Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Anna Karenina" TOLSTOY AS "CONTRA"

(25) Tolstoy as "Contra"

Tolstoy is a polemical writer, one who consistently takes strong positions AGAINST what he sees as reprehensible morality or socially unacceptable behavior. This, of course, is in the tradition of Russian Critical Realism, in which the authors are always very much against certain things in their writings.

To quote Boris Eichenbaum ("Tolstoy in the Seventies," p. 135), "Anna Karenina is a polemical work directed against the spirit of contemporary literature and journalism, and against a certain conception of the aims of art, and against prevailing forms of realism, and against the question of women's rights, and against the question of workers' rights, and against the zemstvo, and against the system of public education, and against materialistic philosophy."

Eichenbaum stops there, but he left out several important things. In Anna Karenina Tolstoy takes positions against adultery and casual fornication, against the railways as destroyers of rural traditions, against the rise of capitalism in Russia (again the railways are implicated here), against the class of greedy merchants and speculators (Ryabinin in the book), against contraception, against doctors in general.

One reason why modern readers (say feminists, for example) often react so vehemently to Tolstoy's great novel is because it is so thoroughly steeped in highly CONSERVATIVE positions. Plenty of modern readers are very much FOR some of the things that Tolstoy was so much AGAINST.

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