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Tolstoy Unrevealed

ISSUE:  Summer 1930

Tolstoy, the Inconstant Genius: A Biography. By Alexander I. Nazaroff. New York: Frederick A. Stokes. $5.00.

It is almost impossible to write a dull book about Tolstoy. The quantity of the source material is almost equalled by the fascination of it. What with diaries, correspondence, and the personal confession that even Tolstoy’s fictional works proved to be, his biographer is in possession of a treasure as magnificent as Kimberley. But such a mind demands an alert entrepreneur, one used to large undertakings, capable of foreseeing and meeting the difficulties inherent in them, as also of utilizing his resources to the best advantage. Unfortunately, the author of this book has not met the demands of this exacting task.

He has had access to all the necessary data, but too often he gives the reader the results of his inquiries in practically a raw state. He fills pages with quotations, which might well have been paraphrased and which ask for more interpre- j tation than he gives them. Passages in French and German are left untranslated, although this assumption of cultivation on the part of the audience does not extend to offering them a thoughtful treatment of Tolstoy’s philosophy. One misses that feeling for development, for growth, for the acorn in the oak and the oak in the acorn, which belongs to sound biography. Nowhere is Tolstoy’s immense vitality, communicated, nor yet the tragedy of a soul divided against itself. Scattered through the text are such naive comments as this: “An interesting fact: Tolstoy’s writings, in their very inception grow out of his life, out of his own experiences and recollections”; such loose writing as this: “War and Peace’ is all of Tolstoy . . . plus all of his genius which, at last, has fully, majestically unfolded its superhuman power.” The author’s thesis is as follows: “Tolstoy is inconstant in everything; but in the desire to master himself he is, and will always remain, amazingly consistent.” The main problem of the man’s personality is left unexplored. Finally, the book is written in solecistic English.


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