Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism, Second Edition
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George Steiner's Tolstoy or Dostoevsky has become a classic among scholars of Russian literature. An essay in poetic and philosophic criticism that bears mainly on the Russian masters, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky deals also with larger themes: the epic tradition extending from Homer to Tolstoy; the continuity of a "tragic world view" from Oedipus Rex to King Lear and The Brothers Karamazov; the contrasts between the epic and dramatic modes, between irreconcilably opposed views of God and of history. "A must for the teacher, student, and intellectually serious reader."-Kirkus Reviews "This is a book that provides new and stimulating insight into the literary masterpieces and thought of the great Russian novelists. Moreover, in this work Steiner shows a great depth and breadth of literary knowledge and criticism that is not limited alone to the Russian writers under discussion but to writers of all genres and all literary periods."-Journal of Religion "His is a work of personal criticism, often ingenious, always deeply felt."-The New York Times "Brilliant, provocative, full of insights, this classic study still stands alone and unchallenged in modern criticism as a lucid and erudite study of the contrasting genius of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Steiner's book is a must for the student, scholar, or general reader who wishes to approach the Russian giants in their full literary and philosophical ambience."-Robert L. Jackson
Orthodox Church; Dostoevsky, pre-eminently the man of God; Tolstoy, one of His secret challengers. In the stationmaster’s house at Astapovo, Tolstoy reportedly had two books by his bedside: The Brothers Karamazov and the Essais of Montaigne. It would appear that he had chosen to die in the presence of his great antagonist and of a kindred spirit. In the latter instance he chose aptly, Montaigne being a poet of life and of the wholeness of it rather in the sense in which Tolstoy himself had
and evasions which the French call de la littérature. But the First Epilogue also proclaims the Tolstoyan conviction that a narrative form must endeavour to rival the infinity—literally, the unfinishedness—of actual experience. The last sentence in the fictional part of War and Peace is left incomplete. Thinking of his dead father, Nicholas Bolkonsky says to himself: “Yes, I will do something with which even he could be satisfied …” The three dots are apt. That novel which supremely matches the
and the characteristic mannerisms of his craft arise out of the demands of a dramatic form. Dialogues culminate in gesture; all superfluity of narrative is stripped away in order to render the conflict of personages naked and exemplary; the law of composition is one of maximum energy, released over the smallest possible extent of space and time. A Dostoevskyan novel is a supreme instance of the “totality of motion” in the Hegelian definition of drama. Dostoevsky’s drafts and notebooks
with other mutineers against liberal empiricism—Pascal, Blake, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. It would be fascinating to inquire into the sources of the Dostoevskyan dialectic. Condorcet asserted that if men said calculemus—if they grasped the tools of reason in a Newtonian world—nature would yield her answers. Dostoevsky said “No.” He said “No” to Spencerian faith in progress and to the rational physiology of Claude Bernard (a man of genius whom Dimitri Karamazov refers to with particular rage).
Much of great art exacts belief. What we must aim for is to render our imaginations as liberal as possible so that we may respond with scrupulous knowledge and charity of insight to the widest range of persuasions. But are these problems of art and religion relevant to the modern novel? It has often and justly been said that the world view of the novel is predominantly secular. The upsurge of European prose fiction during the eighteenth century cannot be divorced from the concurrent decline in