Do I Know Tolstoy?
Frankly, I must say that I was caught off guard when there was introduced into Tolstoy’s War and Peace numerous sections dedicated to philosophy. I had only heard of the book because it was supposedly a grand and realistic war novel (which in fact, I say it is). However, Tolstoy openly called War and Peace “not a novel” a few years after its publication in a Russian newspaper. It has always held me in great interest that Tolstoy should have considered this to be the case, apparent as his many instances in which the plot line of that grand volume concedes to pages upon pages of philosophical thought.
Most of this thought is focused on the notion of free will. Tolstoy was, after all, composing a very large volume of historical fiction, so why should he not have the right to speculate who had caused those grand events in history: the entrance of Napoleon into Russia, or even before the Battle of Austerlitz? But Tolstoy did not reach a conclusion that directed blame (or, rather, responsibility) at any one, or even several, figures who could have been behind the events of the early nineteenth century - he came to the conclusion that free will, does not, in fact, exist as most perceive it.
According to Tolstoy, every action is the result of several environmental factors around that action. If free will exists, argued Tolstoy, then all of history would simply be a series of completely disconnected events. But on the other hand, actions cannot all conform to a set rule or procedure, or else nothing would ever be…well, new. Tolstoy’s argument that the will of humankind is influenced, however, was not nearly as concise as I have so vulgarly summarized it.
I began War and Peace for the challenge, and I intended to read a prestigious and highly-renown historical-fiction novel. And suddenly, upon completion of this great work of literature, I found myself not reflecting much on the actual plot line or characters (though I love the storylines of Pierre, or Prince Andrew Bolkonsky, or Nicholas Rostov, and so on), but instead I could not vacate from my mind Tolstoy’s thoughts on free will - it was the philosophy that left an impression on me, not so much the actual plot line of the book, as clever as it is.
That I am writing this essay - of which this is not the first - is evidence enough that there is still a part of me forever trapped in that wondrous book. Not to be misinterpreted, I must affirm that War and Peace is easily, in my opinion, the greatest work of literature ever conceived. But I often wonder: because Tolstoy claimed that his book represented philosophy, am I one of the few missing out on interpreting the true, exciting, enthralling story of the characters, or am I one of the few who simply has been captivated by the parts that Tolstoy intended to convey?