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-by Larry Woiwode
How Tolstoy Became Tolstoy(Part 1)
Tolstoy and the Genesis of "War and Peace"
By Kathryn B. Feuer
Edited by Robin Feuer Miller and Donna Tussing Orwin
Cornell University Press
304 pp.; $29.95
In the early 1960s America and the Soviet Union embarked upon a cultural exchange meant to signify a "thaw" in their relations. The person credited for this was the prime mover behind so much of the reformation taking place at the time in American politics, our elegant and aristocratic young president, John F. Kennedy. His counterpart in Russia, Nikita Khrushchev, a stumpy peasant given to banging tables with his shoe, somehow acceded to the idea.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrey Voznesensky arrived in New York and began declaiming their poetry from American stages. Our literary Johns, Cheever and Updike, shy of the Slavic school of declamation, gravely met functionaries and gave readings in Russia and its Iron Curtain satellites, as they were called then. Vladimir Ashkenazy performed at Carnegie Hall, and Kathryn B. Feuer appeared at Yasnaya Polyana, the ancestral estate of Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy.
Feuer, a Ph.D. candidate in 1963, seems an unlikely candidate for this stellar constellation, yet the result of her research has an enduring tang. As spotlights beamed in on the headliners of the thaw, who were trailed everywhere by reporters, Feuer sat in Tolstoy's library, leafing through the handwritten pages of War and Peace.
What she was feeling, as her book Tolstoy and the Genesis of "War and Peace" communicates in the heat of its prose, was the kind of awe that makes one's knees give. This emotion can transform the most ordinary mind into an omnivorous steel trap, and Feuer's mind was by no means ordinary. Her intellect was formidable, scintillating, tending toward the formulaic, and freighted with an uncanny sense of intuition. She was, besides, ironlike in her decisions and formulations, as if she drew confidence itself from Tolstoy's spiky and absolutely unwavering hand.
Feuer had originally hoped to write fiction ...