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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Historical and ideological aspects of the prose and dramatic works of A.N. Tolstoi Tyrras, Nicholas Serge

Abstract

In large measure the literary reputation of Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi (1883-1945) rests on the historical novel Peter the First. Before the novel and during its writing, he also wrote stories and plays set in the past. However, literature written int the Soviet Union very often needs to be considered against the background of current events, and historical fiction especially cannot be regarded apart from state ideology or the fluctuations in the political climate. Between 1917 and 1945, Soviet interpretation of the Russian past changed from contentious class-consciousness and dialectical rejection, to a determined rehabilitation of select personalities whose life and accomplishments were supposed to inculcate Soviet patriotism. With his heightened sense of history, Tolstoi often sought, to rationalize contemporary conditions through representations of analogous periods in Russian history, and in this manner some of the works which are discussed in this study may be viewed as reflections of current events. On the other hand, altered political perspectives-of the Russian past required him to make radical modifications in works written a few years earlier, and to make some distortions of history in works he was about to write. But in addition to historical, cultural and political considerations, the discussion of Tolstoi's separate works will demand as well that some attention be paid to the writer's use of the Russian language as an instrument for creating a sense of the past. To facilitate the discussion of Tolstoi's historical fiction in this study, the works are grouped by genre and then arranged in chronological order. Chapter I, however, offers a biographical sketch of A. N. Tolstoi. This is important for the thesis because the writer's views and attitudes provide a key for a better understanding of the extra-literary influences which affected his work. In the second chapter, short stories are discussed, beginning with the anecdotes from 1909, in which there is little history save for the description of costumes and manners. But stories written during and immediately after the Russian revolution reflect Tolstoi's initial hostility to the Bolsheviks, then his apparent loss of interest in the political antagonisms between the White émigré's and the Reds, and finally his gradual acceptance of the Soviet regime. After his return to Soviet Russia, the stories assume an almost belligerent, Marxist tone. Tolstoi's magnum opus is discussed in the third chapter. Peter the First is presented in context of the historical novel in general, the contemporary Soviet historical novel, and finally in 'context-of contemporary criticism. A glimpse into the Petrine theme in Russian literature is also offered as a further contrast to Tolstovi's novel. Historical plays are reviewed in the fourth chapter, offering the best illustration of that political fluctuation that so blatantly forced the writer to change his work and to alter history as well. Chapter V concludes the study with a general and chronological summation of the works discussed; it demonstrated that in spite of the various extra-literary influences, Aleksei Tolstoi remains a major and talented figure among twentieth-century Russian writers.

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