In his review of a collection of essays about what Tolstoy’s great novel has to say about war, Donald Rayfield points out a number of fascinating convergences between Tolstoy’s novel and Thackeray’s:

When considering its narrative, we cannot ignore the fact that, however well researched and evoked, the Napoleonic war is a background to a surprisingly conventional novel of peace — conventional, for Tolstoy takes as his model Thackeray's Vanity Fair, a novel to comfort all balding men with bad teeth. Like Thackeray, only far more murderous, Tolstoy gets rid of the minx (Becky Sharp or Hélène Kuragina), kills off his handsome hero in a pivotal battle (Captain Osborne at Waterloo or Prince Andrei after Borodino), and chastens his naive heroine (Amelia or Natasha) into learning to love the avuncular older man (William Dobbin or Pierre Bezukhov), and to prize moral over physical beauty. Both novels are about native (English or Russian) values and morals superseding French ones.

Rayfield, who dismisses the contributors’ uncritical acceptance of Tolstoy’s “Jehovah-like” assertion that his great work is “not a novel, not an epic,” makes clear to what an extent it is very much a novel, in fact very much one on the Thackery’s model.

Works Cited

Rayfield, Donald. “Dismissed.” Times Literary Supplement (30 November 2012): 26.

Tolstoy on War: Narrative Art and Historical truth in “War and Peace”. ed. Rick McPeak and Donna Tussing Orwin. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2012,

Last modified 24 February 2016