Commentary Magazine


Contentions

A Wonderful Essay…

…by James Wood, writing in the New Yorker about the new translation of War and Peace, which captures with gorgeous urgency the extraordinary contradictions of Tolstoy’s vision and finds the friction they generate one of the causes of the book’s unsurpassed evocation and replication of life itself in fictional prose:

The irony is that this novel about great egotists and solipsists (Pierre and Andrei are just the chief representatives), written by perhaps the greatest egotist ever to put pen to paper, is a cannon aimed directly at the egotism of Napoleon. As a result, Tolstoy the novelist, whenever he describes Napoleon dramatically, cannot help crediting the very vitality that Tolstoy the Russian patriot hates.

This is one of Wood’s finest pieces, which is saying a lot.