoughts about the ‘before we begin’ type questions:

Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

I looked at this read-along – a chapter a day for the whole year – back in January. The idea was lovely but I realised quite early on that the pacing too slow for me and I drifted away.

What edition and translation are you reading?

I have two and I’m really not sure which one I’m going to read.

On one hand I have the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in a lovely old Macmillan edition, with maps for endpapers and headings at the top of each page.

When I auditioned translations of ‘Anna Karenina’ theirs was my favourite by far, I love that they knew Tolstoy, and what I’ve read of their translation of ‘War and Peace’ feels right.

On the other hand I have the Anthony Briggs translation in a recent Penguin edition.


It’s wonderfully readable, I’d be less worried about wear and tear with a newer, more replaceable edition, I like what he has to say is his translator’s note. But it feels a little less Russian, a little less of the period than the Maudes.

I’m going to read a little more of each translation, and then I’ll make a decision and stick to it.

How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

I watched the most recent BBC adaptation. That’s given me an idea of the characters and the story arc, but I know that there is going to be much more to the book.

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I don’t want to over-think this, so I’ve just read the introductory material and the translator’s notes from my two edition.

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

I hope to enjoy spending time with the characters in their world. And to be able to say that I’ve read it!

What are you intimidated by?

Just the sheer scale of the thing.

Do you think it’s okay to skip the ‘war’ parts?

I have no plans to – the ‘war’ parts are a large and significant part of the book.

I’ve come across the Napoleonic War in books before, I’m interested in seeing it from a different perspective. So I have no plans to skip it though I suspect that – as when I read ‘Vanity Fair’ – I might be wishing that Jonathan Strange might appear to help move things along ….

And that’s it!

Any advice would, as always, be gratefully received!

34 thoughts on “War and Peace: The Before We Begin Questions

  1. My advice would be to read slowly and savour. There is just as much interest in human nature and characters in the war sections as the society ones. On Trollope19thcStudies @ Yahoo we read it last year, starting sometime in May and finishing in September. At first a few chapters but then we realized we’d never finish and these were too small, so we read a part at a time. A very great book if you lend yourself to it.

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    1. A part at a time is the plan for this read-along, so I’m pleased to know that approach worked for your group. I want to start with the group for support, but if I need to read more slowly to appreciate everything the book holds I shall.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We are extremely fortunate to have Anthony Briggs as a friend of the family. Talking to him about his translation work is absolutely fascinating. And of course I am biased in favour of his version! My sense of how to tackle this magnificent work is to forget that one is reading a potentially challenging masterpiece and just take it page by page! 🙂

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  3. Good luck Jane! I read W&P at the start of the year and your post prompted me to look back at my post about it. It reminded me how swept up I became – I hope you have an equally enjoyable, consuming experience 🙂


  4. What an odd cover! That’s a replica of the original cover for Gone with the Wind {Macmillan, 1936.} I wonder if they issued that edition trying to capitalize on the success of Gone with the Wind — or to allude to reviewers’ initial comparisons of Gone with the Wind to War & Peace? {rhetorical questions, of course} 🙂


    1. Thank you for pointing this out (I knew the cover looked familiar!) I know both books as historical novels which deal with epoch defining wars for their respective cultures … but I hadn’t know of the reviews’ initial comparisons between the two books – it’s given me a lot to think about 🙂

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  5. Advice from my husband on this book is, “It’s not as long as you think it is”. He really enjoyed reading it decades ago. Good luck with it – enjoy!


      1. I agree.

        I read this one summer holidays (when I was teaching and had a lovely 6 weeks off every year!)

        But it was before I appreciated the differences between translations. And I’ve only just realised now that I’ve hunted down my book that I actually have an abridged version with a translation by Princess Alexandra Kropotkin – no wonder I read it in 6 weeks!!

        I will pay close attention to which translation you all end up preferring as it looks like I will now have to reread the unabridged version at some point in my retirement.


  6. All the best Jane!! This is again one of my all time favorites and if I had just a little more time, I would have joined! Be that as it may, its a wonderful book….read it slow and savor the fine perfect details; I always feel in my mind I am seeing the sweeping montages of 19th century Russia, from the ball rooms to the countryside to the battlefields!! Have fun!


  7. I am so tempted to join in, because I’m a newbie, but the stack of books already waiting for me is giving me a stern look. So I’ll enjoy it vicariously with you, if that’s OK. 🙂 What a fascinating summer it will be!


  8. Have you read Max Cairnduff’s fairly recent posts on reading W & P? (He blogs at Pechorin’s Journal.) If not, I think you might find them of interest. if my memory serves me correctly, the first piece covers his approach to reading the novel – what worked or didn’t work for him – while his second focuses on the story itself. There’s another post still to come (with thoughts on the translation), but I’m sure he’d be willing to answer any questions you might have – I think he read the Maudes’ version.


  9. Good luck. I read War and Peace a few years ago as part of another readalong and really enjoyed it, although I eventually had to abandon the schedule so I could read at my own pace. I did prefer the peace parts, but the war parts contain some of the most powerful scenes in the novel so I’m glad you’re not planning to skip them!


  10. Good luck with this, Jane. This is a book I have sworn I will never read because of the size (i am intimidated by huge books). But recently I read Anna Karenina and was mesmerized by Tolstoy’s prose and the atmosphere he created. Now I am in two minds about War and Peace because I so loved Anna, just like you. I will be looking forward to your updates on this book.


    1. Thank you. I don’t usually like seeing a dramatization before I read the book, but with a big book like this I think it will help me to keep track of who is who and what is going on until I really get into the book.


  11. I’ll be reading along with Laura and co. as well, so I’m excited to hear your thoughts along the way. Hopefully we survive haha. (I also wrote a similar tag post on my blog, if you’re interested)


    1. It’s going to be a long I’m sure we will make it to the end one day. When I read Anna Karenina I found Tolstoy wonderfully readable and engaging, so I’m only really worried about working through the war side of things.


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