Page 1253. " a bright blue Sèvres tea-cup "

Sèvres porcelain
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSèvres porcelain - Credit: BrokenSphere
 A porcelain factory has been active in Sèvres since 1756 to the present day. Famous artists who worked in the factory decorating porcelain include Louise Bourgeois, Théophile Fragonard and Auguste Rodin. The factory is now run by the French Ministry of Culture.

Page 1257. " What can be done? "

 This is an echo of the common refrain in mid- to late-nineteenth century Russia: Chto Delat? (What Is To Be Done?) This question was asked in response to the social conditions in Russia at this time. Intellectuals recognised that Russia was a stagnant, repressive country, but disagreed over how this could be overcome: by engagement with the imperial powers, or by violent revolution? By refocusing on Russia's innate culture, or by casting this aside in favour of imitating western Europe? These questions were being argued out in literature, in the thick journals, and in the cafés and salons where the intelligentsia gathered.

In 1862, seven years before War and Peace was published, the radical journalist Nikolai Chernyshevsky wrote his novel What Is To Be Done? whilst in prison in St Petersburg. Through a series of extraordinary bureaucratic errors the book was passed by the censors and published, despite its highly critical, revolutionary message. What Is To Be Done? had a huge impact on the Russian intelligentsia, bringing questions of social change to the forefront of Russian discourse and influencing a generation of Russian radicals, including Lenin, who cited the novel as central to his political formation. Lenin published a pamphlet called What Is To Be Done? in reference to Chernyshevsky's earlier work; Tolstoy also produced a What Is To Be Done essay in 1887, which can be read online here.

Chernyshevsky's book has been condemned by modern critics as a piece of blunt political propaganda with black-and-white characterisation and an overstated message. However, I think this is a crude evaluation. The lighthearted tone of the book and its complex, almost post-modern way of engaging with the reader make for an interesting read.

Page 1259. " to prevent some Pugachov "
 Yemelyan Pugachev was a deserter from the Russian Army who led a peasant rebellion in eighteenth century Russia, during Catherine the Great's reign. Although he was actually the son of a Don Cossack landowner he claimed that he was Tsar Peter III, who had been assassinated. His rebellion attracted many serfs, as he announced that he would abolished serfdom upon seizing the throne. His rebellion was crushed at Tsaritsyn in 1774, and he was caught and executed the following year.

Alexander Pushkin was fascinated with Pugachev's story. He wrote a history of the rebellion, and a novella, The Captain's Daughter, which is set at the time.

Page 1261. " 'A diary, Nicholas,' she replied "
 After he became engaged to Sofia Andreevna, Tolstoy made her read his diaries from his wild youth. The accounts of uncontrollable gambling and visits to brothels appalled Sofia, but she married him anyway, and for the rest of their lives the couple had free access to each other's diaries. Even towards the end of Tolstoy's life, when he and his wife were frequently not on speaking terms with each other, they would still look at each other's diaries, where their arguments would often continue on paper.

Both Sofia and Leo Tolstoy's diaries have been translated and published. Their lives together were retold in a 1990 novel by Jay Parini, The Last Station, which became a film in 2009 starring Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.

Page 1261. " general reflections on educational methods "

Tolstoy with children
Public DomainTolstoy with children
 Tolstoy was interested in education. For a while before his marriage he devoted himself to setting up and running a school for serfs on his estate at Yasnaya Polyana. He thought that literature should address the masses in Russia, but for that to happen, they had to be educated: at the very least, they had to be taught to read. After establishing his own school, he attempted to influence the Minister of Education's policies, but with little success.

Read more about Tolstoy's views on education here.

Page 1263. " I am dreadfully afraid for him "

 In 1860 Tolstoy began work on a novel, The Decembrists, about a man who had taken part in the 1825 Decembrist Uprising. As he worked on the opening chapters, he came to realise that the roots of the Decembrist Uprising reached back to the events of the Napoleonic Wars, and stopped work on The Decembrists in order to start researching the novel that became War and Peace.

These scenes at the end of War and Peace are the last hints of the novel's original purpose. Tolstoy intended to write a sequel in which Nikolai Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezhukov would be involved in the uprising and exiled to Siberia. Marya's fears are foreshadowing the events of the sequel that was never actually written.

The Decembrist Uprising took place during the brief period of chaos after Tsar Alexander I's death. Although the Tsarevich Constantine had already renounced his claim to the throne, after Alexander's sudden death he was proclaimed emperor, only for this to be swiftly revoked as Nicholas I took control. While this was happening a group of liberal aristocrats called the Union of Salvation, who were dissatisfied with the repressive policies of the latter years of Alexander's reign, took the opportunity to rebel, hoping to force the government to seek a more liberal path. The society marched to Senate Square in St Petersburg, demanded reforms, but they failed to capitalise on their early momentum and were crushed by Nicholas's troops. The reactionary new tsar executed the rebellion's leaders and sent many others into exile in Siberia, where their suffering helped romanticise their cause, especially as many of the men's wives voluntarily followed them into exile. (Tolstoy planned for Natasha to become one such wife.) Their revolt is now considered the first expression of the revolutionary movement in Russia.

 There is a modern American indie folk band called The Decemberists, named after this uprising. Listen to them on Spotify.

Page 1271. " the modern historians from Gibbon to Buckle "

 Both English historians. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a six-volume work known both for its fine, entertaining prose and its criticism of organised religion. Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862) wrote an enormous, unfinished History of Civilisation, which occupied him for seventeen years; each day he spent ten hours at his desk. Buckle travelled widely, advised to do so for the sake of his health. He died in Damascus, where he is buried next to Countess Talaki, an admirer of his work. She happened to write that she was reading his History and would like to be buried beside him, and as she also died in Damascus this wish was granted.

Page 1273. " died a lingering death on that rock "
Napoleon on His Deathbed by Horace Vernet
Public DomainNapoleon on His Deathbed by Horace Vernet


 It is possible that Napoleon died of wallpaper poisoning. After his death it was suspected that he had been poisoned, and in modern times, tests on locks of his hair show traces of arsenic, which was used as an ingredient in green wallpaper paint during the nineteenth century; many people died of poisoning, known as 'Gosio's disease', as a result. Specimens of Napoleon's green wallpaper from Longwood House on St Helena show that it did contain arsenic. Although it was probably not enough to kill him outright, it would have exacerbated the effects of the stomach ulcer from which he suffered.