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-by Larry Woiwode

How Tolstoy Became Tolstoy(Part 2)

(Second of two parts; click here to read Part 1)

So he was prodded into a creative quest, a resolution to his fears, and that quest culminated in War and Peace. We need not know all the history, which Feuer helps clarify, to appreciate her book. As she notes about Tolstoy's manuscripts from then:

[they] make it clear that the Decembrist novel plan was still uppermost in his intentions, and that its fundamentally political conception still dominated his thinking. But as the novel grew under his hands it took on a life of its own and began to exert a force that often opposed Tolstoy's thoughts and intentions.

Tolstoy was in Paris in 1857, surveying the ultimate effects of the French Revolution, as he perceived it, and there began reading Proudhon and reflecting on Rousseau. He witnessed a guillotining and was so appalled he left Paris--convinced that he had seen the epitome of barbarism released by the Revolution. It had produced, ultimately, a despot who seized the crown and placed it on his own head, Napoleon, and as Tolstoy wrote about the advance of Napoleon into Russia in War and Peace, he saw in it an analogue to the revolutionary fervor that began entering Russia in 1856, at the time of the release of the Decembrists.

That fervor, he believed, meant the annihilation of the aristocracy, the class to which he belonged and which, in its independence even from the czar, had become the keeper of Russian history and tradition. He mistrusted, even deplored, those who gained power solely by intellect, such as merchants and monks, and never fairly depicted any such person in his fiction. He did not believe people of their kind could experience life in a panoramic sense or understand, for instance, the relationship of serf to land or landowner, much less engage in independent thought. Their intellectuality tended toward theory or took off in the direction of the ruble--or so Tolstoy denigrated their lack of intellectual objectivity. He wrote at the time that the liberals were ...

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