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Chapter 19 - The Russian Literary Scene

from Part III - Literature, the Arts, and Intellectual Life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2023

Anna A. Berman
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

The literary context of Tolstoy matters because his works not only emerged in concrete literary and historical circumstances, but expressed in their own ways shared concerns, ideas, fears, and aspirations, characteristic of the respective periods and, in particular, of the generation affected by the humiliating outcome of the Crimean War, the collapse of the decades-long isolationist conservative “scenario of power” of Nicholas I, and a series of forthcoming profound social and political reforms that changed the emotional and ideological outlook of Russian culture. The chapter primarily focuses on Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace within its actual literary and ideological contexts, including fierce contemporary debates on the most pressing issues of the 1860s, unleashed in powerful, tendentious “thick” journals. To paraphrase Tolstoy’s final sentence of the novel, the epistemological value of seeing Tolstoy in conversation with his contemporaries (Turgenev, Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky, Leskov, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Grigoriev, Dmitry Pisarev, Surikov, Musorgsky, etc.) lies both in the renunciation of vision of his “unreal immobility in space” (generally taken for granted) and concurrently in the recognition of his dependence on other writers and literary contexts “of which we are unaware.” Gulliver is determined by his bonds.

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Tolstoy in Context , pp. 153 - 162
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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