Fiction > Harvard Classics > Leo Tolstoy > Anna Karenin > Criticisms and Interpretations > VI
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910).  Anna Karenin.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Criticisms and Interpretations
VI. By Edward Garnett
TOLSTOY’S place in nineteenth-century literature is, therefore, in our view, no less fixed and certain than is Voltaire’s place in the eighteenth century. Both of these writers focus for us in a marvellously complete manner the respective methods of analysing life by which the rationalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the science and humanitarianism of the nineteenth century have moulded for us the modern world. All the movements, all the problems, all the speculation, all the agitations of the world of to-day in contrast with the immense materialistic civilisation that science has hastily built up for us in three or four generations, all the spirit of modern life is condensed in the pages of Tolstoy’s writings, because, as we have said, he typifies the soul of the modern man gazing, now undaunted, and now in alarm, at the formidable array of the newly-tabulated cause and effect of humanity’s progress, at the appalling cheapness and waste of human life in Nature’s hands. Tolstoy thus stands for the modern soul’s alarm in contact with science. And just as science’s work after its destruction of the past ages’ formalism, superstition, and dogma is directed more and more to the examination and amelioration of human life, so Tolstoy’s work has been throughout inspired by a passionate love of humanity, and by his ceaseless struggle against conventional religion, dogmatic science, and society’s mechanical influence on the minds of its members. To make man more conscious of his acts, to show society its real motives and what it is feeling, and not cry out in admiration at what it pretends to feel—this has been the great novelist’s aim in his delineation of Russia’s life. Ever seeking the one truth—to arrive at men’s thoughts and sensations under the daily pressure of life—never flinching from his exploration of the dark world of man’s animalism and incessant self-deception, Tolstoy’s realism in art is symbolical of our absorption in the world of fact, in the modern study of natural law, a study ultimately without loss of spirituality, nay, resulting in immense gain to the spiritual life. The realism of the great Russian’s novels is, therefore, more in line with the modern tendency and outlook than is the general tendency of other schools of Continental literature. And Tolstoy must be finally looked on, not merely as the conscience of the Russian world revolting against the too heavy burden which the Russian people have now to bear in Holy Russia’s onward march towards the building-up of her great Asiatic Empire, but also as the soul of the modern world seeking to replace in its love of humanity the life of those old religions which science is destroying day by day. In this sense Tolstoy will stand in European literature as the conscience of the modern world.—From “Leo Tolstoy,” in “The Bookman Biographies” (1903).   1


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