It’s my sister’s fault that I hadn’t read War & Peace before. As teenagers we enjoyed a fervent rivalry that resulted in us claiming completely opposite tastes in most things, in particular, the family bookshelves were divided between us. I got Austen and the Brontes, while she got Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. It was the new BBC series that finally prompted me to read the book. (My ‘read the book before you watch the series’ policy trumps even sisterly enmity.)
I started reading on the day before the first episode was broadcast, managed to keep ahead of the action over the next month, and finally finished reading the week before the final episode. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but old habits die hard, and I couldn’t resist comparing it to my teenaged favourite. And so, in lieu of a review, here is a Jane Austen version of War & Peace:
(Warning: Contains plot spoilers.)
War and Peace Interpreted for a Jane Austen Fan
In St Petersburg, Mr Collins says awkward things about Napoleon at Lady Dalrymple’s soiree and makes everyone uncomfortable.
Mr Collins’ best friend is Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy is married to Louisa Musgrove. She has a moustache that everyone finds charming. Mr Darcy does not care for it.
Sir Walter Elliot is looking for good marriages for his children, Henry and Mary Crawford. It goes without saying that Henry Crawford and Mary Crawford have an incestuous sibling relationship.
In Moscow, Mr and Mrs Weston love their children but worry about their finances. They have four children, only the middle two are important: Frank Churchill and the beautiful but flighty Marianne Dashwood. There is also a cousin, Anne Elliot, but she is poor and doesn’t matter. Frank Churchill is devotedly in love with her when he’s around and he remembers to be.
Mr Darcy goes home to his grumpy dad, General Tilney; his sister, the pious Fanny Price; her companion, Mrs Clay; and his wife, Louisa Musgrove. He decides to go to war because he will get to wear a feathery hat and what’s the worst that could happen? He could die but he hates his life and wife anyway. Mr Darcy leaves.
Henry Crawford proposes to Fanny Price because she is very rich. While she is considering it she catches Henry Crawford making out with Mrs Clay. She turns down the proposal.
Noticing that the troops have lost morale and are retreating, Mr Darcy picks up a flag and nobly leads them into battle.
MR DARCY IS DEAD!
After the battle Napoleon inspects Mr Darcy’s magnificent noble corpse. BUT the noble corpse is still breathing.
MR DARCY IS NOT DEAD!
Frank Churchill brings his friend, Colonel Brandon, home on leave with him. Colonel Brandon performs a spirited Mazurka, loses his head and proposes to Marianne Dashwood. Marianne Dashwood turns him down because she’s only 13. Frank Churchill falls in love with his cousin, Anne Elliot, again, but tells her that she shouldn’t wait for him as it is likely he will forget about her when he goes away. But Anne Elliot vows to stay true to him alone.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh dies, cuts her sickly daughter out of her will, and leaves her great fortune and title to her favourite illegitimate son—Mr Collins.
Now Mr Collins is rich and titled Mary Crawford decides to marry him. She flirts with him a lot and he seems to like her but he doesn’t actually propose. So she just announces their engagement at a party and everyone goes along with it.
The dashing and dastardly Mr Wickham has an affair with Mary Crawford. Everybody knows about it. Eventually Mr Collins works it out and challenges Mr Wickham to a duel. Mr Collins, despite not even knowing how to fire a pistol, manages to shoot Mr Wickham. Sadly, Mr Wickham does not die of his injuries.
Mr Collins hates his wife and goes to live in another city. He has doubts about his atheism and becomes a Freemason.
Mr Darcy returns home at the exact moment his wife Louise Musgrove, dies in childbirth. He feels bad because he hated her, a sentiment that was not worthy of his noble character.
Mr Darcy meets Marianne Dashwood and is charmed by her. He had believed that, at age 31, he was too old for love, but now a whole new bright vista opens up before him. Perhaps he will even take his shirt off—there may be scything and some lake-swimming.
His grumpy dad, General Tilney does not approve, and tells Mr Darcy to take a year to think about it. Mr Darcy agrees and proposes a secret, year-long engagement to Marianne Dashwood. Marianne is desperately in love with Mr Darcy and agrees.
Marianne Dashwood forgets the noble Mr Darcy and is seduced by Henry Crawford at the opera. Not knowing that Henry Crawford is already married she agrees to elope with him. Anne Elliot intervenes and ruins everything. Marianne Dashwood has a tantrum and renders herself dangerously ill. Mr Collins visits her as she is nursed back to health.
Mr Darcy will never forgive Marianne Dashwood and vows to kill Henry Crawford.
The Westons and their children are completely broke so they go to their country estate to ride on sleighs and hunt wolves. Frank Churchill falls desperately in love with his cousin, Anne Elliot, again, and pledges to definitely marry her one of these days, if he remembers to.
Some more war.
General Tilney dies of terminal grumpiness. Frank Churchill rescues Fanny Price from her revolting peasants. She is very grateful and looks at him with shimmering tears in her giant luminous eyes. Even thought she’s not very pretty, Frank Churchill falls in love with Fanny Price’s grateful giant, luminous eyes.
Mrs Weston hopes that Frank Churchill will marry Fanny Price, because she is very rich and it will save the family fortunes.
Mr Darcy declines all promotions and honoured positions in the war—the only noble way is to fight with his regiment on the front line. A bomb falls on his regiment but Mr Darcy is too noble to shelter from the bomb that may well be his noble fate. Mr Darcy is blown up by the fateful bomb.
MR DARCY IS DEAD!
Mr Darcy is not dead, he is wounded.
In the hospital he is lying next to Henry Crawford. Henry Crawford has had his leg amputated in unsanitary conditions so it seem likely that he will die. He deserves it for what he did to Marianne Dashwood. Bastard.
The Westons escape from Moscow, inadvertently taking the wounded Mr Darcy with them. Marianne Dashwood nurses Mr Darcy and he forgives her for being seduced at the opera.
Napoleon marches into Moscow ready to graciously pardon the lives of Russian inhabitants in return for their allegiance. All important Russians inhabitants have already left. Napoleon is pissed off.
Mr Collins decides to assassinate Napoleon. He does not succeed or even get anywhere close. Mr Collins becomes a prisoner of war but the privations render him lean, manly and philosophically optimistic. His wife, Mary Crawford, dies in St Petersburg while attempting to choose which one of her lovers she will leave her husband for.
Mr Darcy is too noble for this world.
MR DARCY IS DEAD!
He’s properly dead this time. Marianne Dashwood is devastated.
Mr Collins returns from being a prisoner of war all lean, manly and philosophically optimistic. He is still eccentric but his newly-found benevolent love for all mankind and his thrilling war stories make him the focal point of every soiree. Marianne Dashwood falls in love with him and they get married.
Mr Weston dies and the family are now properly and completely broke. Frank Churchill is a bit embarrassed about it but eventually marries the pious Fanny Price with her luminous eyes, and the family fortunes are saved. Anne Elliot continues to love him longest, when all hope is gone.
They all live happily ever after. Except for Anne Elliot who has to live in the same house as Frank Churchill and his rich wife. And except for Mr Darcy, who is dead.