It's today, Tolstoy's 182nd birthday and we're off on our year-long shared read of Tolstoy's War & Peace and I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to this.
I'm hoping everyone has made friends with a copy of the book which is to their liking, I'm already bonded with mine and can see it will, like Ulysses last year, become a permanent feature around the house. I love the thought that I'll be reading one book into the autumn, over Christmas, through the depths of winter, through those doldrums of early New Year and on into spring and another summer and you'll all be reading too. As we say farewell to the swallows any day now I'll still be reading War and Peace when they come back.
The first thing to say is this read is primarily for pleasure and fun so don't feel under any pressure if you fall behind or slip off the back of the troika, there will be plenty of encouragement and flag-waving in comments I'm sure.
Nor is this an in-depth academic or literary study though I feel sure we will pick up plenty of nuances and knowledge along the way, and I am so delighted that Helen Rappaport will be alongside us. With the incredible depth of her Russian knowledge Helen's company (when she has time) will be a real privilege, I suspect we are in for a unique treat as well as getting some of those questions answered along the way...though I am also mindful that Helen is in mid-flow with her forthcoming book on the death of Prince Albert so we will just be very happy to see her when ever she can stop by.
Everyone may have their own method here, the chapter-a-day readers (there are 366 chapters) will be cantering along at their own pace, others may gallop ahead, whilst the schedule I plan to read takes in a neat trot of about a hundred or so pages a month and fits comfortably with Tolstoy's natural breaks in the book. So for this next month I will be reading the twenty-five chapters of Book One - Part One which takes me to p118 in my edition, gathering back here for comments on October 9th and with a new post on the 9th of every month thereafter.
And you can always add comments on this post through the month too.
All the posts will be tagged under the Team Tolstoy permalink also filed in the margins over here >>>> along with a few other helpful (hopefully) additions.
The edition I read some years ago contained a life-saving bookmark with the names of the main characters, other prominent characters and historical figures which I laminated and was rarely parted from as I read. For my sins I have typed that up as an aide memoire and my thanks to Ruth who has helpfully formatted it into two sides of a customized Team Tolstoy bookmark which you can also print off and make your own.
I've also invested £8.99 in what feels like a bit of a bargain, the complete BBC series of War and Peace starring Antony Hopkins on DVD from Amazon, but with Dutch sub-titles. Now for once I have believed those on Amazon who say this is a steal because apparently all you do is change the language to English and switch off the sub-titles and you are left with the original version, all 900 minutes of it. It will almost certainly involve a panic phone call to a child asking how to sort this but currently I'm faintly optimistic.
Finally,my thanks to Helen Rappaport who has kindly given us the following beginners tips for success in coping with the Russian names, this will also be stored as file over in Team Tolstoy HQ >>>>
First principle to remember is that in Tsarist Russia particularly in the Napoleonic period, French was the primary language at court. Many aristos spoke it better than their native Russian. They therefore often used Frenchified forms of their first names - this prevailed right up to the Revolution with e.g. Grand Duchess Mariya the tsar’s third daughter being called ‘Marie’ by the family.
Second principle is that the Russian naming system uses patronymics: -ovich and -evich are the most common ending for males; -evna for females. These are the bugbears for most non-Russian speakers who have to cope with tripartite names. I would suggest ignore them and think of the characters in terms merely of their first and second names. Having said that though in polite conversation Russians then, as now, never ever address each other by Christian name only but always by first name + patronymic - this is the real bind in all Russian novels!
Here are the most regularly occurring names in the story with both the French form, when used, and the Russian and its most common diminutive/affectionate forms (though some first names have as many as 20 variants!)
Pierre Bezukhov (real Russian name Petr) don’t think anyone calls him anything other than Pierre but his real Russian name is Petr Kirillovich. The most common diminutives of the name Petr, in case they occur elsewhere in the novel are: Petya, Petrush(k)a, Petyusha (and many more forms but a lot of these are colloquial/peasant usage)
Nikolai: Kolya, Kolyusha, Nikasha, Nikolka ( as per Petr I could go on… and on)
Vera: Verusha, Verushka
Natalya: French form Natalie may occur; otherwise: Natasha, Tasha are the most common
Sonya: this name in Russian is actually an affectionate form of Sofya. Also Sonyushka
Andrei: French form André also used. Other Russian forms - mainly Andryusha
Mariya: Marie is used I’m sure . Other Russian forms: Marya, Maryusha and many other variants
Lisa: French Lise.; not a Russian name in this form. Affectionate form of Elizaveta
Vasili: commonest diminutives Vasya, Vasska
Note that Helene - who I don’t think is ever referred to other than in the French form, would actually be Elena Vasilievna Kuragina in Russian
Also I think Julie Karagina is referred to in the French form rather than in the Russian form Yuliya
So that's it Team, let's get this troika on the snow...Ready...Steady....Tolstoy.