Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stella Tillyard's four favorite historical novels

Stella Tillyard, author of the novel Tides of War, named her four favorite historical novels at The Daily Beast, including:
War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy

Well, I can’t not have it. Still the greatest novel ever written; still, for me, full of undiscovered treasures after five readings. Another characteristic of great historical novels is that they transcend not only their ostensible subject matter—in this case the disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812, and the triumph of the Russian historical will—but also their era. In War and Peace Tolstoy asks the granddaddy of historical questions: is history made by remarkable individuals who impose their will upon it, or does it represent the flowering of the spirit and will of the people? Ideologically Tolstoy inclines to the latter, but temperamentally, and as a novelist, his genius and interest all flows towards the concrete and specific. In the end War and Peace is a great novel because Tolstoy creates characters of such human virtues and flaws—all mediocrities, as Henry James pointed out—that they live forever. As an adolescent I devoured this book for its love story between Natasha and Prince Andre. As a young mother I read it again and found its depiction of family life moving and true. As a historian I read it a third time and ploughed through all Tolstoy’s musing on history with pleasure; and recently, living through the death of one parent and the old age of another, I was moved to tears by the death of the monstrous old Prince, and Tolstoy’s intense insight, which can turn on a single word, and immense sympathy for every single one of his characters.
Read about the other novels on the list.

War and Peace also appears among Ann Shevchenko's top ten novels set in Moscow, Karl Marlantes' top ten war stories, Niall Ferguson's five most important books, Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best battles in literature, ten of the best floggings in fiction, and ten of the best literary explosions.

--Marshal Zeringue