Sunday, May 11, 2014

Two Sides of Tolstoy's Writing

   Last class, one thing we briefly discussed was that Tolstoy's short stories and first two novels were remarkably distinct from one another. While Tolstoy does explore some similar themes and ideas in both, the structures and styles are still rather different. His short stories play around much more with their narration and have more of a moral than his novels. He even uses different methods for describing his characters in short stories compared to his novels.
  What I find myself wondering is, how intentional was this difference? Obviously an author's short stories and novels will not have the same feel, but they do tend to share several similarities. Was Tolstoy's way of writing his short stories and novels a conscious choice, a result of his novels being so much more expansive than his short stories that the difference was organic, or a mix of the two? It is also possible that this difference is amplified because he had such a long career as a writer and throughout the course of it radically changed as a person, which inevitably impacted his writing. This huge change also came after he wrote his two most famous novels. He did write the novel Resurrection after his transformation, but he wrote far more short stories during this period. Which factor(s) were the most significant part of the distinction between Tolstoy's short stories and his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina? 


  1. Alex, I think that since his novels tend to be so long and his stories are way shorter, he needed different artistic devices to be able to construct the stories in a way that made sense to him. His novels have multiple plot lines and countless characters that take up hundreds of pages, so it makes sense to me that he would try to be minimalistic when writing short stories as to convey his point eloquently without using as many characters as he usually does.

  2. We have talked a lot about Tolstoy being extremist, and I think his longer works are more indicative of this mindset of his. The stark, allegorical nature of stories like Master and Man and The Death of Ivan Ilych reveals a framework that is nearly the polar opposite of something as vast and historically dense as War and Peace. With his shorter works, I also think that the message Tolstoy wants us to take away is much clearer, whereas the novels leave us with more room for interpretation and discussion.