Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To M. O. Menshikov.

YALTA, January 28, 1900.

. . . I can’t make out what Tolstoy’s illness is. Tcherinov has sent me no answer, and from what I read in the papers and what you write me now I can draw no conclusion. Ulcers in the stomach and intestines would give different indications: they are not present, or there have been a few bleeding wounds caused by gall-stones which have passed and lacerated the walls. There is no cancer either. It would have shown itself first in the appetite, in the general condition, and above all the face would have betrayed cancer if he had had it. The most likely thing is that L. N. is in good health (apart from the gall-stones), and will live another twenty years. His illness frightened me, and kept me on tenter-hooks. I am afraid of Tolstoy’s death. If he were to die there would be a big empty place in my life. To begin with, because I have never loved any man as much as him. I am not a believing man, but of all beliefs I consider his the nearest and most akin to me. Secondly, while Tolstoy is in literature it is easy and pleasant to be a literary man; even recognizing that one has done nothing and never will do anything is not so dreadful, since Tolstoy will do enough for all. His work is the justification of the enthusiasms and expectations built upon literature. Thirdly, Tolstoy takes a firm stand, he has an immense authority, and so long as he is alive, bad tastes in literature, vulgarity of every kind, insolent and lachrymose, all the bristling, exasperated vanities will be in the far background, in the shade. Nothing but his moral authority is capable of maintaining a certain elevation in the moods and tendencies of literature so called. Without him they would be a flock without a shepherd, or a hotch-potch, in which it would be difficult to discriminate anything.

To finish with Tolstoy, I have something to say about “Resurrection,” which I have read not piecemeal, in parts, but as a whole, at one go. It is a remarkable artistic production. The least interesting part is all that is said of Nehludov’s relations with Katusha; and the most interesting the princes, the generals, the aunts, the peasants, the convicts, the warders. The scene in the house of the General in command of the Peter-Paul Fortress, the spiritualist, I read with a throbbing heart — it is so good! And Madame Kortchagin in the easy chair; and the peasant, the husband of Fedosya! The peasant calls his grandmother “an artful one.” That’s just what Tolstoy’s pen is — an artful one. There’s no end to the novel, what there is you can’t call an end. To write and write, and then to throw the whole weight of it on a text from the Gospel, that is quite in the theological style. To settle it all by a text from the Gospel is as arbitrary as dividing the convicts into five classes. Why into five and not into ten? He must make us believe in the Gospel, in its being the truth, and then settle it all by texts.

. . . They write about Tolstoy as old women talk about a crazy saint, all sorts of unctuous nonsense; it’s a mistake for him to talk to those people. . . .

They have elected Tolstoy [Footnote: An honorary Academician.]— against the grain. According to notions there, he is a Nihilist. Anyway, that’s what he was called by a lady, the wife of an actual privy councillor, and I heartily congratulate him upon it. . . .

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