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Tolstoi’s audience

August 31, 2011

I’m afraid my attempt to contrast the Tolstoi of War and Peace to Nekrasov was oversimplified. In that novel, per Jeff Brooks, Tolstoi seems to seek an aristocratic audience free of raznochintsy. But Nekrasov wasn’t the only one who eventually took an interest in readership-maximizing cheap editions:

Portrait of Chertkov by Ilya Repin

Vladimir Grigor’evich Chertkov (1854-1936), a man of lofty aristocratic lineage, a former Guards officer, playboy and high liver, suddenly “got religion” in the early 1880s, and the religion he got was Tolstoyism. […] Chertkov was an able organizer; he soon reached an agreement with a publisher to issue in very cheap editions a series of short tales created by LN [Tolstoi] to illustrate his moral principles. Designed to reach the semi-literate mass of the population, they were sold for kopeks in railway stations. Chertkov was also interested in forming alliances with religious dissenters among the peasantry who shared some of LN’s principles. (68)

It isn’t too surprising that in the 1880s Tolstoi, after his real departure, would seek to expand his audience (and even earlier, it was not his publishing practices but his narrator’s point of view and his use of French that made him seem to be writing for the few).

Wanting radical social change and looking to religious dissenters for support is something of a theme recently, too.

The quote is from Hugh McLean, “The Tolstoy Marriage Revisited—Many Times,” Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes 53.1 (2011): 65-79. Gated link.

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