Russia Literature: Dostoevsky and Tolstoy

By | December 31, 2021


The one is the great interpreter of the anxieties of the soul, of the conflicts of conscience, of the lacerations of the spirit, the other is the great singer of life, the analyzer of the values ​​of existence, the painter of an expanding reality in an immanentistic pacification of being as a form operating in the womb of nature. Starting from the social theme, Dostoevsky, after a profound religious crisis and under the impulse of a strong tendency to introspection, essentially passed to the ethical-psychological analysis of the deepest personalities of the characters, while not ceasing to be interested in social problems, reaching to results that seem almost in contradiction with its realistic matrix and giving rise to the modern European novel. Most fruitful writer, The double, Memories of the house of the dead, Writer’s diary, Crime and punishment, Memories from the underground, The idiot, The demons, The Karamazov brothers. There is in all the element of the accompanying novel. There is crime in everyone, but above all there is in everyone the relationship of the criminal with his act, thought and wanted. The irrefutability of criminal reasoning always clashes with the law of the heart. A convinced Slavophile, Dostoevsky argued that orthodoxy was the religion of freedom against Catholicism, the religion of dogma. He sees the love of God as the only source of salvation and the regeneration of man through suffering accepted as a sacred character. Like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy also turned to the search for redemptive truth. Considered the greatest Russian storyteller, Tolstoy concluded the cycle of great nineteenth-century realism with his work. In 1851 he began to write his first important works,in which he evoked the eleven months of the defense of the city of the Black Sea. The work is a prelude to the modern war narrative and is already in a certain sense the anticipation of the theme that reappears in War and Peace (1878), the masterpiece of Writer. In the context of the great historical events of the French campaign in Russia in 1812, the fortunes of two families intertwine, but what springs from the extraordinary work is the love of life, the exaltation of the great Russian soul, the codification of the principle that the joy is in being, in letting oneself be lived with a sincere and generous soul: an epic novel, over which, like an immense sky, the trust in the greatness of the human heart dominates, which in order to have the right to happiness must however remain pure. (1875-77), which responds to the Tolstoian concept of letting oneself live but which inexorably leads to tragedy because she claimed to build her joy on the pain of others, on that of the betrayed husband and the neglected son. These are ethical and social concepts that Tolstoy clarified in Confession (1879-82), which he addressed in the drama The Power of Darkness (1886) and which he resumed most recently in Resurrection. (1899), revealing that even the bestiality of man finds possibility of redemption in confession and expiation. Mystic of non-violence, of non-resistance to evil, he preached the return to peasant simplicity, condemned industry because of “the slavery of our time”, property in addition to need, invoked brotherly love and implemented the simplicity of life, in contrast with the family that harassed and opposed him. His preaching did not fall on deaf ears. VG Korolenko (1853-1921) believed in Tolstoy and despite the harsh tests that were imposed on him, he kept his faith in humanity. Makar’s dream (1885) is a heartbreaking cry. Even God forgives the farmer who has sinned a lot and suffered a lot. But after these love prophets Russia fell into pessimism. Examples are VM Garšin (1855-1888) with The Red Flower (1883), mirror of the despondency of his generation, and F. Sologub (1863-1927) whose characters hate life.


With AP Chekhov (1860-1904) a completely new voice appeared. The picture of a generation that lived in the shadows took shape, shy of showing itself, devoid of ideals, as if it loved, like the protagonist of one of his very famous short stories, to hide in a case. Fine humorist Chekhov was the master of the small, short story. But humor overlapped and almost always won the unwanted life, the accepted life waiting not to live and only in the theater Chekhov seemed to shake and open to hope, finally aware that a new reality had to appear on the horizon. Resigned once again in Uncle Vanya and in The Three Sisters, after dreaming in The Seagull, in The Cherry Garden he announced, with the blows of the ax that cut down the trees, the drum of a new life intent on shedding light through the tangle of old things now gone. The theater moved in its new stage and interpretative conception with KS Stanislavskij, VI Nemirovič-Dančenko, VE Mejerchold and EB Vachtangov. Poetry also experienced a moment of particular intensity and richness with the symbolism that had in AA Blok (1880-1921) perhaps the most important lyric of the twentieth century. With him emerged V. Ja. Bryusov (1873-1924), KD Balmont (1867-1942), ZN Gippius (1869-1945), VI Ivanov (1866-1949), while DS Merežkovskij (1865-1941), LN Andreev (1871-1919), A. Belyj (1880-1934) were establishing themselves among the prose writers, both contested by the general public, all preluding to a revival of realism that came true with IA Bunin (1870-1953), AI Kuprin (1870-1938), AS Serafimovič (1863-1949), leading to proletarian literature. Suddenly traditional realism and symbolism ran out on the eve of the First World War. Russia opened up to all the avant-gardes, especially with the acmeism of NS Gumilëv (1886-1921) and AA Achmatova (1889-1966), the futurism of V. Chlebnikov (1885-1922) and opened up to critical studies inspired by Marxist ideology. GV Plechanov (1856-1918), AV Lunačarskij (1875-1933) and VV Vorovskij (1871-1923) were the links between pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary culture. And while Mayakovsky faced pre-revolutionary literature, to be realized in post-revolutionary Russia, M. Gorky (1868-1936) stood perfectly between the two pre- and post-revolutionary ages. Genuine expression of the great popular soul with Makar Čudra (1892), Foma Gordeev (1899), Small bourgeois (1902), Slums (1902), La madre (1907-08), Gorky passed from anarchism to Marxism, from Romanticism to realism, exalting in the people, in the workers, the protagonists of that revolution whose intellectual values ​​he later defended, welcoming under his wing of first president of the Association of writers of the highest geniuses of his time. For later developments in Russian literature, see Soviet Union.

Russia Literature Dostoevsky and Tolstoy