tolstoy and his essential russianness


Count Lev Tolstoy is one of those writers who was as fascinating and complex as his novels and stories. A man so awful and quarrelsome to those around him, especially his long-suffering wife, was nonetheless able to produce masterpieces of serene introspection and humane insights. How could Tolstoy, a loner, a quintessential outsider all his life, understand and evoke the glittering social whirl and intricacies of fashionable salons? How could someone so masculine through and through somehow plumb sympathetically in his fiction the female psyche, which seemed, in real life, to perplex him at times beyond endurance? In short, he is a dream subject for a literary biographer. But with such richness comes the inevitable difficulty of writing about a man whose life was so messy and destructive, so tormented and tormenting to those around him, and reconciling all this mayhem with the lapidary literary products of his head and heart. The good news is that in “Tolstoy: A Russian Life” British Russophile Rosamund Bartlett, author of a fine biography of Anton Chekhov, has managed to reconcile the contrarieties and produce a marvelously judicious, insightful study.

more from Martin Rubin at the LA Times here.