Tuesday, 1 April 2014

"Sevastopol in December" and "Sevastopol in May"

(The 3rd one in the series, "Sevastopol in August", isn't included in this book).

I will not say these 2 stories are badly written. Because they aren't. In fact, they're very descriptive, very vivid, very real. Tolstoy's 1 of the greatest, if not the best, writers of scenes. What bugs me (for lack of a better word) is the author's obvious attitude- Tolstoy doesn't need to have the vagueness, openness of Chekhov or the neutrality of Turgenev, he can point out the cruelty, barbarism and senselessness of war and describe the hypocrisy, deceit, selfishness, vanity and delusion of the officers, captains, generals..., but it seems a bit forced, a bit too obvious and blatant, a bit too opinionated, and I wish that here he had the subtlety and humour of Jane Austen in portraying the silly characters.  
Generally, and personally speaking, I would be more afraid of Jane Austen than Tolstoy, afraid of being in the same room with her. Of course, nothing escapes Tolstoy unrecorded, he also sees everything and sees more deeply into each human being, but my mental image of Tolstoy is that of a grumpy, sullen man, whereas that of Jane Austen is of a witty woman laughing. I imagine that in front of people she rarely says a thing, but afterwards laughs at them and makes fun of them and cloaks it under so many layers of subtlety and irony that the victims may not even realise. The idea of being brought into 1 of her works and mocked is, I think, worse, not because she's so straightforwardly cruel, critical and clear, but precisely the opposite, because it's cleverly disguised. And it's worse to be laughed at than to be criticised.
Anyway, I digressed. Here, in "Sevastopol in December" and "Sevastopol in May", Tolstoy's having opinions and wanting the readers to think in a certain way is an issue. It does ruin the stories a bit. The last part of the 2nd story (a kind of conclusion) is disastrous.
I love Tolstoy. A lot. But his didacticism can ruin many of his works, mostly the short works, which is a pity, because Tolstoy's the greatest novelist ever. 

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