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Thomas J. Brucia
- Publié sur Amazon.com
A. N. Wilson writes idiosyncratic books. The author states (p. 207), "This book is the story of Tolstoy, as a writer and thinker." When I began reading, I mistakenly thought I was reading biography. As I plowed on I discovered that Wilson's "Tolstoy" is only about 30 percent biography. It is also a book of literary criticism, 19th century Russian history, character and psychological analysis, and ruminative essay. In short, it is "an intellectual history." Wilson includes all the helps a reader could ask for: photographs (53 of them!), an extensive bibliography, and a handy time line, (as well as the usual aids like the index, foreword, notes, acknowledgements, and table of contents).
Wilson states: "This book is primarily the story of a novelist... a great genius whose art grew out of his three uneasy and irresolvable relationships: his relationship with God, ... with women, ... with Russia. In all cases, the relationships were stormy, full of contradictions." Hmmpf, gross understatement!! While many readers may have no image whatsoever of Tolstoy, some (like me) visualized an icon: a saintly, dreamy, old man at odds with a lowbrow wife, and persecuted by a corrupt government. How wrong I was! His wife was for many years a full partner in his productivity. Only toward the end did Tolstoy and she become each other's torturers. The government forgave Tolstoy, a well-connected aristocrat, much that would have (and did) put other dissidents in czarist labor camps (e.g. poor Dostoyevsky!). [Though Tolstoy was a contemporary of Dostoyevsky, the two men made a deliberate point of never meeting each other.] - - - - One of the fascinations of this book is that one gets to know Leo Tolstoy "with all the warts". He was no saint, either as a selfish young man, or as an opinionated old fool. In fact, throughout his life he was an unpleasant person. His saving grace was that he was a genius when it came to writing fiction! Tolstoy shamelessly took others' tragedies, and turned them into highly saleable fiction. But he did it so very, very well!
Tolstoy's life began three years after the Decembrist Uprising of 1825, and ended seven years before the Russian Revolution of 1917 - a fascinating period in Russian history! His life spanned the rule of four czars: Nicholas I (1825-1855), Alexander II (1855-1881), Alexander III (1881-1894) and Nicholas II (1894-1917). In a nation run by an autocracy out of touch with its population, Tolstoy became a folk hero simply for being a merely decent person (NOT quite a good person, much less a saint!) He was a college dropout. He fought in Chechnya with the czar's army. He "sowed his wild oats" with hundreds of young ladies, (and - predictably -- contracted gonorrhea). He was a spoiled brat. In later years, the Orthodox Church excommunicated him. His bizarre behavior led the czarist secret police to ransack his home to see if he was a dangerous revolutionary (he was, but not in the way they thought!). When Tolstoy left his home and wife to die, at age 82, in a railroad station, he did not die alone and forgotten. An early film crew was there! Crowds of people recognized him and flocked around. His wife even made it there on a later train, just in time to be there before he expired. Leo Tolstoy died in the midst of a "media circus"!
Wilson, in his own style, brings all these disparate threads together. His tapestry is fascinatingly beautiful.
And of course, Wilson makes his own points - trenchantly! For example, regarding Tolstoy's decision to live according to the Gospels, Wilson remarks: "It is possible to read [Tolstoy's last] thirty years as an extraordinary demonstration of the fact that the Sermon on the Mount is an unlivable ethic, a counsel of craziness which, if followed to its relentless conclusion as Tolstoy tried to follow it will lead to the reverse of peace and harmony and spiritual calm which are normally thought of as the concomitants of the religious quest. Tolstoy's religion is ultimately the most searching criticism of Christianity which there is. He shows that it does not work."
I left this book with a burning desire to read more of Tolstoy. This phenomenon always happens to me when I read A.N. Wilson. Unfortunately, reading Tolstoy's opus would be quite impractical: his collected works run to 90 volumes! So now I must choose!