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Review Articles Tolstoy or Tolstoy? CHARLES LOCK Richard F. Gustafson. Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger: A Study in Fiction and Theology Princeton University Press 1986. xviii, 480. us $29.50 Gary Saul Morson. Hidden in Plain View: Narrative and Creative Potentials in 'War and Peace' Stanford University Press 1987. xiv, 322. us $32.50 Tolstoy's stock has for long been middling. Recognized as great and promptly reshelved, Tolstoy has seemed to be one of those authors whose greatness leaves criticism with little to say, because it is a greatness which is fulfilling rather than transgressive. Transgressive writers - Sterne, Joyce - give to criticism the task of measuring and negotiating the distance between the genre and the individual work. Fulfilling writers - Scott, Trollope - do in their novels all that the novel can do, and the individual work is useful to criticism for mere deictic instantiation. Henry Gifford has noted that shortly after the collapse of the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1941 the English translation of War and Peace was reissued in a propaganda edition and 'achieved a popular success not unlike that of GoneWith the Wind.' Vulnerable to such political abuse, War and Peace has also been susceptible to abuse in literary and cultural polemic: a nostalgic exemplar, a work innocent of the problems of both modernism and modernity. In Gifford's words, the reputation of Tolstoy would suggest that 'George Eliot, Thackeray, Trollope and even John Stuart Mill had been rolled into one.' Morson speaks of the 'pacification of War and Peace' over the past fifty years; analogously both Morson and Gustafson can be described as warmongers. Both seek to overthrow the established consensus, and each disagrees with the other at almost every point. To read these two books is to suspect that Tolstoy may now be the battleground on which the major critical arguments of narratology are going to be fought. Retrospectively one can see indications of this in Gifford's discontent, in the subversive reassurances of John Bayley, in the semiotic analyses of Boris Uspensky, Krystyna Pomorska, and others. But most important, most stringently provocative, is the silence of Bakhtin. It appears that Bakhtin fully endorsed the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 57, NUMBER 4, SU MMER 1988 TOLSTOY OR TOLSTOY? 543 conventional opposition of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky: where Dostoevsky is polyphonic and dialogical, there, inevitably, Tolstoy is a monological, homogenizing bore. Caryl Emerson's article of 19851'The Tolstoy Connection in Bakhtin/ initiates the confrontation between Bakhtin's principles and Tolstoy's novels. (Here one might in passing mention that just as Tolstoy is being studied afresh, Dostoevsky is in danger of being pacified and domesticated by Joseph Frank's biography - wonderfully detailed, full of contexts and contingencies, but stubbornly and [in vol 3] increasingly anti-Bakhtinian.) What has been for so long 'hidden in plain view' is the oddity of War and Peace. This oddity is itself a plurality, of which Morson's chapter, 'Formal Peculiarities of War and Peace,' offers a preliminary classification, And the more peculiarities that one is forced to admit into view the clearer it becomes that in War and Peace nothing is as it ought to be. This should be no surprise: Tolstoy himself announced in 'Some Words about War and Peace' that the book was anything but conventional: 'What is War and Peace? It is not a novel, even less is it a poem, and stiU less a historical chronicle.... Such an announcement of disregard for conventional form in an artistic production might seem presumptuous were it premeditated, and were there not precedents for it.' Tolstoy claims that his own disregard of convention is not premeditated, but simply necessary, given Tolstoy's place in the tradition of Russian literature which 'since the time of Pushkin not merely affords many examples ofsuch deviations from the European forms, but does not offer a single example of the contrary.' Tolstoy thus claims the status of transgressor, not for himself alone but on behalf of the entirety of Russian literature. It is the West, guardian of civilization and classical values, that maintains and preserves the literary genres that it has inherited. The one genre that lacks classical warrant is of course the novel. And...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 542-549
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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