“Swarm Life” and the Biology of War and Peace
In the spring of 1863, Lev Tolstoi, newly married and soon to be a father, began to conceive of the work that would eventually become War and Peace. That same spring he also took up beekeeping. While in practical terms his “bee passion” proved relatively short-lived, it was an exceptionally intense engagement with a miniaturized and uniquely observable biological and social universe. In this article, Thomas Newlin explores how Tolstoi’s dual enmeshment in “swarm life”—that is, in the biologically fraught realms of marriage and beekeeping—influenced both the unconventional form of War and Peace and its equally unconventional ideas (in particular Tolstoi’s linked conceptions of the nature of history and of consciousness). The implications of a “swarm” model of history ultimately troubled Tolstoi, however; his doubts about the imperatives of biology do not play themselves out fully in War and Peace but instead lurk just beneath its surface.
Newlin, Thomas. 2012. "'Swarm Life' and the Biology of War and Peace." Slavic Review 71(2): 359-384.
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies