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Chapter 16 - Tolstoy’s Oeuvre

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

This chapter sketches the shape of Tolstoy’s oeuvre by focusing on a key text from each decade of his long and varied career. In Childhood (1852), his first published work, Tolstoy had already begun both to draw upon and to distrust the powers of realist fiction. This tension is palpable in his great novels War and Peace (1865–9) and Anna Karenina (1875–8), and it motivated his sporadic turns away from artistic literature during the years he was writing them. Confession (1879–82), which marked the most dramatic of these crises, is a conversion narrative that ends with a call to rethink the edifice of Christianity. In the second half of his life he pursued this task in a range of genres. Lavishing his gift for evocative description on polemical accounts of social atrocities, in his fiction he now reached for emblematic universality. The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), a celebrated short story, and “The First Step” (1892), a treatise on vegetarianism, exemplify these divergent styles. However, they stirringly reconverge in posthumously published works like the historical novella Hadji Murat (1896–1904), where Tolstoy represented escape from the mortal body in paradoxically vivid realist detail.

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Tolstoy in Context , pp. 129 - 135
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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