Leo Tolstoy – “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” (1886)

The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Russian: Смерть Ивана Ильича, Smert’ Ivana Ilyicha), first published in 1886, is a novella by Leo Tolstoy, one of the masterpieces of his late fiction, written shortly after his religious conversion of the late 1870s. (Wikipedia)

In the depth of his heart he knew he was dying, but not only was he not accustomed to the thought, he simply did not and could not grasp it.

The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter’s Logic: “Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,” had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius—man in the abstract—was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others. He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with the toys, a coachman and a nurse, afterwards with Katenka and with all the joys, griefs, and delights of childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did Caius know of the smell of that striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond of? Had Caius kissed his mother’s hand like that, and did the silk of her dress rustle so for Caius? Had he rioted like that at school when the pastry was bad? Had Caius been in love like that? Could Caius preside at a session as he did? “Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die; but for me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all my thoughts and emotions, it’s altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would be too terrible.”

 

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Leo Tolstoy – “War and Peace” (1869)

War and Peace (Pre-reform Russian: «Война и миръ», Voyna i mir) is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature. It is considered Tolstoy’s finest literary achievement, along with his other major prose work, Anna Karenina (1873–1877).

War and Peace delineates in graphic detail events surrounding the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. Newsweek in 2009 ranked it first in its list of the Top 100 Books. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 20 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read. (Wikipedia)

Prince Andrew kept looking with an amused smile from Pierre to the vicomte and from the vicomte to their hostess. In the first moment of Pierre’s outburst Anna Pavlovna, despite her social experience, was horror-struck. But when she saw that Pierre’s sacrilegious words had not exasperated the vicomte, and had convinced herself that it was impossible to stop him, she rallied her forces and joined the vicomte in a vigorous attack on the orator.

“But, my dear Monsieur Pierre,” said she, “how do you explain the fact of a great man executing a duc-or even an ordinary man who-is innocent and untried?”

“I should like,” said the vicomte, “to ask how monsieur explains the 18th Brumaire; was not that an imposture? It was a swindle, and not at all like the conduct of a great man!”

“And the prisoners he killed in Africa? That was horrible!” said the little princess, shrugging her shoulders.

“He’s a low fellow, say what you will,” remarked Prince Hippolyte.

Pierre, not knowing whom to answer, looked at them all and smiled. His smile was unlike the half-smile of other people. When he smiled, his grave, even rather gloomy, look was instantaneously replaced by another-a childlike, kindly, even rather silly look, which seemed to ask forgiveness.

The vicomte who was meeting him for the first time saw clearly that this young Jacobin was not so terrible as his words suggested. All were silent.

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Leo Tolstoy – “Youth” (1856)

Youth (Russian: Юность [Yunost’]; 1856) is the third novel in Leo Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy, following Childhood and Boyhood. It was first published in the popular Russian literary magazine Sovremennik. (Wikipedia)

Not a sound penetrated from without, and in the stillness the measured, friendly stroke of the clock’s pendulum seemed to beat quite loudly. The instant that I found myself alone in this calm retreat all other thoughts and recollections left my head as completely as though they had never been there, and I subsided into an inexpressibly pleasing kind of torpor. The rusty alpaca cassocks with their frayed linings, the worn black leather bindings of the books with their metal clasps, the dull-green plants with their carefully watered leaves and soil, and, above all, the abrupt, regular beat of the pendulum, all spoke to me intimately of some new life hitherto unknown to me-a life of unity and prayer, of calm, restful happiness.

“The months, the years, may pass,” I thought to myself, “but he remains alone-always at peace, always knowing that his conscience is pure before God, that his prayer will be heard by Him.” For fully half an hour I sat on that chair, trying not to move, not even to breathe loudly, for fear I should mar the harmony of the sounds which were telling me so much, and ever the pendulum continued to beat the same-now a little louder to the right, now a little softer to the left.

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Leo Tolstoy – “Boyhood” (1854)

Boyhood (Russian: Отрочество, Otrochestvo) is the second novel in Leo Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy, following Childhood and followed by Youth. The novel was first published in the Russian literary journal Sovremennik in 1854.

My sense of terror was increasing with the violence of the thunder. Indeed, at the moment of supreme silence which generally precedes the greatest intensity of a storm, it mounted to such a height that I felt as though another quarter of an hour of this emotion would kill me.

Just then there appeared from beneath the bridge a human being who, clad in a torn, filthy smock, and supported on a pair of thin shanks bare of muscles, thrust an idiotic face, a tremulous, bare, shaven head, and a pair of red, shining stumps in place of hands into the britchka.

“M-my lord! A copeck for-for God’s sake!” groaned a feeble voice as at each word the wretched being made the sign of the cross and bowed himself to the ground.

I cannot describe the chill feeling of horror which penetrated my heart at that moment. A shudder crept through all my hair, and my eyes stared in vacant terror at the outcast.

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Leo Tolstoy – “Childhood” (1852)

Childhood (Russian: Детство, Detstvo) is the first published novel by Leo Tolstoy, released under the initials L. N. in the November 1852 issue of the popular Russian literary journal The Contemporary.

It is the first in a series of three novels and is followed by Boyhood and Youth. Published when Tolstoy was just twenty-three years old, the book was an immediate success, earning notice from other Russian novelists including Ivan Turgenev, who heralded the young Tolstoy as a major up-and-coming figure in Russian literature.

Childhood is an exploration of the inner life of a young boy, Nikolenka, and one of the books in Russian writing to explore an expressionistic style, mixing fact, fiction and emotions to render the moods and reactions of the narrator.

Happy, happy, never-returning time of childhood! How can we help loving and dwelling upon its recollections? They cheer and elevate the soul, and become to one a source of higher joys.

Sometimes, when dreaming of bygone days, I fancy that, tired out with running about, I have sat down, as of old, in my high arm-chair by the tea-table. It is late, and I have long since drunk my cup of milk. My eyes are heavy with sleep as I sit there and listen. How could I not listen, seeing that Mamma is speaking to somebody, and that the sound of her voice is so melodious and kind? How much its echoes recall to my heart! With my eyes veiled with drowsiness I gaze at her wistfully. Suddenly she seems to grow smaller and smaller, and her face vanishes to a point; yet I can still see it—can still see her as she looks at me and smiles. Somehow it pleases me to see her grown so small. I blink and blink, yet she looks no larger than a boy reflected in the pupil of an eye. Then I rouse myself, and the picture fades. Once more I half-close my eyes, and cast about to try and recall the dream, but it has gone.

I rise to my feet, only to fall back comfortably into the armchair.

“There! You are falling asleep again, little Nicolas,” says Mamma. “You had better go to by-by.”

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Leo Tolstoy – “Anna Karenina” (1878)

Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel, when he came to consider War and Peace to be more than a novel.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky declared it to be “flawless as a work of art”. His opinion was shared by Vladimir Nabokov, who especially admired “the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s style”, and by William Faulkner, who described the novel as “the best ever written”. The novel is currently enjoying popularity, as demonstrated by a recent poll of 125 contemporary authors by J. Peder Zane, published in 2007 in “The Top Ten” in Time, which declared that Anna Karenina is the “greatest novel ever written”. (Wikipedia)

She felt so sinful, so guilty, that nothing was left her but to humiliate herself and beg forgiveness; and as now there was no one in her life but him, to him she addressed her prayer for forgiveness. Looking at him, she had a physical sense of her humiliation, and she could say nothing more. He felt what a murderer must feel, when he sees the body he has robbed of life. That body, robbed by him of life, was their love, the first stage of their love. There was something awful and revolting in the memory of what had been bought at this fearful price of shame. Shame at their spiritual nakedness crushed her and infected him. But in spite of all the murderer’s horror before the body of his victim, he must hack it to pieces, hide the body, must use what he has gained by his murder.

And with fury, as it were with passion, the murderer falls on the body, and drags it and hacks at it; so he covered her face and shoulders with kisses. She held his hand, and did not stir. “Yes, these kisses—that is what has been bought by this shame. Yes, and one hand, which will always be mine—the hand of my accomplice.” She lifted up that hand and kissed it. He sank on his knees and tried to see her face; but she hid it, and said nothing. At last, as though making an effort over herself, she got up and pushed him away. Her face was still and beautiful, but it was only the more pitiful for that.

“All is over,” she said; “I have nothing but you. Remember that.”

 

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