Dostoyevskian or Tolstoyian? What is the shape of your life?

Blog Brut

According to Joseph Epstein

Some years ago I read a brilliant essay called “Prosaics,” by Gary Saul Morson, a teacher of Russian literature at Northwestern University, in which he showed how Tolstoy believed in the prosaic life and Dostoyevsky in the dramatic.

Things happen to Tolstoy’s characters — they go to war, have vastly disruptive love affairs, suffer unexpected deaths — but they are most interesting in their ordinariness: a strong case in point is Natasha’s family, the Rostovs, in War and Peace. Her brother and father and mother, with their rich but normal passions, appetites and family loves, are people who gain moral stature through an endless series of small acts.

In Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, nothing is ordinary: passions turn into obsessions; gambling addicts and epileptics are at the center of things; men are beating horses to death on the Nevsky Prospect; poverty has wrenched people’s lives…

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