How Tolstoy Affected the Form of the Novel

a short story

Length in Tolstoy equals the desire to make more money; length in Tolstoy was the hunger to be paid more. Lev was paid by the word.

Anna Karenina and War and Peace are as long as they are principally for this reason (–is this really a reason or merely an explanation [not exactly the same]?). However, Tolstoy manages his extensiveness with brilliance–yes, extensions–stories told by way of indirection, by way of the tangents, perhaps? Is this really a question? I will keep all inserts such as this in the principal stream of the text and not make tributary streams with parentheses or brackets or any other kind of the like.

[. . .]

What is crucial in Tolstoy, a reader must see, is how he handles his indirection, his tangents that open up, yes, they widen; his asides or explications that deepen–and these are cliches in handling what Tolstoy does. No novelist uses the essay to open up, pause, or explicate or illustrate his or her narrative quite the way Tolstoy does. His 30 or 40 0r 20 page essays on European history inside War and Peace are sometimes the most glorious writing in the novel. I am not trying to take away from his descriptive or narrative powers–and I cannot add to his deficiencies in dialogue (and, mostly, this explains his bitter contempt for Shakespeare [he could also be such a pompous ass, especially as a literary critic, Coleridge, Arnold or Eliot he was not]).

[. . .]

The fact that Tolstoy uses the essay form inside his narrative is not a detraction, but an example of what Bakhtin means when he calls the novel (and we are specifically talking novels and not shorter narrative fiction) a highly plastic form that does not inherit the lithification or fossilization that the harder genres from antiquity do. The Novel and the Essay (as inherited from Montaigne) are the principal modern genres. And the sense of ‘modern’ must be understood in a broader sense of modernity. We have narrative from Tolstoy that does not employ such extensive indirection as we get in the novels mentioned above, and we see a single-minded purpose in following the force of the narrative development of plot in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych.

[. . .]

This was a fragment to start and has been edited to this abridged form. The Editors are hopeful that enough has been left for you to discern what the author intended, at least the Editors are convinced that their abridgment does not lessen the effect of the fragment. They cannot be sure that the fragment is less than the whole to what degree. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.