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

Criticisms and Interpretations. VII. From “The Nation”

IT is safe to assert that Count Tolstoy’s permanent place in literature at home, and more particularly abroad, will rest upon his two great novels, “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenin.” In them the peculiar power of Russians to visualize a situation and to express the passionate instincts of the human heart reach their consummation. Count Tolstoy passed but little time abroad. Yet there is an international, a universal, rather than a strictly Russian quality about his best work, in spite of its absolute fidelity to the details of local life. The force of this point is best brought out by a comparison. Turgenev spent a great part of his adult life abroad. Though surrounded by foreign atmosphere, that atmosphere never invaded his novels. He evidently remained to the day of his death a Russian pure and simple. His characters are Slav to the very marrow. His style has the brilliance and play of light of a jewel. There are few artistic and intellectual treats as delicate as that offered by the perusal of one of those severely condensed novels, which would fill thrice the space of Tolstoy’s if elaborated on Tolstoy’s plan; which are clothed in language that has not a superfluous syllable and that cuts like a knife. Down to the present day, he can be thoroughly appreciated only by those persons who are well versed in the finer points of the Russian tongue and Russian nature, and who can read between the lines in these productions, each of which evoked a cry and a protest from the Russians, whose tender points had been mercilessly laid bare. Tolstoy, on the other hand, had a mind of composite architecture: on one side Byzantine, on the other Renaissance. His personages are cosmopolitan to such a degree that they can be readily understood by foreigners who possess no knowledge of the language, country, or people. Anna Karenin is as true a world-type as Becky Sharp. Tolstoy’s style in descriptive passages is often rugged and tautological. His effects are gained in spite of it. One never re-reads a phrase of his for its artistic beauty, as one does constantly in the case of Turgenev.…

Tolstoy has been called a prophet. So cool a head as Anatole France declares to-day that Tolstoy is entitled to rank as “one of the prophets of the new era.” This is because of his burning hatred of war, his unceasing struggle for the amelioration of society, and his passionate holding up of an ideal of humanity. When his particular message has been forgotten, he will be remembered as one of the great figures to whom other-worldly truth, as he saw it, was more real than all the rest of life. That inspiration is not a little thing. The world is not easily deceived about a great man. It knows one when it sees him. And the universal feeling about the passing of Leo Tolstoy is of such a nature and depth as to place the spiritual greatness of the man beyond all narrow questioning.—From “The Nation” (N.Y.), November 24, 1910.