When I found out that Tolstoy didn’t come up with the title for War and Peace himself, I was shocked. Shocked and appalled.
To my distress, I discovered that it was first written by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1861. Only it was called La Guerre et la Paix (it was in French). Tolstoy pinched its main themes, too.
It happened after he visited Proudhon in 1861. Tolstoy went out of his way to visit because he was so taken with Proudhon’s revolutionary ideas. Proudhon, then living in exile under an assumed name, was the first person to dub himself an ‘anarchist’, (though he was also a member of the French parliament). Ironic coincidences aside, Tolstoy reviewed La Guerre et la Paix, and was profoundly affected by their meeting.
I can only imagine how peed off Proudhon might’ve been when, in 1869, ol’ Leo published his version. You know, the one that went down in history as a masterpiece. Surely some slice of that immortal pie should’ve been his?
It’s hard to imagine Proudhon not feeling short-changed in this scenario. And easier to imagine him cheesed off, and suing Tolstoy.
But that’s not how it went down. Perhaps because Proudhon was above all that? After all, neither of them believed in intellectual property – or any other kind, for that matter. Because they were such anarchists.
Proudhon’s catchphrase was ‘property is theft’. He even wrote a book called What Is Property?, in which he called for the abolition of private property and the feudal social structure he thought it encouraged. (This later caught the eye of some other guy, named Karl Marx).
These days, our society still values property (and intellectual copyright, its next-door neighbour) pretty highly. Remember when Apple got $1 billion off Samsung for breaching its precious patent? We live in a culture of what’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is definitely not yours. Just ask the National Accident Helpline. They’ll tell you that if you’ve slipped on a floor recently, someone should pay you for your buffoonery. It’s definitely NOT your own stupid fault.
But I digress. The point is, maybe this culture of blame limits our creativity. We’re so fixated on who owns what, maybe we’ve forgotten that no idea has ever evolved in a vacuum? Brilliance doesn’t come in lightning bolts from the sky, it comes from a series of interactions with our surroundings. Less of an isolated epiphany; more of a dialogue. If that meeting of minds hadn’t happened, maybe War and Peace wouldn’t be what it is. And maybe it was naive to think that anyone, even Leo Tolstoy, could be truly original. (Mark Zuckerburg, I’m looking at you, too.)
Mary Shelley definitely knew what I’m talking about. She said that ‘creation, it must be humbly admitted, comes not out of a void but out of chaos… the materials must be in the first place afforded.’ She’s making no apology for the fact that Frankenstein, though her own idea, is actually the product of all the reading she’s done in her lifetime.