Friday, 30 May 2014

3 pieces by Tolstoy

Just read "Family happiness", "A history of yesterday" and "Memoirs of a madman" by Tolstoy. 
I won't write reviews*. 
I'm merely thinking that I love Tolstoy and prefer him to Dostoyevsky because his characters are people and exist for themselves, with their strengths and weaknesses, emotions, longings..., unlike Dostoyevsky's characters, who, though complex and self-contradicting enough not to be called caricatures, seem to owe their existence to the ideas they embody. Tolstoy's works deal with life, as itself, with its nuances, not some abstract problems or philosophical debates; they depict a wide range of experiences and have all manifestations of life. I never cease to marvel at his ability to slip into his characters' minds. If detractors criticise Dostoyevsky for pushing everything to the extreme and creating exceptional rather than ordinary characters and admirers defend him, saying that fiction doesn't have to be strictly like life and such extremes are more revealing about human nature, I think one cannot deny the fact that his female characters are not right- they feel wrong, unnatural, contrived, unconvincing and less tolerable than the male ones, at least, Tolstoy's far better at creating female characters. Reading "Family happiness", which is written from the point of view of a frivolous young woman, I'm amazed- Tolstoy's psychological insight is awe-inspiring.
However, it should be noted that I do love Dostoyevsky in spite of his mawkishness and unnatural female characters, almost the same way I love Tolstoy in spite of his didacticism and naive idealism. There's no need to disparage 1 literary giant to praise another. Both are geniuses. 

*: Not sure why lately I've written some, but generally I don't like writing reviews, which usually have a summary, then some comments in the form of "I like it" or "I don't like it but it has merit" or "This is bad". That's boring. 


  1. I agree here with your statement that denigrating one author to praise another is not a good idea. Many readers who admire Dostoyevsky and consider him at least equal to or possibly superior to Tolstoy will focus on the negative comments on Dostoyevsky and ignore those about Tolstoy.

    Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky write different books and tell different stories. I enjoy reading both, but prefer Dostoyevsky because he tells stories about people that I am interested in reading.

    And I agree--Dostoyevsky's women characters do not fit comfortably within the expectations of female behavior as do Tolstoy's females. Dostoyevsky's females are just as disturbing and make for uncomfortable reading as do his male characters.

  2. Hope that in this post I didn't do that- "denigrating one author to praise another". Haha. Dostoyevsky's male characters I don't have any problem with, I just don't really like his female characters because of my gender. Anyhow, here I was only explaining my general preference for Tolstoy.
    Also, there are periods when I lean towards Dostoyevsky.
    Must read more of their works this summer and will come back to this topic.
    Just wondering though, are you a dog person or a cat person?

  3. Di,

    A cat person, of course.