WAR AND PEACE was not immediately or universally recognized by its readers as a world's classic. It came out by instalments between 1865 and 1869, in a time of fierce controversy; and there were complaints from both left and right about its being tendentious. Tolstoy's contemporaries could few of them stand back and see the grand design of the book; they were distracted by questions of genre -- was this a novel of family life? an historical chronicle, not without its distortions? or a panoramic 'poem' like Gogol's Dead Souls? Tolstoy rejected all these definitions when in 1868 he published 'Some Words About War and Peace' (to be found at the end of this volume). He claimed that the best things in the fiction of his countrymen had never conformed to the known genres. But many of his readers found it difficult to adjust to the changed perspective in a novel that started with the domestic life of a few families and moved steadily into the domain of a national epic. They were even more perplexed when, half-way through it, passages of theoretical argument about history and free will began to grow in frequency, until the Second Epilogue left fiction behind altogether, and hammered out a paradoxical thesis.
Tolstoy tells us in 'Some Words' that he wrote the novel during 'five years of uninterrupted and exceptionally strenuous labour under the best conditions of life'. It was certainly strenuous labour, as the many drafts that have survived witness; and the only interruptions it suffered were those incidental to raising a family -- he had married in 1862 -- and farming his estate. He claimed in a letter of 1863 to be at the height of his powers, and never had Tolstoy felt so much at harmony with himself. The 'best conditions of life' meant virtual seclusion on his estate of Yasnaya Polyana. He wanted explicitly in this novel to celebrate the life of the Russian nobility (a term including what we should call the gentry) and the solid agrarian order which found itself under challenge in a new phase of Russian history following the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861. Yasnaya Polyana and all it stood for was very precious to Tolstoy. The atmosphere of the place is palpable when he writes of the Rostovs and their country pursuits at Otradnoe.
The challenge, of which Tolstoy was keenly aware, to his own cherished traditions came from the so-called 'new men' who