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War, the Hero and the Will

Hardy, Tolstoy and the Napoleonic Wars

Jane L. Bownas is an independent scholar who has published several articles on Thomas Hardy, and her book, Thomas Hardy and Empire: The Representation of Imperial Themes in the Work of Thomas Hardy was published in 2012.

Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace are both works which defy attempts to assign them to a particular genre but might seem to have little else in common apart from being set in the same period of history. This study argues that there are important similarities between these two works and examines the close correspondence between Hardy’s and Tolstoy’s thinking on themes relating to war, ideas of the heroic and the concept of free will. Although coming from very different backgrounds, both writers were influenced by their experiences of war, Tolstoy directly, by involvement in the wars in the Caucasus and the Crimea, and Hardy indirectly, by the events of the Anglo-Boer Wars. Their reaction to these experiences found expression in their descriptions of the wars fought against Napoleon at the beginning of the century.

Hegel saw Napoleon as ‘the great world-historical man of his time’, and this work considers the ways in which Hardy and Tolstoy undermine this view, portraying Napoleon’s physical and mental decline and questioning the role he played in determining the outcomes of military actions. Both writers were deeply interested in the question of free will and determinism and their writings reveal their attempts to understand the nature of the force which lies behind men’s actions. Their differing views on the nature of consciousness are considered in the light of modern research on the development of the conscious brain.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-670-7
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $69.95
Release Date: April 2015
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-904-3
Paperback Price: £22.95 / $34.95
Release Date: September 2017
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Introductory chapter

  1. Masterpieces in the Making
  2. The Language of War
  3. The Hero and the Crowd
  4. The Will and the Conscious Mind
  5. Consequences and Conclusions


Author Jane Bownas has published articles and a book on Thomas Hardy. In this book, she finds similarities between Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, investigating their ideas on war, heroism, free will, determinism, and consciousness in the context of their descriptions of the Napoleonic Wars. These themes are examined in light of the ideas of thinkers including Hegel, Descartes, and Nietzsche, and in light of modern research in the neuroscience of consciousness.

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