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“You can just hear his unpleasant, reedy little voice uttering stupid, unpleasant things and getting more and more worked up because he can’t talk properly and his voice is nasty”

July 8, 2013

If you think the point of RSS readers and Twitter feeds is to recreate a newspaper-like mix of stuff where you can be surprised by things you wouldn’t have sought out, you’ll like this conceit from The American Reader: a letter a day, to or from a famous writer, from that day in some past year.

Inscription: "From Count L. N. Tolstoi to D. V. Grigorovich as a memento. St. Petersburg. February 18th, 1856."

Inscription: “From Count L. N. Tolstoi to D. V. Grigorovich as a memento. St. Petersburg. February 18th, 1856.”

I enjoyed this letter of July 2nd, 1856, from Lev Tolstoi to Nekrasov. It’s from the time when the liberal/noble faction was leaving Nekrasov’s The Contemporary because they couldn’t stand the new radical seminarians. You can feel Tolstoi’s visceral reaction to Chernyshevskii as a person. (Doesn’t the psychology in the title of this post seem like it’s out of a Dostoevskii novel?) Tolstoi laments how people in the 1850s go in for anger: Gogol over Pushkin, Belinskii and Nekrasov over unnamed other critics and poets.

My only complaint: they use the picture of Tolstoi with a white beard, looking like Maiakovskii’s God. But this is 1856, and they should have gone for Tolstoi the officer, fresh from the Crimean War, nicknamed “the Troglodyte,” who was always ready to alarm Turgenev, Nekrasov, et al. with his outspoken attacks on George Sand. Nekrasov and Turgenev thought what Tolstoi said was too awful to write down, but Grigorovich remembered him as saying (on February 6th, 1856) that if Sand’s heroines existed, “they ought to be bound to the condemned criminals’ carriage and driven around the streets of St. Petersburg as a lesson to others.”

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