War and Peace. Leon Tolstoy.

War and Peace

New York: William S. Gottsberger, 1886. First Edition. Wrappers. 6 vols. 1st American edition, 1st printing, some say preceded in English by Vizetelly’s 3 volume London edition, also 1886, but volumes I and II of this NY edition were published in January, vols. III and IV followed in May, and vols. V and VI in August. No publication dates of the London edition are recorded, but they are all dated 1886 so no part would have preceded the New York’s January first part, thus the whole notion of priority is dubious, and may be reversed. Further, that London edition was a hurried, awkward, unattributed, and abridged translation, while this Gottsberger (NY) edition is a complete one, from the French, by Clara Bell, a language wizard, fluent in French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Norwegian, Dutch, Danish and German, and trusted with the translations of numerous classic novels including all of the 91 finished works of Balzac’s Divine Comedy. The NY War and Peace was issued in 2 different bindings, cloth and wrappers, both in 6 volumes with both bindings for sale on publication day, although the first sets bound (review copies) were in wrappers. Further the cloth pages measure 6 1/4” tall while the wrapper edition measures 6 1/2” so the edition was printed for wrappers (the 1st binding) and trimmed for cloth, and the cloth issue is common, and always available, with 8 to 10 sets for sale at any time, while our issue in wrappers is a titanic rarity, presumably because it is so fragile, this being the only set I’ve seen and the only set I could confirm as surviving anywhere, though no one can say what might have been nonchalantly listed by a library without mention of the binding, or be hidden in some grandma’s attic (if you have a set I’d like to hear about it). It lacks 3 rear wrappers, the covers, spines and some of the blanks and ads are chipped and worn, one front wrapper is stained, and we had some looseness strengthened, but there is a full compliment of blanks where they’d be expected, and ads too, though I can’t verify that the ads are complete because I could not find a set in wrappers to collate it against. That said, all 6 upper covers are here, as are all 6 title pages, and the text is complete, and despite its faults this is an authentic set, and the finest set known to me, since it is the only set known to me, remarkable considering its delicacy, and this is not just any novel in a rare state, this is War and Peace, a world renown classic ranked by some as the greatest novel ever written, and it is in a publisher’s original binding seemingly unmatched anywhere, and now in 3 fine, half French morocco cases. Sets of this edition in cloth or rebound sell at auction every year or so, but never one in wrappers. OCLC list about 30 sets in libraries, many of them incomplete (missing volumes), and because only the Gottsberger imprint, in its peculiar typeface, on the back of the title pages, identifies the 1st printing, some of the other sets will prove to be reprints. If any of them duplicate our set in wraps, no evidence of that shows in the records, and though I did check with those libraries where I could get their attention, not one reported back that their set was paper bound. Very good. Item #268

A panorama of Russia in the Napoleonic era with a structure invented by Tolstoy in order to write in a new way, unconcerned with plot, setting, people, or even politics (the wind supports all flags no matter what the flag supports). His purpose was historical show, all about demonstrating the idea that continuity is eternal. His 3 main themes are fundamental and universal. 1. The irrationality of human motives (most of the irrational actions we see in the novel turn out successfully, in accordance with instincts in human life that, for Tolstoy, lie far deeper than our reasoning minds). 2. The search for the meaning of life (several characters in War and Peace experience sudden revelations about the absurdity of existence so are forced to pivot with a new perspective). 3. The limits of governance (Tolstoy’s take on history justifies his cynicism toward leaders, for, in his view, history is not a creation of great men, but is rather the result of millions of individual chains of cause and effect, too small to be analyzed independently. Even emperors, though they may imagine they rule the world, or a slice of it, are caught in these chains of circumstance). These major themes and other minor ones are developed by numerous motifs and recurring structures, among them, inexplicable love, financial loss, and death as a revelation, not just a physical end. And there are symbols galore, including objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The result is a novel that, beyond any other, reveals the beauty, injustice, size, and complexity of life itself, an invocation to the forces of existence. And Tolstoy depicts with such palpable details, the childhood, youth, and adulthood of his heroes, while also endowing his depictions with such universality, that they correspond, roughly, to the same three stages in the evolution of civilization.

Price: $50,000.00

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