Tolstoy: “Genius in the raw”



Early in 1929, Virginia Woolf revised her view of the Modernist shift that marked her own transformation as a writer. For several years between 1926 and 1929, she had been reading a variety of novels in preparation for the essays that became “How Should One Read a Book?” (1926) and “Phases of Fiction” (1929). Among them, she read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for a third time and at least refreshed her impressions of War and Peace.1 As it turned out, she did not include Tolstoy as one of the major writers she discusses in the latter essay. However, she expressed to Vita Sackville-West her view that it was Tolstoy—not the Edwardian “materialists” whom she had previously identified as the source of her aesthetic discontent—who was the true catalyst for the Modernist shift. She wrote,

I’ve been reading Balzac, and Tolstoy. Practically every scene in Anna Karenina is branded on me, though I’ve not read it for 15 years. That is the origin of all our discontent. After that of course we had to break away. It wasn’t Wells, or Galsworthy or any of our mediocre wishy washy realists: it was Tolstoy. How could we go on with sex and realism after that? (L 4: 4, emphasis in original)2


Sexual Double Standard Sexual Infidelity Figurative Language Psychological Realism Silent Film 
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© Roberta Rubenstein 2009

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