I’m just working on the research I need to do for my Anna Karenina reading group in a couple of weeks time. Once again, I am struck by the amount of studying the great writers do. Where does this idea that writing cannot be taught come from?
It was the same last year, when we read Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. Alongside our enjoyment of a rollicking good tale, we began to build up a phenomenal list of texts referenced by the narrator and characters in the story, and also quite a bit of story-theory being discussed along the way.
So, here I am looking at a chronology for Tolstoy. Besides his education at university, where he read first Oriental Languages then Law, though he did not finish his course due to ‘ill health and domestic circumstances’, he read widely. His interests were philosophy, education, reform, history, politics, religion, ancient Greek and travel.
He also lived fairly wildly, at least at first. It’s fascinating to find his life experiences and interests mirrored by characters and situations in A.K. Is it just me, or do most of us enjoy seeing how things are made?
Tolstoy honed his skills by writing essays and short sketches. He did not finish every project he started. War and Peace, for instance, evolved out of another novel called ‘The Decembrists’.
You could argue that we look for the connections, but does that matter? Surely, the more we can take from our reading the better?
I like stories that make me think, or go away to find out more afterwards. Again, it’s a different style of reading to the pure entertainment page-turning novels, and I like those too. But I would say that this is writing that has matured. Here is a writer who practiced his craft and shared the variety of his interests through his stories and novels.