Spring 2009

War Stories: Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Babel’s Red Cavalry

Listed in: Russian, as RUSS-32


Boris Wolfson (Section 01)


A close examination of two subversive masterpieces of modern Russian literature: Leo Tolstoy’s (anti-) novel about Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia in 1812 and Isaac Babel’s short-story cycle about Russia’s disastrous invasion of Poland in 1920. We will read each book, in translation, on its own terms, letting questions posed separately by the two authors - questions about the value of violence and the meaning of freedom, the relationship between the life of the mind and everyday experience, the shape of human history and the search for an authentic self - inform our consideration of both texts. High-society balls and opera outings, a starry sky and an old oak, stallions and geese, rifles and scripture, steam engines and eyeglasses, Petersburg and Moscow, integral calculus and Lenin’s oratorical skills, the possibilities of narrative, the limits of interpretation, and the stakes of authorship - these war stories invite us to contemplate and to argue about all that, and much more. Limited to 20 students. Offered once Spring semester. Professor Wolfson.