The Raid and Other Stories

The Raid and Other Stories

The Raid and Other Stories

The Raid and Other Stories

Synopsis

This collection of Tolstoy's stories includes "Sevastopol," "Two Hussars," "Albert," "What Men Live By," "Master and Man," "How Much Land Does a Man Need?," "The Death of Ivan Ilych," "The Three Hermits," and the title piece.

Excerpt

This selection from Tolstoy's short stories falls into two well-defined parts, one belonging to the 1850s and the other to the 1880s and 1890s. The explanation of this, from one point of view, is the quite simple one that during the period of the great novels War and Peace (written 1863-9) and Anna Karenina (written 1873-7) Tolstoy largely stopped writing short stories. This indeed was natural, since his early stories were closely akin to his novels and could be thought of in a sense as a preparation for them. Take, for instance, The Raid (1852), in the present selection. It is perfectly easy to imagine it, with a few changes in externals, as a chapter in War and Peace; and this says much both about it and about War and Peace; For the Tolstoy of this period is determined, for profound reasons, to do without 'plot'. The Raid has shape, through and through, just as War and Peace has, but in both there is a refusal of contrivance. Nothing is 'planted' for later use; there is no suspense; the reader is stationed squarely in a moment, or a succession of moments, with no more power to see round and beyond it than the characters. And it is for these very reasons that events in Tolstoy's stories can have such a shattering effect. For the reader is unprepared; he or she can make no calculation, based on past experience of plot devices, as to what kind of thing lies ahead. Most nineteenth-century novels -- shall we say, for instance, Mansfield Park or Wuthering Heights or The Idiot -- are guessing-games, in which at least we know where the enigma lies. It is 'What are the Crawfords really like?' or 'What lies hidden in Heathcliff's heart?'. There are no such games played in Tolstoy.

On the other hand, this does not (as you might for a moment be tempted to think) make him a twentieth-century novelist before his time. For, though resolutely psychological in his method, he is not what used to be called (in a now rather démodé phrase) a 'psychological novelist'. For the assumption of the 'psychological novel' (in the hands of Woolf or Lawrence) is that only psychological events count. No such assumption was made by Tolstoy. He aspired to be an epic novelist, and this meant opening his mind impartially to events of every kind. (It so happened that, despite efforts by certain poets in the eighteenth century, Russia did not possess a classical epic, and it . . .

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