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Maxwell’s Equations

Nevill Mott, 19 November 1981

James Clerk Maxwell: A Biography 
by Ivan Tolstoy.
Canongate, 184 pp., £9.95, July 1981, 9780862410100
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... and Nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light. Professor Tolstoy believes that Maxwell’s greatest contribution was to replace Newton’s concept of action at a distance, the attraction or repulsion of one electric charge by another, by that of a ‘field’. This is not a very easy concept to communicate, though ...

Doris Lessing’s Space Fiction

Robert Taubman, 20 December 1979

by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 365 pp., £5.95
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Fergus Lamont 
by Robin Jenkins.
Canongate, 293 pp., £7.95
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A Married Man 
by Piers Paul Read.
Alison Press/Secker, 264 pp., £5.25
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And Again? 
by Sean O’Faolain.
Constable, 267 pp., £5.95
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... daring of Mr Read was not this Catholic ploy, but trying to relate John Strickland’s story to Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych – unsuccessfully, for it strikes me as a fatal disjuncture in the novel. The point is not just that Strickland recognises his own predicament in Tolstoy’s ...

At the National Portrait Gallery

David Jackson: Russia and the Arts , 19 May 2016

... The​ National Portrait Gallery’s Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky (until 26 June) displays a small but rich body of works made between 1867 and 1914, focused on Russia’s writers, artists, actors, composers and patrons, most of whom will be familiar – Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov ...

Just a Devil

Michael Wood: Kristeva on Dosto, 3 December 2020

by Julia Kristeva.
Buchet/Chastel, 256 pp., €14, March, 978 2 283 03040 0
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At the Risk of Thinking: An Intellectual Biography of Julia Kristeva 
by Alice Jardine.
Bloomsbury, 400 pp., £19.99, January, 978 1 5013 4133 5
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... called ‘Les Auteurs de ma vie’. Earlier titles included works by Stefan Zweig on Tolstoy, Thomas Mann on Schopenhauer, Paul Valéry on Descartes, and contributions from living writers such as Marie-Hélène Lafon (on Flaubert) and Michel Schneider (on Pascal). The series was started in 2016, and the most recent book in the set, before ...
Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia 
by Orlando Figes.
Allen Lane, 729 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 7139 9517 3
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... all that was in Anisya . . . and in every Russian man and woman.’ The moment fits with Tolstoy’s aim to compose a great patriotic epic portraying the unity of the Russian people in the face of foreign invasion. But here, as with all the other creative work he uses, Figes interprets the scene as expressing a fundamental historical truth about ...

The Writer and the Valet

Frances Stonor Saunders, 25 September 2014

... members of the Peredelkino colony, the dead undead; the toasts, invoking spiritual companions – Tolstoy, Chekhov, Scriabin, Rachmaninov. And finally the farewell at the gate, at which Pasternak disappears back into the dacha and re-emerges with sheaves of typescript. These are given to the visitor (‘the guest from the future’, as Anna Akhmatova put ...

Bad Feeling

Gabriele Annan, 5 November 1981

Sonya: The Life of Countess Tolstoy 
by Anne Edwards.
Hodder, 512 pp., £8.50, July 1981, 9780340250020
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... grave. The snow falls at Astopovo too, where Anne Edwards sets her prologue and shows us Countess Tolstoy outside the stationmaster’s hut, trying to catch a glimpse of her dying husband through the curtained windows. Astopovo is probably better documented than Mayerling, a secret trysting-place where afterwards everyone strove to hush up what had ...

How to Shoe a Flea

James Meek: Nikolai Leskov, 25 April 2013

‘The Enchanted Wanderer’ and Other Stories 
by Nikolai Leskov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Vintage, 608 pp., £25, April 2013, 978 0 09 957735 5
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The Enchanted Wanderer 
by Nikolai Leskov, translated by Ian Dreiblatt.
Melville House, 256 pp., £8.99, August 2012, 978 1 61219 103 4
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... technically a member of the noble class. Though much less exalted in rank than his contemporary Tolstoy, he was nonetheless a young master in a master-and-slave society of extreme piety, superstition, prejudice and social polarisation, learning of the blurred boundaries between the three worlds of peasant consciousness: the immanent world of folk ...

A Frog’s Life

James Wood: Coetzee’s Confessions, 23 October 2003

Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 233 pp., £14.99, September 2003, 0 436 20616 1
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... Costello says, before quoting a syllogism which recalls the celebrated one in The Death of Ivan Ilyich: ‘Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal.’ One can’t know how much of Costello’s argument is shared by Coetzee. I would wager a fair amount. What one can say is that her reply to Nagel is the reply of literature to ...

On the Banks of the Tom

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 10 November 1994

Memoirs of Peasant Tolstoyans in Soviet Russia 
translated and edited by William Edgerton.
Indiana, 308 pp., £25, September 1993, 0 253 31911 0
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... Leo Tolstoy was not only a great writer but also a passionately outspoken public moralist in the Russian prophetic mode followed a century later by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A political presence because of his impact on public opinion, he steered clear of direct political involvement. He was above politics. ‘On the one hand,’ Lenin wrote of him in 1908, ‘we have a remarkably powerful, direct and sincere protest against social lies and falsehood, while on the other we have the Tolstoyan, i ...

A Soft Pear

Tom Crewe: Totally Tourgenueff, 21 April 2022

A Nest of Gentlefolk and Other Stories 
by Ivan Turgenev, translated by Jessie Coulson.
Riverrun, 568 pp., £9.99, April 2020, 978 1 5294 0405 0
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Love and Youth: Essential Stories 
by Ivan Turgenev, translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater and Maya Slater.
Pushkin, 222 pp., £12, October 2020, 978 1 78227 601 2
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... six in the morning​  on 19 January 1870, at the Roquette Prison in the eleventh arrondissement, Ivan Turgenev watched as a man was prepared for the guillotine. Four months earlier, Jean-Baptiste Troppmann had murdered, for money, the entire Kinck family – the owner of an engineering works, his heavily pregnant wife and their six children – and buried ...

Puffed Wheat

James Wood: How serious is John Bayley?, 20 October 2005

The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 
by John Bayley, selected by Leo Carey.
Duckworth, 677 pp., £25, March 2005, 0 7156 3312 0
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... of his best stories, particularly the early ones, have a remarkable affinity with Chekhov’s. Tolstoy got Chekhov wrong, too, observing of The Darling, which he much admired, that the author had intended to satirise his enthusiastic heroine for her giddy commitment to each lover in turn, but, by writing about her with so much sympathy, had in fact exalted ...

No Company, No Carpets

Tim Parks: Tolstoy v. Tolstaya, 26 April 2018

Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters 
by Andrew Donskov, translated by John Woodsworth, Arkadi Klioutchanski and Liudmila Gladkova.
Ottawa, 430 pp., £48, May 2017, 978 0 7766 2471 6
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... On​ 17 September 1862, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, aged 34, gave his diaries of the last 15 years to Sophia Andreevna Behrs, who had just turned 18. She was the second of three daughters and her mother had been Lev’s childhood friend. Three days earlier, on 14 September, Lev had proposed to Sonya by hand-delivered letter, when her parents had been expecting him to propose to their eldest, Liza, who was twenty ...

Nothing Becomes Something

Thomas Laqueur: Pathography, 22 September 2016

When Breath Becomes Air 
by Paul Kalanithi.
Bodley Head, 228 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 84792 367 7
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... moves of an illness that’s sounding me out, choosing its ground’). At about the same time, Tolstoy was creating in fiction pathography’s foundational narrative form. Memoirs of illness and dying almost always begin, as The Death of Ivan Ilyich does, at the moment when nothing – the little ache, the ordinary ...

Fearful Thoughts

Stephen Mulhall: Morality by Numbers, 22 August 2002

The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life 
by Jeff McMahan.
Oxford, 554 pp., £35, February 2002, 0 19 507998 1
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... cycle of life is ‘wringing a meagre drop of consolation from the rags of bad argument’; and Tolstoy – well, ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ is of course a masterpiece, but it is also a ‘conspicuous piece of evasion’. Ivan’s deathbed vision is a deus ex machina which ...

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