Made it up to page 225 of Volume X of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi, or Chapter IX of Youth. I also read up to page 60 of A Sentimental Journey, a book that deeply influenced Tolstoy, though I am trying to figure out how exactly. I did start enjoying it more today, though, and it made me want to re-read Tristram Shandy. I also punched holes in the 139 pages of my printed-out blog and put them in a two-inch binder.
What struck me today was how the narrator of Youth is much like Tolstoy: he decides to be perfect, physically and spiritually, he draws up lists of rules for himself to follow. As you read you are reminded of passages from Tolstoy’s diaries that basically say the same thing.
Here is a passage wherein the narrator reflects on his own proclivities: “Reproach me not because the dreams of youth were as childish as the dreams of childhood and boyhood. I am convinced that if I am fated to live to extreme old age, and my story follows my growth, as an old man of seventy I shall dream in exactly the same impossibly childish way as now. I shall dream of some charming Marie, who will fall in love with me as a toothless old man, as she loved Mazeppa; of how my weak-minded son will suddenly become a Minister through some unusual circumstance; or of how a treasure of millions will fall to me all of a sudden. I am convinced that there is no human being or age which is deprived of this beneficent, comforting capacity for dreaming. But, exclusive of the general traits of impossibility,–the witchcraft of reverie,–the dreams of each man and of each stage of growth possess their own distinctive character.”
I don’t know, I have found this part of my psyche has grown much weaker as I have grown older and I am very glad of it. To me all that dreaming I did, at least once I was a teenager, was a waste of time.
There was another passage I noticed which describes how the narrator helps a servant open a window and the breath of spring enters the room.
“A certain new, exceedingly powerful, and pleasant sensation penetrated my soul all at once. The wet earth, through which, hear and there, bright green spears of grass with yellow stalks pushed their way; the rivulets, sparkling in the sun, and whirling along little clods of earth and shavings; and reddening twigs of syringa with swollen buds which undulate just beneath the window; the anxious twittering of the birds thronging this bush; the blackish hedge wet with the melted snow: but chiefly the damp, fragrant air and cheerful sun,–spoke to me intelligibly, clearly, of something new and very beautiful, which, though I cannot reproduce it as it told itself to me, I shall endeavor to repeat as I received it: everything spoke to me of beauty, happiness, and virtue, said that both were easy and possible to me, that one could not exist without the other, and even that beauty, happiness, and virtue are one and the same.”
This passage reminds me of one of Philip Larkin’s poems, “The Trees,” which you can read here: The Trees
Here are some more passages from Talks With Tolstoy.
pp. 73-75: “‘Dostoevsky often wrote so badly, so weakly and incompetently, from the point of view of technique; but what a lot he always has to say! Taine said that for one page of Dostoevsky’s he would give all French novels. . . . ‘
“Tolstoi has recently re-read all Chekhov’s short stories. To-day he said of Chekhov:
“‘His mastery is of the highest order. I have re-reading his stories with the greatest pleasure. Some, as, for instance, “Children,” “Sleepy,” “In Court,” are real masterpieces. I really read one story after another with great pleasure. And yet it is all a mosaic; there is no connecting inner link.
“‘The most important thing in a work of art is that it should have a kind of focus, i.e. there should be some place where all the rays meet or from which they issue. And this focus must not be able to be completely explained in words. This indeed is one of the significant facts about a true work of art–that its content in its entirety can be expressed only by itself.’
“Tolstoi finds a great likeness between the talents of Chekhov and Maupassant. He prefers Maupassant for his greater joy in life. But, on the other hand, Chekhov’s gift is a purer gift than Maupassant’s.'”
I’m not sure I agree with Tolstoy about Chekhov’s work having no moral or inner link. I think they do but the only thing I can think to call it is the desire to not lie, or, conversely, to tell the truth. Who was Tolstoy’s hero. The only thing is Chekhov’s truth is science; on religion he is silent, condemning only hypocrisy.
And what Tolstoy says about Maupassant being joyful surprises me. I should re-read his stories but joy isn’t a word I’d use to describe them.
p. 77: “‘The value of criticism consists in pointing out all the good that there is in this or that work of art, and in thus directing the opinion of the public, whose tastes are mostly crude and the majority of whom have no feeling for beauty.'”
p. 78: “Tolstoi compares the present state of Europe with the end of the Roman Empire. The Chinese, in his opinion, play the part of the ‘barbarians.'”
p. 79: “‘We are all in the position of passengers from a ship which has reached an island. We have gone on shore, we walk about and gather shells, but we must always remember that, when the whistle sounds, all the little shells will have to be thrown away and we must run to the boat.'”
p. 81: “‘If a feeling of romance is felt for any girl, this is the best protection against immorality. . . . ‘”
p. 83: “‘No, it is time, it is time for me to die! They stick to some single idea, which they arbitrarily choose from the rest, and go on and on repeating: Non-resistance! non-resistance! How am I to blame for it?'”