Engagements with Tolstoy: Representations of Crisis in Hemingway, Wharton, Pasternak, and Grossman

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Pratsovyta, Nataliya
Richardson, Brian E.
Papazian, Elizabeth A.
This project examines the problem of historical representation in literary fiction, taking as its subject the twentieth-century novel. As a project in comparative literature, it brings together literary works of American and Russian authors of the twentieth century with works of critical theory and philosophy to analyze artistic representations of crisis, understood as moments of social and cultural transition and change, across cultures. Looking at literary works from the USA and the Soviet Union reveals the points of contact between two countries that both presented claims for cultural domination at the beginning of the twentieth century. The representation of crisis in works of literature that have become canonical from both countries allows us to trace the rich cross-cultural exchange between them. One way in which such cultural exchange was realized was through the cultural uses of Leo Tolstoy’s nineteenth-century novel War and Peace (1869). This dissertation argues that Tolstoy’s novel served as a model for twentieth-century writing in both countries. Through the close examination of two American novels, Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920), and of two Russian novels, Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (1957) and Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate (1959), this dissertation uncovers the specific Tolstoyan techniques that each of these authors appropriated and readapted for his or her own purposes. The philosophical concept of the I-other relationship as elaborated by Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) and the theories of the dialogic representation of reality in the novel by Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) are used as lenses for reading these literary texts. The dissertation argues that applying the Levinasian model of the I-other relationship to the above-mentioned works of fiction allows for a deconstruction of the totalizing vision of history, a feature which comes to define the historical writing in these major literary works in the twentieth century. The novelty of the present work consists in asking the question of what can be learned about literary representations of crisis by looking at intertextual literary contacts between Russian and American literature from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The Russian and American authors considered in this dissertation all seek to respond to their own historical moment and work out models of historical representation in the context of social change.