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Professor Andrei Zorin - Tolstoy

Professor and chair of Russian at the University of Oxford.

Visiting professor at Harvard, Stanford, University of Helsinki, University of Texas.

Research: Russian Literature and Cultural History of XVIII, early XIX centuries.

Russian Literature. Cultural History of Emotions. Late & Post-Soviet Literature.


Selected works

  • ​Leo Tolstoy (Critical Lives),Reaktion Books, (2020).

  • On The Periphery of Europe 1762–1825: The Self-Invention of the Russian Elite.

  • Natasha Rostova’s Smile: War and Peace in intertextual and biographical perspectives.

  • Tolstoy's Sand Clock: The flow of history in War and Peace.

Anchor 1

Episode #1

Q: Can you tell  us a little about your background and interest in Russian literature?

A: My focus has always been cultural studies. I graduated from Moscow University in the late 1970’s and received two PhD’s

It was the Soviet Union and it was very clear that I wouldn’t be able to cross the Soviet border so I decided to switch specialties.

My primary research interest was  Russian culture of the18th and early 19th century. 

I was always a fan of Tolstoy so I decided to do research on him.

Episode #2

Q: Why is Tolstoy such a compelling literary figure and what's a unique perspective that you have on him?

A: Tolstoy had a lot of major transitions in his life; he switched from writing to teaching to religious writing and so on.

The majority of people who wrote about Tolstoy said that Tolstoy was immensely contradictory.

From my point of view Tolstoy was the least contradictory figure.

He was consistent to a pathological level and I tried to show this unique consistency through immense changes and breaks that he went through in his life.

Episode #3

Q: What made him such a popular literary figure?

A: Definitely, his understanding of human life and human conditions and his ability to get inside the human psyche.  

Most of the critics say that when you read Tolstoy you have a feeling that you're dealing with a piece of life and not with a piece of art.

One thing that makes Tolstoy so special is this illusory effect; that it is real life.  

Episode #4

Q: What is your favorite Tolstoy novel and why?

A: My absolute favorite is War and Peace.

From the beginning to the end, I read it six times.  I'm always guessing when I'll stop finding new things; until now it never happened. 

Episode #5

Q: What impact did Tolstoy have on Russian society during his lifetime? 

A: First, he was immensely popular; he was by far the most popular living author in Russia.

Then he became a religious leader and had a big following with a huge impact, religiously and morally, also outside of his followers.

In the 20th century for a long period his influence went down; but his novels were still read. 

Episode #6

Q: How do we sift through the writings, the speeches, the remarks of Tolstoy, towards individual Jews and the Jewish people?

A: Tolstoy evolved in this respect.

He was a Russian aristocrat so he had a condescending and arrogant attitude towards Jews.

He was never anti-Semitic.

He fought with the anti-Semitic feelings of his family and himself.

But the more he developed, the more interested he became in Jews. 

In one of his diaries he writes that it's very difficult to love the Jews, but I have to. 

Full Interview - Professor Andrei Zorin

Anchor 2
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