In an essay titled "What is Art" Tolstoy defines
art as, "One man consciously, by means of certain external signs,
hands on to others the feelings he has lived through, so that others are
infected by these feelings and also experience them." If one accepts
this as a definition of art then Tolstoy himself must be considered a
Whether it be War and Peace that takes the reader
through the streets of Moscow after Napoleon's invasion or an opportunity
to cut hay with Levin in Anna Karenina the reader is always
left with a sense of reality, as if one had experienced these things
Unfortunately a good number of readers skip over Tolstoy's
works. Those hesitant to read Tolstoy are usually discouraged by the length
of his better known works. To help counter this and other obstacles to
reading, understanding, and enjoying Tolstoy the following list of guidelines
has been provided.
List the Characters - For those
works that are particularly long make a list of major characters. The
list should include the different forms of the name, such as the christian
and birth name, and the relation the characters have to one another. As
you work through the book keep the list close by for quick reference.
Periodically list one or two major events of each Character's life. If
you forget who a character is or how s/he is related to other events your
list can help bridge the gap.
• Make Notations - As you progress
through a novel make notes at the top of the page when major events happen.
This will make reviewing previous events less time consuming. In addition
one can review the major events at a glance and get a better idea of the
overall story. This makes the work "smaller" and easier to understand.
• Discuss - If possible discuss with
others what you read. This increases comprehension and retention.
• Review the Story - After reading
a particularly long or challenging section replay the events and dialogs
in your head. Go back to the book if something doesn't make sense. Some
find it beneficial to purchase a summary of the text, such as Cliff
to read a summary of what they have just read.
• Translation - If you are reading
the work in a language other than Russian keep in mind you are not reading
the original as Tolstoy wrote it. As a result sentence structures that
don't feel quite right probably lost something in the translation. When
this happens reread the sentence for it's general meaning.
• Read the Russian - If possible
work around the previously mentioned barrier by reading the work in Russian.
"... If I were told that what I shall
write will be read in twenty years by the children of today and
that they will weep and smile over it and will fall in love with
life, I would devote all my life and all my strengths to it.
More Leo Tolstoy Novels and Paperback Books