War and Peace: “original edition” worth my time?

A few days ago I found a brand-new hardcover with dustjacket of War and Peace. Inside was a publisher’s letter. It began:

Dear Professor:

I hope that you will take a minute to look over this complimentary copy of War and Peace.

A minute? To look over one of the longest novels ever written? I am amused. The letter continues:

Now available for the first time in English, here is the original edition of Russia’s most famous novel. Tolstoy completed this version of his materpiece in 1866, but it was never published. He later returned to this draft to add the brilliant philosophical and historical meditations that would ultimately double the book’s length and give us the familiar, canonical text. Translated by Andrew Bromfield, this shorter and more narrative edition in its initial incarnation, and with several intriguing differences in plot, will both open this remarkable work of literature to new readers and engage devoted fans with a fresh look at an important classic.

My pleasure at having scored a brand new book for free gave way to disappointment that I hadn’t gotten the “genuine article” that everyone knows and loves, but some book that nobody ever read until the day before yesterday. Same name as the real deal, but minus a lot of “brilliant” passages. It’s like collecting film scraps from the cutting room floor, putting them together, and marketing them as an “important” version of the classic film, somehow worthy of our attention.

In my opinion, Tolstoy likely revised his book for a reason. Why would anyone but the most devoted Tolstoyista bother with this book? And what am I going to do with my copy? Half.com?


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