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Posts Tagged ‘leo tolstoy’

Portrait of Tolstoy by Ivan N. Kramskoy

God bless BBC TV programmes about writers! I say this with some measure of regret for the passing of ITV’s South Bank Show, which in my youth was an absolutely indispensable medium for getting major living writers out in front of such a captive audience as was available late on Sunday nights. The BBC used to have a wealth of outlets and strands under which good writers and their books could be featured and celebrated – that wealth has, of course, receded alongside the very notion of ‘the captive audience’… But in this light we must give thanks for the 2-part BBC Imagine devoted to Tolstoy which aired over consecutive Sundays just past. Dovegreyreader, whose excellent ‘Team Tolstoy’ group-read of War and Peace continues here, has written approvingly of the BBC documentaries here, and she also serves up a nicely wry take on their presenter, Alan Yentob, who does indeed seem always to land on his feet when it comes to a nice gig.
Dovegreyreader also points out – as was pointed out to me by my predecessor in this parish, John Seaton – that it is the Faber Finds edition of Tolstoy’s Diaries Volume 1 1847-1894 (prepared by R.F. Christian) from which Yentob reads in the first programme. You can see for yourself if you summon it up on BBC IPlayer and fast-forward to just before the 26:00 minute-mark
Jay Parini, author of The Last Station which conveyed Tolstoy to movie audiences a couple of years ago, pays the following tribute to Tolstoy’s diaries and letters: “R. F. Christian ranks among the great Tolstoy scholars of the past century, and his translations of Tolstoy’s diaries and letters are peerless. I would go nowhere else for the very best versions of Tolstoy.”
And, happily, interested readers now need look no further than Finds! You will find details and ordering info on both volumes of both the Letters and Diaries by following links from here.

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War and Peace: heavyweight, certainly

While we speak of genius – and splendid ideas that come in its wake – let me draw your attention again to the excellent dovegreyreader and the ‘Team Tolstoy’ project she is steering in order to bring new and previously wary readers to War and Peace, through a year-long ‘shared read’. As DGR describes it in a recent post:

It’s never too late to start, even if we’re now on page five hundred and something, but you’ll find our previous posts starting back on Tolstoy’s birthday September 9th last year… and we stop by here on the 9th of each month for a discussion …and if you’re really interested, you’ll find the shared read from the year before, Team Ulysses, here…

(Team Ulysses! Of course!)
Faber Finds is, of course, proud to offer R.F. Christian’s Tolstoy’s War and Peace: A Study, and are sure this outstanding volume would be of great help to any bold reader currently putting their shoulder to the plough on behalf of Team Tolstoy.
BTW the amusing image above is borrowed with kind regards from the blog of Katharine Parker.

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There’s a daunting aspect to Tolstoy’s stature in the literary pantheon, and rightly so. His books are big in all the right places, in all the right senses. George Steiner found fitting words in his Tolstoy or Dostoevsky when he described the former of the two Russian eminences as being ‘like a colossus bestriding the palpable earth, evoking the realness, the tangibility, the sensible entirety of concrete experience.’ As if it could not be phrased more decisively than that, Steiner also quoted Romain Rolland c. 1887 to memorable effect: ‘in the art of Tolstoy a given scene is not perceived from two points of view, but from only one: things are as they are, not otherwise.’ Argue with that if you like, the fact is that one can think of very few other novelists for whom godlike powers of omniscience have been claimed, and more than once at that.
In Friday’s FT A.N. Wilson offered a present-day evaluation of Tolstoy’s immanence in the world which indicated that not much has changed: “It is hard to think of any of the great public questions facing the world today that Tolstoy did not anticipate and address in some way, whether we speak of the environmental crisis, religious debate (creationist versus atheist) or the anti-war movement…” Wilson was reviewing a number of titles that have been published or reissued for the occasion of the centenary of Count Tolstoy’s death. He is impressed by Rosamund Bartlett’s new biography for Profile, and cites a couple of translations of War and Peace, highlighting (as did Steiner) the points of comparison between Tolstoy and Homer. Most pleasingly for our purpose there is mention of Faber Finds’ reissue of the first volume of Tolstoy’s Letters, selected, edited and translated by R.F. Christian. Volumes One and Two of Tolstoy’s Diaries as edited by Christian are also available in Finds, as is the second volume of Letters, and brand new to Finds is Christian’s justly acclaimed critical study of War and Peace.

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