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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 ...

Real Madrid

Patrick Parrinder, 1 October 1987

Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women 
by Benito Perez Galdos, translated by Agnes Moncy Gullon.
Viking, 818 pp., £17.95, January 1987, 9780670814305
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... added to the list of great non-winners of this prize, a list headed by Henrik Ibsen (d.1906) and Leo Tolstoy (d. 1910). August Strindberg died on 14 May; he at least had had the consolation of a ‘People’s Nobel Prize’, awarded at the climax of a public parade through the streets of Stockholm a couple of years earlier. The fate of Benito Perez ...

The War between the Diaries

John Bayley, 5 December 1985

Tolstoy’s Diaries 
translated by R.F. Christian.
Athlone, 755 pp., £45, October 1985, 0 485 11276 0
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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy 
translated by Cathy Porter.
Cape, 1043 pp., £30, September 1985, 0 224 02270 9
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... Tolstoy was much preoccupied with questions of identity. His brutally penetrating intelligence, as well as the instinctive self-confidence of an aristocrat, were always running incredulously up against the fact of existence, and the certainty of non-existence. What and who was he at different moments of the day? One of his earliest attempts at writing is a history of 24 hours, a record of his various selves during that period ...

Sexual Politics

Michael Neve, 5 February 1981

Edward Carpenter, 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship 
by Chushichi Tsuzuki.
Cambridge, 237 pp., £15, November 1980, 0 521 23371 2
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... more intriguing, because it took hold in the international sphere, the world of German sexology, Leo Tolstoy and P.D. Ouspenski. It is very odd that Tsuzuki says nothing of Carpenter’s influence in Japan, where some of his ideas on ‘comrade love’ and sacrificial struggle must have fitted neatly with a range of Japanese codes of conduct, many of ...

Some Wild Creature

James Meek: Tolstoy Leaves Home, 22 July 2010

The Death of TolstoyRussia on the Eve, Astapovo Station, 1910 
by William Nickell.
Cornell, 209 pp., £18.95, May 2010, 978 0 8014 4834 8
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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy 
translated by Cathy Porter.
Alma, 609 pp., £9.99, February 2010, 978 1 84688 102 2
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A Confession 
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Anthony Briggs.
Hesperus, 146 pp., £7.99, February 2010, 978 1 84391 190 6
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Anniversary Essays on Tolstoy 
by Donna Tussing Orwin.
Cambridge, 268 pp., £55, February 2010, 978 0 521 51491 0
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... person’, is sumasshedshy, literally ‘who was going out of their mind’. Sofia Andreyevna Tolstoy, wife of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, did go out of her mind at the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana in 1910. She didn’t lose her mind. She went back to it later, and lived another nine years. But she did lose her ...

Crabby, Prickly, Bitter, Harsh

Michael Wood: Tolstoy’s Malice, 22 May 2008

War and Peace 
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Vintage, 1273 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 09 951223 3
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... If the world could write by itself,’ Isaac Babel said, ‘it would write like Tolstoy.’ The remark is quoted at the head of Richard Pevear’s introduction to this handsome new translation of War and Peace. I should like to think Babel meant that if the world was given to intricate thematic contrasts and parallels among its materials, to careful cross-cutting between city and country, high society and hunting, the salon and the racetrack, home and abroad, it would have written War and Peace and Anna Karenina ...

Jack and Leo

John Sutherland, 27 July 1989

The Letters of Jack London 
edited by Earle Labor, Robert Leitz and Milo Shepard.
Stanford, 1657 pp., $139.50, October 1988, 0 8047 1227 1
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Tolstoy 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 572 pp., £16.95, May 1988, 0 241 12190 6
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... On the whole, the evidence suggests that London did not kill himself, at least not directly. Tolstoy and London died within ten years of each other. But, with the wealth of primary materials openly available on Tolstoy, A.N. Wilson has written a biography of a kind that seems for ever denied London. Three factors have ...

Satisfaction

Julian Loose, 11 May 1995

The Information 
by Martin Amis.
Flamingo, 494 pp., £15.99, March 1995, 0 00 225356 9
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... Keith Talent went through his mid-life crisis at the age of 19, or read that ‘in common with Leo Tolstoy, Keith Talent thought of time as moving past him while he just stayed the same,’ the gap between the protagonist’s low-life awareness and the author’s cruelly superior understanding was the joke, the ironic motor for the fiction. But The ...

Like a Mullet in Love

James Wood: Homage to Verga, 10 August 2000

Cavalleria Rusticana and Other Stories 
by Giovanni Verga, translated by G.H. McWilliam.
Penguin, 272 pp., £8.99, June 1999, 0 14 044741 5
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... alluding to those moments when a writer appeals to something consensual that everyone knows. Tolstoy uses it with great simplicity and force. In The Death of Ivan Ilich, he describes a group of men who are discussing the recent news of Ivan’s death. Tolstoy remarks that ‘as is usual in such cases’, each man was ...

A Meeting with Chekhov

Alexander Tikhonov, 6 January 2000

... The sea does not laugh, the sea does not laugh, or cry – it roars, splashes, glitters. Look at Tolstoy: with him the sun rises, the sun sets ... his birds sing. No one cries. There’s no laughing or crying. The important thing is simplicity.’ Chekhov spoke with passion, while his long fingers toyed with the objects on the table in front of him – an ...

The First New War

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Crimea, 25 August 2011

Crimea: The Last Crusade 
by Orlando Figes.
Penguin, 575 pp., £12.99, June 2011, 978 0 14 101350 3
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... in the Great Hall of the Assembly of Nobles at Sevastopol, where, the young artillery officer Leo Tolstoy recalled, you were ‘assailed without warning by the sight and smell of about 40 or 50 amputees … Now, if you have strong nerves, go through the doorway on the left: that is the room in which wounds are bandaged and operations ...

Rosa with Mimi

Edward Timms, 4 June 1987

Rosa Luxemburg: A Life 
by Elzbieta Ettinger.
Harrap, 286 pp., £10.95, April 1987, 0 245 54539 5
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... the world of Marxist politics and made the most significant personal encounter of her life: with Leo Jogiches, a wealthy political exile from Lithuania. Leo became for her both ‘comrade’ and ‘lover’, providing tactical advice and financial support in the course of a seesaw relationship vividly recorded in Rosa’s ...

Patriotic Work

M.F. Perutz, 27 September 1990

Memoirs 
by Andrei Sakharov, translated by Richard Lourie.
Hutchinson, 776 pp., £19.99, July 1990, 0 09 174636 1
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... prizes – 139,000 roubles – to charity, without a thought that his children might need it, like Leo Tolstoy, who made over the royalties from his books to charity and left his family destitute. Perhaps all three men tried to make up for their failure to love those closest to them by trying to love all mankind. Even tragic history often has its ironic ...

At the End of a Dirt Road

Thomas Powers: The Salinger File, 24 October 2019

The Catcher in the Rye, Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour – an Introduction 
by J.D. Salinger.
Little, Brown, 1072 pp., $100, November 2018, 978 0 316 45071 3
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... essays in both the original and English translation, ‘the complete works again of Count Leo Tolstoy’, Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Thackeray, Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Balzac and ‘any unflinching book on the World War’ – suggests that Salinger, whose forty-year silence followed its appearance, may have reached the same conclusion. But maybe ...

Off the record

John Bayley, 19 September 1985

Life and Fate 
by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert Chandler.
Collins, 880 pp., £15, September 1985, 0 00 261454 5
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... claim in his Introduction. When a long honest novel comes out of Russia today comparisons with Tolstoy are routine – I have made them myself – but in this case it seems worth asking rather more rigorously than usual what they really mean. In the first place, no novel that merely resembled War and Peace could be anything like it, or indeed any ...

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