Monday, January 3, 2011

Tolstoy and Russia

Still reading - just haven't been writing.

This article in the New York Times captivated me today, how Tolstoy is no longer appreciated after the fall of Communism. And the reason....drumroll please....he was excommunicated and not popular with the church. Not suprisingly, the church now has more power back.

I find it interesting reading the book, since he obviously is a great believer, just not in the church. This paragraph points that out -

The Soviets planted him at the top of their literary pantheon, largely because of the radical philosophy he preached amid the early rumblings of the October Revolution. The publication of “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” made Tolstoy so famous that one contemporary described him as Russia’s second czar. He used that position to rail against the church, as well as the police, the army, meat eating, private property and all forms of violence.

Lenin loved Tolstoy’s “pent-up hatred.” He anointed him “the mirror of the Russian Revolution,” ignoring his pacifism and belief in God. As the 50th anniversary of his death approached, the Central Committee of the Communist Party began preparing two years in advance, so a monument would be ready for unveiling.

For the centennial, in a Russia wary of utopian thought, there was nothing of the kind. By contrast, Chekhov received lavish official tributes in 2010 for his 150th birthday, including a birthplace visit from President Dmitri A. Medvedev.

It's interesting, too, as Chekhov prefigures the revolution as well, though not as overtly political as Tolstoy. How could he not at that time?

Interesting how the church comes back into power. He may have railed against the church, but reading War & Peace the spirituality, and in particular the Catholocism of the characters is never an object of fun or scorn. Princess Marya, perhaps, is a little over-the-top, but Natasha finding church and prayer is a large part of her rehabilitation after the incident with Kuragin. The soldiers, too, and the carrying of icons, is respected, even lauded at times. I don't know that Tolstoy loved the church, but he is in love with their faith. Brings tears to your eyes.

But, I guess Russia has never been that tolerant of her writers, while at the same time giving them a celebrity status that's unheard of here. And such great ones, too.

I hope he's respected again in Russia. You can't read this particular book and not see his genius. Ideas, yes, are powerful and particularly revolotionary ones, but it's sad to see the same old patterns playing themselves out.

Doesn't change my love for the book, though, and I think his work will survive. It's too good not to.

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