GUEST BLOG—Taking on the Big Questions With Two Titans of Russian Literaure

By Julia Zarankin

Dostoevsky in Paris, 1863
Dostoevsky in Paris, 1863

I am very excited about returning to Classical Pursuits and leading a discussion seminar on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Many people say that the world can be divided between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky lovers, and this summer you’ll be able to test which camp works best for you!

I love the way Kevin Hartnett phrases the difference between Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s visions of the world. “Tolstoy [is able] to see the angles of everyday life [whereas] Dostoevsky [has a] taste for the manic edges of experience.” Tolstoy’s characters are able-bodied, healthy (yet also tortured and obsessed with death), whereas Dostoevsky’s heroes are afflicted by brain-fever, schizophrenia, and a host of other paranoias. This summer we will get a taste for both modes of experience by reading them side-by-side.

Tolstoy in 1908

Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky are the two great titans of Russian literature. Both authors wrote phenomenal novels of ideas that interrogate what it means to be human and tackle the great questions: does God exist? If God exists, then why do innocent children suffer? What does it mean to live a good life? What is the purpose of life if we know we’re all going to die? Both writers responded to the political and social turmoil in Russia in the 1860s, during the Great Reforms of Alexander II; each loved Russia passionately and was extremely anxious about its future.

We will read short texts by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, including The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Master and Man, White Nights, The Gambler. Over the course of our reading we will work on coming up with a working definition of how a text is Tolstoyan or Dostoevskian. Click here for more information and to register. I look forward to exploring the masterpieces left behind by these literary titans with you!

– Julia

Featured image of Ivan Ilych quote:

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