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For Want of a Dinner Jacket

Christopher Tayler: Becoming O’Brian, 6 May 2021

Patrick O’Brian: A Very Private Life 
by Nikolai Tolstoy.
William Collins, 608 pp., £10.99, October 2020, 978 0 00 835062 8
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... Very Private Life is the second and final part of a 1100-page counterblast to King’s book by Nikolai Tolstoy, the second Mrs O’Brian’s son from her marriage to Count Dimitri Tolstoy, the man she left for O’Brian. Under the terms of the divorce the younger Tolstoy, who was ...

w00t

Christopher Tayler: The Fabulous Elif Batuman, 17 February 2011

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them 
by Elif Batuman.
Granta, 296 pp., £16.99, April 2011, 978 1 84708 313 5
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... Turgenev could be read in English from 1855, Tolstoy had British and American disciples, and Dostoevsky was, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s view, ‘a devil of a swell, to be sure’. But the English-speaking world’s received ideas about Russian literature were mostly laid down in the 1910s and 1920s, the great age of Western interest in the Russian soul – ‘its passion, its tumult, its astonishing medley of beauty and vileness’, as Virginia Woolf put it ...

Crabby, Prickly, Bitter, Harsh

Michael Wood: Tolstoy’s Malice, 22 May 2008

War and Peace 
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Vintage, 1273 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 09 951223 3
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... If the world could write by itself,’ Isaac Babel said, ‘it would write like Tolstoy.’ The remark is quoted at the head of Richard Pevear’s introduction to this handsome new translation of War and Peace. I should like to think Babel meant that if the world was given to intricate thematic contrasts and parallels among its materials, to careful cross-cutting between city and country, high society and hunting, the salon and the racetrack, home and abroad, it would have written War and Peace and Anna Karenina ...

Out of the East

Blair Worden, 11 October 1990

The King’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey 
by Peter Gwyn.
Barrie and Jenkins, 666 pp., £20, May 1990, 0 7126 2190 3
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Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution 
by John Morrill.
Longman, 300 pp., £17.95, May 1990, 0 582 06064 8
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The Writings of William Walwyn 
edited by Jack McMichael and Barbara Taft.
Georgia, 584 pp., $45, July 1989, 0 8203 1017 4
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... equanimity he finds at Henry’s court, and between a biographer who dedicates his book to Nikolai Tolstoy, and who allows its dust-jacket to reveal that its author once resigned from a post as archivist ‘in protest’ on a point of principle, and the supreme politician and careerist of the early 16th century, who would surely never have ...

Towards a Right to Privacy

Stephen Sedley: What to do with a prurient press?, 8 June 2006

... of Human Rights had considered this a good reason for reducing the £1.5m damages awarded against Nikolai Tolstoy for libelling Lord Aldington. But while there is every reason to stifle the notion that falsehoods can be comfortably accommodated under Article 10 so long as the price is right, excessive levels of damages and, as the House of Lords ...

At the National Portrait Gallery

David Jackson: Russia and the Arts , 19 May 2016

... The​ National Portrait Gallery’s Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky (until 26 June) displays a small but rich body of works made between 1867 and 1914, focused on Russia’s writers, artists, actors, composers and patrons, most of whom will be familiar – Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov ...

Some Wild Creature

James Meek: Tolstoy Leaves Home, 22 July 2010

The Death of TolstoyRussia on the Eve, Astapovo Station, 1910 
by William Nickell.
Cornell, 209 pp., £18.95, May 2010, 978 0 8014 4834 8
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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy 
translated by Cathy Porter.
Alma, 609 pp., £9.99, February 2010, 978 1 84688 102 2
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A Confession 
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Anthony Briggs.
Hesperus, 146 pp., £7.99, February 2010, 978 1 84391 190 6
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Anniversary Essays on Tolstoy 
by Donna Tussing Orwin.
Cambridge, 268 pp., £55, February 2010, 978 0 521 51491 0
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... person’, is sumasshedshy, literally ‘who was going out of their mind’. Sofia Andreyevna Tolstoy, wife of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, did go out of her mind at the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana in 1910. She didn’t lose her mind. She went back to it later, and lived another nine years. But she did lose her ...

Why Sakhalin?

Joseph Frank: Charting Chekhov’s career, 17 February 2005

Chekhov: Scenes from a Life 
by Rosamund Bartlett.
Free Press, 395 pp., £20, July 2004, 0 7432 3074 4
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Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters 
translated by Rosamund Bartlett and Anthony Phillips.
Penguin, 552 pp., £12.99, June 2004, 0 14 044922 1
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... father and mother (he was not yet born) moved inland to escape the danger. At this time Tolstoy was writing his Sevastopol Sketches, and Bartlett suggests (no reference is given) that many years later, when Tolstoy had become ‘something of a paternal figure’ for the younger writer, ‘the war would be a ...

The War between the Diaries

John Bayley, 5 December 1985

Tolstoy’s Diaries 
translated by R.F. Christian.
Athlone, 755 pp., £45, October 1985, 0 485 11276 0
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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy 
translated by Cathy Porter.
Cape, 1043 pp., £30, September 1985, 0 224 02270 9
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... Tolstoy was much preoccupied with questions of identity. His brutally penetrating intelligence, as well as the instinctive self-confidence of an aristocrat, were always running incredulously up against the fact of existence, and the certainty of non-existence. What and who was he at different moments of the day? One of his earliest attempts at writing is a history of 24 hours, a record of his various selves during that period ...

How to Shoe a Flea

James Meek: Nikolai Leskov, 25 April 2013

‘The Enchanted Wanderer’ and Other Stories 
by Nikolai Leskov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Vintage, 608 pp., £25, April 2013, 978 0 09 957735 5
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The Enchanted Wanderer 
by Nikolai Leskov, translated by Ian Dreiblatt.
Melville House, 256 pp., £8.99, August 2012, 978 1 61219 103 4
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... technically a member of the noble class. Though much less exalted in rank than his contemporary Tolstoy, he was nonetheless a young master in a master-and-slave society of extreme piety, superstition, prejudice and social polarisation, learning of the blurred boundaries between the three worlds of peasant consciousness: the immanent world of folk ...

Gide’s Cuttlefish

John Bayley, 17 February 2000

The Charterhouse of Parma 
by Henri B. Stendhal, translated by Richard Howard.
Modern Library, 688 pp., £20.95, January 1999, 0 679 60245 3
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... to perfection, although he indicates it in his usual untidy series of negligent touches. Tolstoy learnt a great deal from Stendhal, creating in Pierre and Prince André totally assembled and computed characters in the same style. Tolstoy also, as authors habitually do, learnt how to describe battle, not from his ...

What did they do in the war?

Angus Calder, 20 June 1985

Firing Line 
by Richard Holmes.
Cape, 436 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 224 02043 9
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The Right of the Line: The Royal Air Force in the European War 1939-1945 
by John Terraine.
Hodder, 841 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 340 26644 9
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The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book 
by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt.
Viking, 804 pp., £25, May 1985, 0 670 80137 2
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’45: The Final Drive from the Rhine to the Baltic 
by Charles Whiting.
Century, 192 pp., £7.95, March 1985, 0 7126 0812 5
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In the Ruins of the Reich 
by Douglas Botting.
Allen and Unwin, 248 pp., £9.95, May 1985, 9780049430365
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1945: The World We Fought For 
by Robert Kee.
Hamish Hamilton, 371 pp., £12.95, May 1985, 0 241 11531 0
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VE Day: Victory in Europe 1945 
by Robin Cross.
Sidgwick, 223 pp., £12.95, May 1985, 0 283 99220 4
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One Family’s War 
edited by Patrick Mayhew.
Hutchinson, 237 pp., £10.95, May 1985, 0 7126 0812 5
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Poems of the Second World War: The Oasis Selection 
edited by Victor Selwyn.
Dent, 386 pp., £12, May 1985, 0 460 10432 2
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My Life 
by Bert Hardy.
Gordon Fraser, 192 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 86092 083 6
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Victory in Europe: D Day to VE Day 
by Max Hastings and George Stevens.
Weidenfeld, 192 pp., £10.95, April 1985, 0 297 78650 4
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... When, in War and Peace, young Nikolai Rostov first rides, into action with his fellow hussars against the French at Austerlitz, he feels that the longed-for time has come ‘to experience the intoxication of a charge’, about which he has heard so much. At first he is indeed elated, but then the unseen enemy suddenly becomes visible, Rostov’s horse is shot under him, there is ‘around him nothing but the still earth and the stubble ...

Big Thinks

Patricia Beer, 20 August 1992

Sleepwalker in a Fog 
by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated by Jamey Gambrell.
Virago, 192 pp., £13.99, April 1992, 1 85381 305 2
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... was likened to every Russian writer one can call to mind, with the exception, as far as I know, of Tolstoy. Well, now Tolstaya writes again, and the italics have become capital letters The new collection, Sleepwalker in a Fog, consists of seven stories; the first of them, the title piece, is almost long enough to be called a novella, and at 60 pages the final ...
Ablaze: The Story of Chernobyl 
by Piers Paul Read.
Secker, 478 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 0 436 40963 1
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... an atomic bomb. That reactor was designed to meet Kurchatov’s requirements by the engineer Nikolai Dollezhal and was built at the record speed considered advisable when responding to Stalin’s orders. With important modifications, it was this model – cooled by water, the processes moderated by graphite – that gave rise to the huge RBMK-1000 ...
Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia 
by Orlando Figes.
Allen Lane, 729 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 7139 9517 3
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... all that was in Anisya . . . and in every Russian man and woman.’ The moment fits with Tolstoy’s aim to compose a great patriotic epic portraying the unity of the Russian people in the face of foreign invasion. But here, as with all the other creative work he uses, Figes interprets the scene as expressing a fundamental historical truth about ...

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