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LEO TOLSTOY-Among the World’s Greatest Writers … by Janina Gomes

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Leo Tolstoy

It is difficult to write about one of the greatest writers that ever existed and to trace the influence of his life experiences on his writings, but we can only try to do justice to him and his seminal novels ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ by a short biography of his life.

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born to an aristocratic Russian family. His mother died when he was two years old and his father when he was nine years old.  He and his siblings were raised by his relatives.  His studies at Kazan University, where he was studying law and oriental languages, which he left in the middle, seemed to invite the disdain of his teachers who described him as both unable and unwilling to learn.

He returned to his family estate at Yasnaya Polyana, and spent his life visiting Moscow, Tula and St. Petersburg leading a lax and luxurious life. After incurring heavy gambling debts, he went with his older brother and joined the Russian Army in 1851. He served as a young artillery officer during the Crimean War and was in Sevastopol during the 11 month long siege of Sevastopol in 1854-55. During the war he was recognized for his courage and promoted to Lieutenant. But he was appalled by the number of deaths there were in warfare and after the Crimean War, he left the Army. His experience in the Army and two tours to Europe in 1857 and 1860-61 changed him from a dissolute and privileged society author to a non-violent and spiritual anarchist. During his 1857 visit to Paris, he witnessed a public execution, a trauma that marked him for life.

Two great French writers and intellectuals who influenced him and his work were Victor Hugo and Joseph Proudhon. With the latter his discussions also focused on education. These interactions so fired him with enthusiasm that he returned to his family estate to set up 13 schools for the children of Russian peasants who had just been emancipated from serfdom in 1861.

Tolstoy’s major novels’ War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ and his novellas such as ‘Hadji Murad’ and the ‘Death of ‘Ivan Ilyich’ all consistently attempted to convey realistically the Russian society in which he lived. ‘The Cossacks’ (1863) describes the Cossack life and people. ‘Anna Karenina’( 1877) tells parallel stories of an adulterous woman trapped in the conventions  and falsities of society and a  philosophical landowner( much like Tolstoy) who worked alongside the peasants in the fields and sought to reform their lives. Tolstoy not only drew on his life experiences but also created characters in his own image such as, Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrei in ‘War and Peace’ and Levin in ‘Anna Karenina’.

‘War and Peace’ is remarkable for its dramatic breadth and unity, which includes 580 characters, many of them historical figures and some fictional ones. The story encompasses a vast canvas and moves from family life to the headquarters of Napolean, and from the court of Alexander I of Russia to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. Its grandeur and scope make it one of the greatest novels ever written.

  In the 1870’s Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis and a profound spiritual awakening as outlined in his non-fictional work ‘The Confession’ (1882). His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus centering on his Sermon on the Mount’ caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. His ideas on non-violent resistance expressed in such works as ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’ had a pivotal influence on two great leaders of the 20th century- Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King .Jr.

His contemporaries, among whom we can count, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustav Flaubert and Anton Chekov paid him lofty tributes. And in the words of British poet and critic, Mathew Arnold: “A novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life”.

Janina Gomes 

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

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Our Publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 8 prestigious libraries of the US that includes Harvard College Library; Harvard University Library; Library of Congress; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Yale University, New Haven; University of Chicago; University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill University Libraries. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in libraries and archives of Canada, Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai; Jaipuria Institute of Management, Noida; India. Shoolini University, Yogananda Knowledge Center, Himachal Pradesh and Azim Premzi University, Bangalore).  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi; Available for reading in Indian National Bibliography, March 2016, in the literature section, in Central Reference Library, Ministry of Culture, India, Belvedere, Kolkata-700022)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be the undying characteristics of Lucknow. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014. It is included for reading in Askews and Holts Library Services, Lancashire, U.K; Herrick District Library, Holland and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, USA).

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

MIRAGE

(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)

(ALL THE ABOVE BOOK TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE OVERCOAT’ – Nikolai Gogol

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Khidki (Window)

–Read Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

“The Overcoat” sometimes also translated as ‘The Cloak’ was written by Ukrainian-born Russian author Nikolai Gogol. It is a short story that was published in the year 1842. Both the story and the author have had a great influence on Russian literature, as expressed in a quote about Russian realist writers, by French lit-critic Eugene-Melchoir de Vogue, often misattributed to Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky that says, “We all come out from Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’.” While writing in 1941, American-Russian novelist Vladmir Nabakov called it ‘The greatest Russian short story ever written.’ The story has been adapted into a variety of stage and film interpretations.

    The story narrates very sharply the life and death of a titular councillor Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, an impoverished government clerk and copyist in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. Although Akaky is dedicated to his job, he is faintly recognized in his department for his hard work. Instead, the younger clerks tease him and attempt to distract him whenever they can. His threadbare overcoat is often the centre of their jokes. One day Akaky decides it is now necessary to have the coat repaired. He takes it to his tailor Petrovich, who declares, the coat is now irreparable, and tells him that he must now buy a new overcoat.

    The cost of a new overcoat is beyond Akaky’s meager salary, so he forces himself to live within a strict budget to save sufficient money to buy the new overcoat. Meanwhile, he and Petrovich frequently meet to discuss the style of the new coat. During that time, Akaky’s zeal for his work of copying is replaced with excitement about his new overcoat, to the point that he stops thinking about anything else. Finally, with the addition of an unexpected large holiday salary bonus, Akaky has saved enough money to buy a new overcoat.

    Akaky and Petrovich go to various shops in St. Petersburg and pick the finest materials that they can afford. Marten fur is too expensive, so they use cat fur for the collar. The new coat finally emerges impressive and of good quality and appearance and becomes the talk of Akaky’s office on the day he arrives wearing it. His superior decides to host a party in the honour of the new overcoat, but Akaky who is habitually solitary feels out of place. After the party, Akaky goes home, far later than he normally would. But en route home, two ruffians short shrift him, take his coat, kick him down badly, and leave him in the snow to die.

    Akaky gets no help from the authorities in recovering his lost overcoat. Finally, on the advice of another clerk in his department, he asks for help from an important person, a Russian general recently promoted to his position who belittles and shouts at his subordinates to solidify his self-importance. After keeping Akaky waiting, the general demands of him exactly why he has brought such a trivial matter to him, personally, and not presented it to his secretary. Socially inept, Akaky makes an unflattering remark about departmental secretaries, provoking, so powerful a scolding from the general that he nearly faints and has to be led away from the general’s office. Soon thereafter, Akaky falls seriously ill with fever. In his last hours, he is delirious, imagining himself again sitting before the general. At first, Akaky pleads forgiveness, but as his death nears, he curses the general.

    Soon, a corpse, identified as Akaky’s ghost, haunts areas of St. Petersburg, taking overcoats from people. The police find it difficult to capture him. Finally, Akaky’s ghost catches up with the general—who, since Akaky’s death, had begun to feel guilty over having mistreated him—and takes his overcoat by frightening him intensely. Satisfied, Akaky is not seen again. The narrator ends his narration with the account of another ghost seen in another part of the city.

    Apparently it is a simple story of a common man and his tribulations, and the final denouement. But when you dig in deeper, you see the condition of Russia in the early 1800s, and a parable of the yoke of feudalism and how it crushes individuality. Akaky-Bashmachkin is the representation of the common man that is victimized under the feudal regime and its social and economic structure. He is a man who has no grasp at all of the true meaning of freedom. Gogol expresses it very well through the fabric of a simple, everyday story of that subaltern copying clerk.

    Gogol is considered the father of realism in Russian literature, and he, along with Pushkin brought about the emergence of Russian literature as we know it. He wrote about people on the ground and his protagonists and their troubles are troubles of your and mines. The Overcoat is a good read.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Share it if you like it

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 8 prestigious libraries of the US that includes Harvard College Library; Harvard University Library; Library of Congress; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Yale University, New Haven; University of Chicago; University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill University Libraries. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in libraries and archives of Canada, Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai and Jaipuria Institute of Management, Noida, India)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be the undying characteristics of Lucknow. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014. It is included for reading in Askews and Holts Library Services, Lancashire, U.K.)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

MIRAGE

(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories. It is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)

Short stories and Articles published in Bhavan’s Journal: Reality and Perception 15.10.19; Sending the Wrong Message 31.5.20; Eagle versus Scholars June 15 & 20 2020; Indica 15.8.20; The Story of King Chitraketu August 31 2020; Breaking Through the Chakravyuh September 30 2020.

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****

THE LADY WITH THE DOG by Anton Chekov

Copyright@shravancharitymission

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    “The Lady with the Dog” is a short story by Anton Chekhov. First published in 1899. It describes an adulterous affair between Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, an unhappily married, Moscow banker, and Anna Sergeyevna Von Diderits, a young married woman. The affair begins while both are vacationing alone in the Crimean sea resort of Yalta. The story comprises of four parts: Part I describes the initial meeting in Yalta, Part II the consummation of the affair and the remaining time in Yalta, Part III Gurov’s return to Moscow and his visit to Anna’s town, and Part IV Anna’s visits to Moscow. This is one of Chekhov’s most famous pieces of short fiction. Vladimir Nabokov, (Russian-born American novelist) for instance, considers it as one of the greatest short stories ever written. It has an average plot to my mind but then it is an interesting read.

    Dmitri Gurov works for a Moscow bank. He is under 40, married and has a daughter and two sons. But he is unhappy in his marriage, resulting in monotony and meaninglessness of his life. He is frequently unfaithful to his wife, and considers women to be of “a lower race”. While vacationing in Yalta, he sees a young woman walking along the seafront with her little Pomeranian, and endeavours to know her. The lady, Anna Sergeyevna, is also unhappily married and vacationing without her spouse. Anna and Dmitri soon commence an affair, and spend most of their time together, often walking and taking drives to the nearby village of Oreanda. Though, she is expecting her husband to come to Yalta, he eventually sends for her to come home, saying that something is wrong with his eyes. Gurov sees her off at the station. As they part, both feel that they would never see each other again, and that their brief affair is over.

    Returning to Moscow, to his loveless marriage, and to his daily routine, working by the day and clubbing by the night, Gurov expects to soon forget young Anna. But to his surprise, her memory keeps haunting him. Unexpectedly, he feels, he is deeply in love for the first time in his life, after many affairs and just as he is approaching middle age. He strongly feels that he must see Anna, despite the obvious complications. On the ruse of going to St. Petersburg to take care of some business, he sets off to her town to find her. Learning the location of the family’s residence from a hotel porter, he finds the house, only to realize that it would be futile to intrude. In despair, he rationalizes that Anna has probably forgotten him and found someone else, and heads back to his hotel.

    In the evening, he remembers having seen a sign earlier in the day announcing the opening performance of ‘The Geisha.’ When he reasons that Anna and her husband might come to see the play. So, he goes to the theatre. And, as expected the couple enters the theatre and he watches them intently. When the husband goes out for a smoke during the first interval, Gurov greets Anna, who is bewildered and runs from him. After following her through the theatre, he confronts her and she confides that she has been thinking of him constantly. Frightened, she begs him to leave and promises to come see him in Moscow.

She makes excuses to occasionally come to Moscow, telling her husband that she is going there to see a doctor, which he “believes and does not believe”. They are both now fully aware that for the first time in their lives they have actually fallen in love, and they both wonder how they might overcome the many challenges that face them and achieve their fervent wish to permanently live together. They desperately try to come up with a plan, but the story ends without offering a resolution:

    “They . . . talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long stretches of time. . . . and it was clear to both of them that . . . the most complicated and difficult part of their journey was just beginning.”

   Nabokov wrote about that unconventional ending:

“All the traditional rules … have been broken in this wonderful short story…. no problem, no regular climax, no point at the end. And it is one of the greatest stories ever written.”

    Interpretations and philosophical reflections

    The story beautifully captures the quiet desperation of the two protagonists, their dissatisfaction with their meaningless lives and loveless marriages, and their craving for something better. Their deep love for each other fills that void and radically transforms their outlook on life. But that love also breaks their hearts, for, in 19th century Russia, they find it almost impossible to break away and start a new life together.

    The story can be seen as “Gurov’s spiritual journey—his transformation from a connoisseur of women to a man tenderly devoted to a single ordinary woman.” The story can also be seen as “playing with the paradox that a lie—a husband deceiving a wife or a wife deceiving a husband—can be the fulcrum of truth of feeling, a vehicle of authenticity.”

    Maxim Gorky, another great Russian writer from a working-class background, saw the importance of the story as a wake-up call to people “to let go of sleepy, half-dead existence.”

    Robert Fulford offers yet another interpretation of the story:

    “What Chekhov says in this sophisticated parable is that love radically alters the landscape of existence. When touched by love, we know the world in a different way. Love changes the inner landscape, too. Under the pressure of love, Gurov looks inside himself and sees someone he has not known before, someone capable of feelings that he barely knew existed.”

    Gurov often looks behind his immediate surroundings and reflects on the meaning of our existence. Here for instance is one poetic passage:

    ‘Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountaintops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, crickets chirped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea, rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now; and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hidden, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings—the sea, mountains, clouds, the wide open sky—Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.”

    Chekhov poetically describes his vision of what real love could be like:

    “Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.”

    In the story we see Dmitri Gurov who is bored with his wife and views women as the lower race and uses women to bring an excitement to his other-wise dull life. Dmitri falls in love with the lady, Anna, when on vacation in Yalta. They are forced to go back to their normal life. Gurov cant stop thinking about her and realizes he loves her. He travels through the country to try and find her and tell her how he doesn’t want to live without her. The story brings a strong ironic ending because Gurov who thought of women to be inferior and using them only for excitement, is now chasing one across the country wanting nothing more than to be with her.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

*

https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

*

Share it if you like it

*

Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****