Friday, 6 March 2020

Resurrection by Tolstoy

'Resurrection' suffers most in Tolstoy's inability to distance himself from his protagonist, Nekhlyudov.  Of course it is not an inability at all.  It is purposeful and annoying and altogether very Tolstoyan.  There are long passages in which the Count tells us exactly what is what and how bloody awful things are, immediately after having shown us how bloody awful things are.  Henry James's over-used dictum - show, don't tell - gets well and truly overturned. 

Having said that, there are of course all sorts of wonderful things, chiefly descriptions, and we keep reading, pulled east by car and train, to Siberia, or north to St Petersburg.  Tolstoy's eye for the telling detail of dress or glance is always in place, and his knowledge of human nature, for all Nekh's apparent wonder at its wickedness, is fairly comprehensive. Tolstoy's satire, though, is undermined both by his own strident dogmatism - revolutionaries all have kind blue eyes, bureaucrats and the wealthy are invariably ugly - and by a kind of sourness that reduces much of it to sarcasm.  Despite attempts to ape Dickens (whom I believe he revered) he cannot quite bring himself to invest the wicked with the humanity, however broken, that CD does.  Tolstoy is incapable of Uriah Heep.

The above seems mealy-mouthed.  I very much enjoyed this book.  Anyone studying the Russian revolution really needs to read it.  That bloody thing seems inevitable as Tolstoy describes the world of the Imperial criminal justice system.  The prison scenes - of which there are many - are vivid and grisly.  The legal bureaucracies are stifling. 

As often in Tolstoy, there is a lot of weather.  We are always present in his scenes, albeit getting an earful of how we ought to be living. 

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