A Russian Life

eBook - 2011
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Longlisted for the UK's BBC Samuel Johnson Prize "[Bartlett's] deep and easy familiarity with her subject and the period permits Bartlett to touch on both the thinkers and writers who engaged Tolstoy...while getting to the essence of the spiritual power that informs his work. Bartlett is particularly adept at assessing Tolstoy's impact..." -Publishers Weekly, starred "A rich, complex life told in rich, complex prose." -Kirkus, starred "Bartlett's book is an exemplary literary biography." -Library Journal, starred "[Bartlett's]Tolstoy biography should become the first resort for everyone drawn to its titanic subject." -Booklist, starred "Rosamund Bartlett's new life of Tolstoy is a splendid book -- immensely readable, full of fresh details, and often quite brilliant in its perceptiveness about the greatest of Russian writers, and one of the stars in the western firmament. This biography has the sweep and vividness of literature itself, and I strongly recommend it." -Jay Parini, author of The Last Station "It is difficult as a reader to take in the sheer scale and extent of Tolstoy's interest and achievement. For the biographer to put all this into less than 500 pages is an achievement in itself. But Bartlett never seems hurried and she gives herself time to paint the scene for us, bringing the scent of Russian earth and grass to the nostrils." -Financial Times (UK) "The extraordinary character of the giant is captured better by Bartlett than by any previous biographer, and this is partly because she knows Russia so well... Superbly well written." -Spectator (UK)
"Magisterial sweep and scale." -- The Independent (UK) In November 1910, Count Lev Tolstoy died at a remote Russian railway station. At the time of his death, he was the most famous man in Russia, with a growing international following, and more revered than the tsar. Born into an aristocratic family, Tolstoy had spent his life rebelling against not only conventional ideas about literature and art but also traditional education, family life, organized religion, and the state. In this, the first biography of Tolstoy in more than twenty years, Rosamund Bartlett draws extensively on key Russian sources, including much fascinating material made available since the collapse of the Soviet Union. She sheds light on Tolstoy's remarkable journey from callow youth to writer to prophet; discusses his troubled relationship with his wife, Sonya; and vividly evokes the Russian landscapes Tolstoy so loved and the turbulent times in which he lived. Above all, Bartett gives us an eloquent portrait of the brilliant, maddening, and contrary man who has once again been discovered by a new generation of readers.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
ISBN: 9780547545875
Characteristics: data file
1 online resource (544 pages)
Call Number: eBook


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Jan 15, 2012

This is a wonderful biography of Tolstoy, that can be read with profit even by those who have read previous biographies. No-one can ever write the final definitive biography for such an important figure as Tolstoy because his impact on the generations is an ongoing story. I particulary liked the anecdote about the Chechen warriors torching other Russian museums in the Caucasus but leaving the Tolstoy museum untouched.

It can't replace the much longer life of Tolstoi by Henri Troyat, but it is a worthy complement to his book. Unlike Troyat, this British author devotes a lot of attention to the Tolstoyan movement in Russia, relying on documents only recently released from state archives. Much of this is interesting and touching, but one is still left with the impression that the Tolstoyans were a quite marginal group in Russian society and are likely to remain so.

She gets a few things wrong. Tolstoy may have been riveted by what he thought was the American economist Herbert George's "central idea that all land should become common property" but George never advocated any such thing. His was a taxation proposal, aimed at taxing away pure ground tax, while exempting property improvements from taxation. Also, Tolstoy was never excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church as she states; the hierarchy backed down from going through with excommunication ceremonies in all the churches that a formal excommunication required, so Tolstoy's excommunication became null and void.


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