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George Steiner. TOLSTOY OR DOSTOEVSKY. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, First published in by Alfred Knopf. Reviewed by Edward. Criticism” [a retrospective essay on George Steiner’s Tolstoy or Dostoevsky ( )], in George Steiner wrote his major contribution to Russian literary studies. Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism by George Steiner My rating: 5 of 5 stars This is a superb book. It abounds in.

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Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Tolstoy or Dostoevsky by George Steiner. George Steiner’s Tolstoy or Dostoevsky has become a classic among scholars of Russian literature.

An essay in tolsty and philosophic criticism that bears mainly on the Russian masters, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky deals also with larger themes: Moreover, in this work Steiner shows a great depth and breadth of literary knowledge and criticism that is not limited alone to the Russian writers under discussion but to writers of all genres and all literary periods.

Steiner’s book is a must for the student, scholar, or general reader who wishes gekrge approach the Russian giants in their full literary and philosophical ambience.

PaperbackSecond Editionpages. Published October 30th by Yale University Press first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Tolstoy or Dostoevskyplease sign up. So, is it Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?

Timothy Maybe it is Turgenev. See 1 question about Tolstoy or Dostoevsky…. Lists with This Book. View all 6 comments.

Jul 26, Tim McIntosh rated it it was amazing. Maybe the best book of literary criticism I’ve ever read. Steiner’s thesis is that these — the world’s two greatest novelists — have rival conceptions of not only the techniques of fiction, but also salvation, society, sin, God, and redemption. Tolstoy is in the epic tradition that descends from Homer. Dostoevsky, on the other hand, belongs within the bounds of the “tragic” writers descending from Oedipus Rex.

My friend Julie and I used to play “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky”. It consisted of us talki Maybe the best book of literary criticism I’ve ever read. It consisted of us talking about common friends and whether they were more Tolstoyian or Dostoevskian. Always fun at parties. Jan 15, Matt rated it really liked it Shelves: As weird and nerdy as it may sound, I enjoyed this book as a portable conversation. I carried it in my pocket on the T for me, like a lot of readers, there’s just no excuse for empty time and read it intermittently over the course of a couple months.

It got so I’d look forward to a little tete-a-tete with Professor Steiner amid the din of the trolley cars, heading to my girlfriend’s place after a long day of work. Steiner’s prose is genteel, measured, with odd Englishy flouri A wonderful book. Steiner’s prose is genteel, measured, with odd Englishy flourishes.

He knows his stuff, zeroes in on what he’s after, and has a wide range of referential material to support his case. I’m a sucker for any form of comparative literature, especially but not only when I have a sufficient bit of history with the authors in question. I think the juxtaposition is a fine one- Tolstoy and Dostoevsky have quite a bit in common on thier own merits tormented existential doubts, political obsessions, large canvases, epiphanies, a tendency to didacticism and allegory, “Russian-ness” but the really interesting part is not so much where they differ but where they sort of interweave with each other: Steiner is fascinated by the dialectic between the two writers’ pas de deux and wisely decides to gently wind them up and let them go.

Tolstoy or Dostoevsky

Here’s the next-to-last steinrr, a gloriously architectured run-on sentence which serves as summation and precis. It’s not a spoiler, don’t worry, since the basic premise of the book is as easily found on the back cover as it would gworge pretty much anywhere else in the body of the text. I’m quoting it not only because I need to quote more in these things but because it’s georgeous, spot-on, and powerfully imagined- antiphonal, really. This is my idea of criticism- elegant, erudite, ironic, leaning just this side of lyricism.


For contemporary readers the book’s fromand Steiner himself says in a foreward that he would have phrased almost the entire book differently had he written it later I don’t know if it’s outdated or fogeyish or what, but here it is: You could argue that this is antiquated thinking, and who knows but you might be right, but if this is high-blown critical language I for one am totally in favor.

Your Humble Servant offered some blathering in dostoegsky comments section. Read, enjoy, and comment! View all 3 comments. Having a girlfriend devoted to Russian literature I endeavored to read everything by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

She preferred the former, so I almost finished him. I preferred Tolstoy and only read a portion of his work. I approached Steiner with tolstiy naive expectation that he would provide me with arguments pro and con our respective preferences, maybe helping me understand and appreciate both my girlfriend and Dostoevsky better. He didn’t, though I cannot fault his erudition or writin Having a girlfriend devoted to Russian literature I endeavored to read everything by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

He didn’t, though I cannot fault his erudition or writing style for that. Sep 09, Tom Walsh rated it really liked it.

Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? 8 Experts on Who’s Greater – The Millions

The section on “The Idiot” fostoevsky favorite Dostoevsky novel has so many new and thoughtful insights I had to get out the old index cards and make notes. Doshoevsky really enjoyed this book. I’m surprised and delighted by this analogy: He also slices out Russian Literature as an anomaly, because it does not fit objective nor subjective criticism.

Also, the effect of Flaubert is discussed on each aut The section on “The Idiot” my favorite Dostoevsky novel has so many new and thoughtful insights I had tolstky get out the old index cards and make notes. Also, the effect of Flaubert is discussed on each author. Apr 18, Danny Byrne rated it really liked it. Classic essay comparing the two giants of C19th Russian realism.

Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism

For Steiner, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are the two greatest novelists of all time, and the spate of Russian C19th realist doorstoppers the vintage of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgeniev, Gogol, Gorky and Goncharov constitues one of the three major pinnacles of western culture – alongside Periclean Athens and Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

One doesn’t have to subscribe to this view to admire Steiner’s brilliantly lucid, wide-ranging an Classic essay comparing the two giants of C19th Russian realism.

One doesn’t have to subscribe to this view to admire Steiner’s brilliantly lucid, wide-ranging analysis. Steiner’s book is subtitled ‘An essay in the old criticism’. This is a reference to the New Criticism prevalent at the time, which broadly speaking approached the text as an autonomous construct whose nature lay beyond the explicatory scope of historical, biographical or ideological discourse, which regarded the intention of the author as largely irrelevant, and according to which the role of the critic lay primarily in formal analysis.

While Steiner does employ formal analysis insofar as it serves the purposes of his broader thesis, more generally he is guided by Sartre’s view that “the technique of a novel always refers us back to the metaphysic of the novelist”. As he notes in the preface, the fact that a version this view has since become resurgent in literary criticism may account in part for the longevity of Steiner’s essay.

For Steiner, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’s novels are manifestations of contrasting and mutually irreconcilable world-views, which account for their contrasting character as artists. Essentially, Tolstoy is Homer, Dostoevsky is Shakespeare. Tolstoy has a Hellenic world-view, Dostoevsky’s is tragic. Tolstoy’s novels employ the techniques of the epic poet, Dostoevsky’s those of the tragic dramatist. Whereas Tolstoy’s ‘metaphysic’ is humanistic, rationalist and Pagan, Dostoevsky’s tortured Christianity paves the way for existentialism, steeped in a belief in mankind’s tragic freedom and the inevitability of human suffering.


Whereas Tolstoy believed the good society could be created here on earth through reason, Dostoevsky believed salvation could only be attained through irrational faith. Whereas Tolstoy’s genius lay in the passionate pursuit of truth at all costs, for Dostoevsky the truths of rationalism are an illusion and potentially an obstacle to faith. Jul 30, John Pistelli rated it it was amazing Shelves: This is a superb book.

It abounds in literary-historical insight; it goes to the heart of these authors’ achievements. The title is a bit misleading in that it’s not really about deciding whether Tolstoy or Dostoevsky is “better” but about contrasting their literary modes: Steiner’s thesis is that, despite the many dislocations of modern This is a superb book.

Steiner’s thesis is that, despite the many dislocations of modernity, western culture is still comprehensible as a unity, and the two Russian masters of the novel are best understood as carrying on ancient traditions: Tolstoy as the modern master of epic, the legatee of Homer, and Dostoevsky as our great tragedian, inheritor of the Athenian playwrights and of Shakespeare.

But Steiner has a bigger point to argue, namely, that these modes–epic and tragedy–are not merely aesthetic but metaphysical, ethical, and political, bearing within themselves two very different attitudes toward life. In the Homeric-Tolstoyan epic, we find a land-based evocation of natural rhythms, of the vast movements of the seasons, an ultimately hopeful sense that vitality surges on through and past the individual, who would do well to join him- or herself to the motions of the earth.

In the Shakespearean-Dostoevskian tragedy, on the other hand, we see a deracinated court-and-city world of mistrust, suspicion, demonic urges, weird passions, perverse convictions, pervasive violence, cruel comedy, an underground perspective that ends in chastened humility before the suffering mystery of things. Therefore, Tolstoy’s pagan-Christianity demands that we realize the Kingdom of God on earth and leads to such utopian political ideologies as communism, anarchism, and possibly national socialism.

For Dostoevsky, on the other hand, free will in the face of the divine and of evil is paramount, is the essence of the holy in humanity; though the far less secular and far more reactionary of the two, Dostoevsky therefore has the metaphysical outlook more amenable to a free society. Steiner implies all this in a concluding allegorical re-write of the “Legend of the Grand Inquistor” as a debate between the Inquisitor Tolstoy and Christ Dostoevskyas if replying in advance to this article that made the rounds a few months ago.

Eliot or Henry James. Thus, he turns to an older and more holistic critical approach: Hence the need for an “old criticism” equipped with the wide-ranging civilization of an Arnold, a Saint-Beuve, and a Bradley. Hence also the need for a criticism prepared to commit itself to a study of the looser and larger modes.

In his Quintessence of IbsenismShaw observed that “there is not one of Ibsen’s characters who is not, in the old phrase, the temple of the Holy Ghost, and who does not move you at moments by the sense of that mystery. This book abounds in quotable passages–on the reasons America and Russia produced the weirdest and most intense nineteenth-century novels, on why Anna Karenina is better than Madame Bovaryon the function of Homeric metaphor, on the Gothic sources of Dostoevsky’s manner and matter, on the two authors’ varying fates under communism and liberalism, and more.

A brilliant work of criticism. Aug 08, Eduardo rated it it was amazing Shelves: