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Leo Tolstoy in Conversation with Four Peasant Sectarian Writers

Donskov, Andrew (Hrsg.) | University of Ottawa Press


The theme of the peasantry is central throughout most of Tolstoy’s long career. His obsession with this class is seen not just as a matter of social or humanitarian concern, but as a response to the questions of “how to live a good life” and “what is the meaning of life that an inevitable death will not destroy?” These questions plagued him his entire life.

The letters he exchanged with the four major peasant sectarian writers (Bondarev, Zheltov, Verigin, and Novikov) reveal that Tolstoy was matched as a profound thinker by his correspondents, as they converse on religious-moral questions, the meaning of life and how one should strive to find it, and on a wide array of burning social and personal problems. Reading through the analysis and the extensively annotated letters as a unified whole, elucidates the progressive development of the ideas they shared (and where these diverged) and which guided Tolstoy’s and his correspondents’ lives.

Juxtaposing Tolstoy’s letters with those of his four sectarian correspondents makes them even more significant as it shows them in their original context – a dialogue, or conversation. Also, with the aim to present the conversation in an even broader context, Andrew Donskov briefly discusses Tolstoy’s relationship with peasants in general as well as with each of the four individual writers in particular. In addition, he provides a background sketch of two major religious groups, namely the Doukhobors and the Molokans, both of which still claim sizeable populations of followers in North America today.

Originally

published in 2008 by the Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa under

the title Leo Tolstoy and Russian peasant

sectarian writers: Selected correspondence, the expanded University of

Ottawa Press edition includes 44 letters never published in English, out of

the total 155 letters. Correspondence

translated by John Woodsworth.

This book is published in English. 

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La paysannerie traverse la longue carrière de Tolstoï. Son obsession avec cette classe sociale doit être comprise non seulement comme une préoccupation sociale ou humanitaire, mais aussi comme une réponse aux questions « Comment mener une belle vie? » et « Quel est le sens de la vie que la mort inévitable ne saurait détruire? » qui l’ont hanté sa vie durant.

La correspondance qu’ont échangée Tolstoï et quatre écrivains sectaires et liés à la paysannerie (Bondarev, Zheltov, Verigin et Novikov) révèle de grands penseurs. Au fil des échanges, les questions de religion et de moralité, du sens de la vie et comment faire pour le découvrir, et d’une gamme de questions sociales et personnelles du jour sont abordées. La lecture et l’analyse de cet ensemble d’échanges épistolaires enrichis de notes détaillées témoigne du développement progressif des idées qu’ils partageaient (ainsi que leurs divergences), et qui ont guidé la vie de chacun d’entre eux.

La juxtaposition des lettres de Tolstoï et de ses quatre correspondants sectaires, qui sont présentées dans leur contexte original de dialogue – ou de conversation – permet d’en pleinement apprécier l’importance. Dans le but de situer cette conversation dans un contexte plus grand, Andrew Donskov aborde la question de la relation qu’entretient Tolstoï avec les paysans en général, d’une part, de même qu’avec chacun de ces quatre écrivains, d’autre part. Il offre par ailleurs un texte de présentation sur les Doukhobors et les Molokans, deux groupes confessionnaux qui comptent encore aujourd’hui un nombre appréciable d’adeptes en Amérique du Nord.

Ce livre est publié en anglais.

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Andrew Donskov, member of the Royal Society of Canada, is Distinguished Professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures of the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on Russian theatre and drama during the nineteenth century, Russian peasant literature, the Doukhobors, and the literary career of Leo Tolstoy. He received the Tolstoy Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Tolstoy Studies, awarded by the L.N. Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, in 2015.

 
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Cover zur kostenlosen eBook-Leseprobe von »Tolstoy and Tolstaya«

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Tolstoy and Tolstaya

Donskov, Andrew (Hrsg.) | University of Ottawa Press


Both Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828–1910) and his wife Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya (1844–1919) were prolific letterwriters.

Lev Nikolaevich wrote approximately 10,000 letters over his lifetime — 840 of these addressed to his wife. Letters written by (or to) Sofia Andreevna over her lifetime also numbered in the thousands. When Tolstaya published Lev Nikolaevich’s letters to her, she declined to include any of her 644 letters to her husband. The absence of half their correspondence obscured the underlying significance of many of his comments to her and occasionally led the reader to wrong conclusions.

The current volume, in presenting a constantly unfolding dialogue between the Tolstoy-Tolstaya couple — mostly for the first time in English translation — offers unique insights into the minds of two fascinating individuals over the 48-year period of their conjugal life. Not only do we ’peer into the souls’ of these deep-thinking correspondents by penetrating their immediate and extended family life — full of joy and sadness, bliss and tragedy but we also observe, as in a generation-spanning chronicle, a variety of scenes of Russian society, from rural peasants to lords and ladies. 

This hard-cover, illustrated critical edition includes a foreword by Vladimir Il’ich Tolstoy (Lev Tolstoy’s great-great-grandson), introduction, maps, genealogy, as well as eleven additional letters by Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya published here for the very first time in either Russian or English translation. It is a beautiful complement to My Life, a collection of Sofia Tolstaya’s memoirs published in English in 2010 at the University of Ottawa Press.

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This is truly a magisterial book: a welcome and valuable addition to the library of any Tol­stoy scholar and to those interested in the life and works of Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya. 

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"Andrew Donskov and his team based at the University of Ottawa have just produced a new gem: a collection of the correspondence between the Tolstoys from their courtship in the early 1860s through to Tolstaya's last unsent letter on the eve of her husband's death. (...) Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters is the epistolary novel of one of the world's greatest literary couples. And for the first time, both have an equal voice."

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There are elements in their relationship that

are so very universal, particularly the weighing and measuring and comparing of the contributions of each of the spouses to the union and to the household.  It is refreshing to have this unvarnished, un-romanticized window on the relationship of such a famous and fascinating couple. It is almost literary voyeurism.  Imagine having one's own relationship laid bare for public consumption in this way.  

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"Tolstoy and Tolstoya includes the letters Sofia and Lev wrote to each other (...) not without occasional arguments and indeed fierce fights, deaths of children, and problems with peasants."

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The Tolstoys had things to say — to each other and to the world. And because that communication was written down in the form of letters to each other, it is possible to compile their thoughts into a book. (...) It is a companion book to [Andrew Donskov] earlier, highly regarded collection of Sofia Tolstoy’s memoirs called My Life, published in 2010. Donskov is a distinguished professor of languages at the University of Ottawa and a respected expert on Tolstoy and his wife.

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It is a treasure! (...) such a fine volume. It will stand for ages as

the book in its field.

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Andrew Donskov and his team based at the University of Ottawa have just produced a new gem (...) The volume also includes a wealth of contextualizing information—from detailed family trees and a list of Russian geographical names to a lengthy introduction by the editor, photographs of the Tolstoy family, a chronology and detailed index. The editors have done everything they can to make the book both broadly accessible and also of interest to experts. It succeeds in both of these tasks. As a Tolstoy scholar well versed in the vicissitudes of his life and thought, and as a human being who cares about questions of love and intimacy, I found it illuminating and at times heart-wrenching to immerse myself in this correspondence. It brings to life both the writers and their intense relationship. Even the many letters I had read before took on a new meaning when placed in the context of this greater dialogue.

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So how did the written memoirs of Tolstoy's indomitable wife, Sofia Tolstaya (the Russian feminine version of Tolstoy), one of the most important and anticipated works in modern Tolstoy scholarship, land at a university press in Canada's capital city? As with most things in academia, it involves an almost obsessive love of the subject, and lots of time. (...) To publish on Tolstoy you need permission from one of the two directors. Or, as [Andrew] Donskov jokingly puts it: "The only way to get something from Russians is to know them." (...) When Tolstaya's memoirs were scheduled to be printed in Russia as a coffee-table book, Donskov was entrusted with creating the full scholarly edition, as well as the obligation to treat the material as seriously as it deserved.

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Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters offers 239 of more than 1500 letters the couple wrote to each other in the decades ahead, as Tolstoy became a celebrated author and Sonya his respected wife. It's a weigthy, fluently translated book of 400 large-format pages, a solemn product of serious scholarship, announcing itself, a little self-righteously, as an important tool for future Tolstoy studies.

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Andrew Donskov, member of the Royal Society of Canada, is Distinguished Professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures of the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on Russian theatre and drama during the nineteenth century, Russian peasant literature, the Doukhobors, and the literary career of Leo Tolstoy. He received the Tolstoy Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Tolstoy Studies, awarded by the L.N. Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, in 2015.

 
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