This is a collection of “short fiction” by Tolstoy – some are like 8 pages, and some are like 200, so choose your words appropriately. For a couple of years in a row, I read Tolstoy during the weeks of state-wide testing in May at school. It’s a nice way to kind of decompress during the otherwise hectic part of the year. This year I have spent the fall reading this collection, and so who knows what I will read during testing.
The Raid and The Wood-Felling – Both of these short pieces are clearly exercises in form and content. Tolstoy said in other writing that he was fascinated with the experience of being a soldier in terms of the sensory elements around the lived experience of being in the field. If you recall from the end of War and Peace, that novel is about how the small movements in history collectively change the big movements. These are not quite even the small moments. I am terrified of war and of fighting because of how big my own life feels to me. As I was recently reading a WWII novel and even playing a WWII video game, I kept thinking about all the stupid places and ways you could die and how meaningless that would be. These kinds of sketches feel the same way for me…to be involved with a giant war only to die in a small raid or cutting trees. Hell even dying in a dumb war like the Napoleonic War instead of a “great” war feels like such a waste. How much my experience feels different now that I am older changes 100% how I feel about war.
Sevastopol Sketches – This is interesting because it more or less became War and Peace, but not hugely on its own.
A Billiard-Marker’s Notes – A treatise of a story on honesty and integrity even in realms not entirely marked by those qualities.
The Snow Storm – Snow in history and snow in literature is such a fascinating trope….thinking about how powerfully destructive and imprisoning it is as weather allows for such rich writing.
Two Hussars – Another wartime story. Young Tolstoy seems imminently fascinated with these. Because he wrote and because I read War and Peace, I am less so.
A Landlord’s Meeting – An abandoned novel. I would always rather read the whole thing than sketches.
Meeting a Moscow Acquaintance – Another meditation on war, this time focusing on running into an old friend in the throes of war. So much waiting, so much uncanny, unlifelike experiences and then a weird moment of familiarity.
Lucerne – Tolstoy’s writing, like a lot of the 19th century makes the 50 years that separate the events of War and Peace and Anna Karenina feel like a million years apart. Same is true between say Wuthering Heights and say The Picture of Dorian Gray. How very different the beginning and end of those centuries is probably an impossible task for 21st century readers, even though we have a clear distinction between 1900 and 2000. This story is so much more aligned with the later Tolstoy.
Albert – While this feels like it takes place in a fantasy novel for how alien it is in time.
Family Happiness – A singular work. Focusing heavily on marriage and other related themes. Not really a novel even though it says so because of the hyper focus on the family itself.
Three Deaths – A strange story, reminds me much of “Figure in the Carpet” by Henry James. Short shrift in terms of story, but not in thought.
Strider – A story of a horse, told by the horse, but not to reader, but to a group of men with the horse.
The Porcelain Doll -A weird little sketch in which Tolstoy the writer is also the main character.
Polikushka – Heavily focused on the impact of the landowning class on the lives of the working/serf class.
Tales for Children: “For Children” it says.
God Sees the Truth but Waits – Children loved stories of condemned men.
A Prisoner in the Caucasus – A desperate prisoners feeling guilty.
The Bear-Hunt – But I guess they love Bear Hunts
What Men Live By -A weird fable that was obvious, but maybe an early example of the trope.
Memoirs of a Mad Man – Legally every one had to write one of these. Less offensive than the Gogol story, but still less illuminating that memoirs of mental health I have recently read.