I am reading the Vintage edition of War & Peace with the translation by Pevear & Volokhonsky. In Volume II, part I, chapter 11, the farewell dinner for Nikolai at the Rostov's is held on "the third day of Christmas" (i.e. December 27th, 1806). We are told at the same time that Rostov and Denisov will "be leaving for their regiment after Epiphany" (January 6th, 1807).

At the end of chapter 16, we learn that Rostov "spent two more weeks in Moscow" in order to settle his debt before he leaves. We are then told, however, that he "[leaves] at the end of November to catch up with his regiment, which was already in Poland."

In Vol II, Part II, chapter 15, Rostov has rejoined the regiment and been with it for some time by April, 1807. So the last sentence of Vol II Part I is a clear mistake: "November" should read "January."

My question is whether it's a simple editing mistake in this particular edition, a careless mistake in Tolstoy's original, or a deliberate mistake by Tolstoy. (The reason why it might be a deliberate mistake: Austerlitz occurred in late November, by the Russian calendar, and Rostov feels defeated and betrayed when he leaves Moscow, so he might be in an "end of November of the soul," so to speak....)

Can anyone familiar with Tolstoy's original confirm whether he wrote "November" there? If so, is there any scholarship as to whether it might deliberate?


1 Answer 1


It is indeed end of November in the actual Russian text and all my research so far shows that this is a genuine author's mistake.

"Он исписал альбомы девочек стихами и нотами и, не простившись ни с кем из своих знакомых, отослав, наконец, все сорок три тысячи и получив расписку Долохова, уехал в конце ноября догонять полк, который уже был в Польше."

enter image description here

At least one more English-speaking person had spotted this back in 2006: Tolstoy's bloopers:

  1. It's the third day of Christmas holidays; Nikolai and Denisov plan to rejoin their regiments after Epiphany (January 6 by our calendar). There's dinner, a ball, a couple days go by, gambling, Denisov leaves, Rostov stays on a couple weeks, then leaves at the end of November.

This mistake is also mentioned in this work by L. Saraskina about Dostoevsky's "Demons". The translation is available here. Here is an excerpt:

Action of the novel War and Peace begins in July 1805 and ends in December 1820. Fifteen years of life of Tolstoy’s characters unfold against background of universal historical events with which they are most closely connected. This connection actually determines the internal chronology of the novel: all episodes connected with wars, battles and other historical events are dated exactly, literally up to an hour. When, however, the narration deals with characters’ personal lives the chronology can be sufficiently approximate: “in the middle of Winter”, “in Summer”, “in the beginning of Fall” and so on.

The calendar is sometimes intentionally1 imprecise. Here is one of the “peace” episodes: having lost in cards to Dolohov forty three thousand rubles during Christmas holidays (in the text it is indicated even more precisely: two days after the third day of Christmas, in other words on December 29), Nicolay Rostov “spent two more weeks in Moscow …and …having sent, finally, all forty three thousand and having received Dolohov’s receipt, he left in the end of November in order to catch his regiment.”

Chronology is sometimes respected only in relation to one particular character but does not correspond to life circumstances of other characters. For example a surprising appearance of Andrey Bolkonski, whom everybody considered dead, at his father’s house in this very night from 19 to 20 March 1806, when his son will be born and his wife will die, is almost a miracle. Princess Mary is afraid to believe this miracle: “No, this cannot be, this would be to incredible”. Prince Andrej, seriously wounded in the battle of Austerlitz around twentieth of November 1805 was left to the care of local residents. Four months that took his recovery and the old prince’s search for his son considered missing seem to be a realistic period of time and in this sense the date of prince Andrej’s return is not surprising. The author had to go against the low of nature, however, in order that his character had time to arrive at such an important moment. We remember that the little princess, Andrej Bolkonski’s wife, was heavy and clumsy, wearing a special dress and not going out “because of her pregnancy” already in July 1805 in the salon of Anna Pavlovna Sherer. She gives birth nine months after, in other words in March 1806. It would mean, however, that the condition that was supposed to prevent princess Lisa from going out could not yet be so noticeable and important.

1 An important bit about the above translation is that the word "заведомо" has been translated as intentionally, which is an arguable choice. I believe that "заведомо" here was used in a sense of definitely, obviously.

As a final remark, it appears that the novel does contain quite a lot of mistakes of all sorts, this particular one being so minor compared to the others that few people noticed it.

  • Thanks, I'd also been puzzling over Liza Bolkonsky's extremely long pregnancy, but hadn't taken the time yet to page back through all the references to it....
    – Kevin Troy
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 14:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.