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Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910). Anna Karenin.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Criticisms and Interpretations. IV. By Leo Wiener

IN no author have the faults and virtues of the whole nation been so blended as in the most typical of all the Russians, Leo Tolstoy. If all Russian literature and civilization perished, and nothing were left but the works of Tolstoy from which to reconstruct the Russian soul, we should find in them a complete inner history of the nation for the whole period of its existence. If, furthermore, a future antiquarian, unable to locate geographically and historically the people whom Tolstoy described, should attempt to draw his conclusions from internal evidence, he would be obliged to proclaim the nation as akin to the one that produced the New Testament, and the author as a close continuator of the passages known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Externally, Tolstoy’s works betray their association with the Natural School. Truth, simplicity, sincerity, absence and hatred of the artificial and conventional, neglect of style for the deeper elaboration of contents, the development of moral conflicts on a slender and ill-followed plot, all these had long ago been formulated by Byelinski and executed by the adherents to his injunctions. Similarly Tolstoy never attempted to describe what he had not himself experienced, actually or potentially. Hence we find in his stories analyses of the upper class of landed proprietors and city dwellers, into whose midst he was born and educated, and of the peasants, with whom he was in constant relations and to whom he was akin in spirit, but we totally lack references to the middle class, whom he knew only slightly. His heroes are remarkably true to Nature, not because he realistically chose them from his immediate surroundings, but because they are all diversified aspects of his own self, which, on account of his powerful genius, is but a reflection and a composite picture of the whole nation.—From “An Interpretation of the Russian People” (1915).