Childhood (1852) Leo Tolstoy Key elements of Tolstoy’s approach • Tolstoy’s examination of life on the basis of introspection • Details are examined minutely: dissecting the tissue of experience • Emphasis on individual experience, rather than social existence • The individual’s subjective view is the only interesting one: refusal to generalize • Is there an overarching moral perspective? Is the world only all relative? What is the nature of good and evil? • Sees and represents the world freshly, as if seen for the first time A new kind of writing • Complete break with Romantic literature, and with a literature focussed on conventions, imitating previous literature. • Lack of fantasy: all the means of narration are focussed on making the reader believe in the events described. (Suspension of disbelief) Metaphor vs. Metonymy • Russian linguist Roman Jakobson pointed to the two aspects of language: • substitutive vs predicative • substitutive predominates in poetry, uses simile, metaphor, symbols • predicative predominates in prose, adds details, uses synecdoche. • Tolstoy and realist fiction: dearth of metaphor or symbol, emphasis on the particular, detail Part of larger work • Tolstoy planned four parts. • Only three completed: Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. • Inspired by such works as Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850) Genre and structure • Genre: best described as a novella, a stream of small events and observations focussed on one person. • Introspective, first-person narrative, broken into short chapter-episodes. • Rooted in autobiography, although not literally a retelling of the author’s life. Tolstoy and Rousseau • Clear influence of Rousseau’s Confessions • The same desire to expose intimate feelings experienced during childhood, even those of shame, embarrassment and pain • Emphasis on honest portrayal of everything, even the most embarrassing intimate details • Rousseau’s vision of child born pure and corrupted by man • Development of child’s sexuality • Importance of nature as a world outside man • Interest in education theory – the best way to educate children Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) • « Ce n’est pas ce qui est criminel qui coûte le plus à dire, c’est ce qui est ridicule et honteux ». • “It is not one’s criminal acts that are the most difficult to admit, but those things that are ridiculous and shameful.” Confessions Childhood is ahead of its time… • Equivalents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century: - Anton Chekhov’s The Steppe, a description of a young boy being sent to school, travelling with a caravan of wagons loaded with wool. - Focus on memory points to Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du temps perdu. - Portrait of a young version of the author suggests James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Psychological Analysis • Ability to enter into the perceptions of another individual. Later: a horse, a dog. • Shows how behaviours are uncontrollable, growing out of deep emotional issues. • Tolstoy’s analyses of the subconscious foreshadow Sigmund Freud, psychological analyses of the post-Freudian world. The double perception in Childhood • An older narrator unflinching describing the child’s perceptions and emotions from within. • Describes emotions and behaviours, then clinically analyses them in detail, examining the shifts in perception of the child’s consciousness. • Theme of awkwardness of the child’s view: growing conscious of his errors, feeling shame (frequent word). The clinical interest • Tolstoy’s analysis is clearly of himself: his own emotions, his own experience of growing up. • Reflects Tolstoy’s scientific interest in children’s development, in education, in society. • Interest in education shades into questions of psychology, philosophy, morality, religion. The spatial surroundings • The location is divided down the middle: - The country estate of Nikolenka’s parents. - The salons and ballrooms of Moscow. The cast of characters The family: • Nikolenka Irtenyev • Brother Volodya • Sister Lyubochka • Papa • Maman • In Moscow: Grandmother The extended household • • • • Karl Ivanych Marya Ivanovna or Mimi Katyenka – her daughter Natalya Savishna Outsiders • Grisha the holy fool • Mme Kornakov – “beats children” • The Ivins - Seryozha • Sonechka – first true love. • Ilyinka Grap – the poor little German boy • Ivan Ivanych – the rich uncle Some of the key themes: Childhood • Childhood innocence (Ch. 15, pp. 57-59) • Naïve, but accurate, judgements of child about adults: who is good and bad. • Moving to Moscow seems a watershed Some of the key themes: Memory and Maman • Memory – associated with mother, music • Maman pouring tea (Ch. 2, p. 9) • Music and memory (Ch. 11, pp. 41-42) • Elusiveness of maman’s face (Ch. 14, p. 55) • Later Nikolenka experiences the trauma of mother’s death: maman associated with absence Some of the key themes: Sexuality Childhood sexuality - Kisses Katya’s shoulder - crush on the boy Seriozha - “unfaithful in love” (p. 97-98) - Sonechka Some of the key themes: Family relationships • Relationship to parents, fuzzy understanding of their relationship. • Naïve, but accurate judgements of child about adults: separation into good and bad. Some of the key themes: Social classes • Class relationships: - snobbery - treatment of poor boy Ilyinka Grap • serfdom: - relationship to servants (domestic serfs), Nikolai, Natalya Savishna - remote perception of the working peasants harvesting in the fields Some of the key themes: Religion • True religious fervour found among the simple peasant folk: - Grisha the holy fool - Natalya Savishna - mother’s death – outward forms of religion as opposed to deeply felt beliefs Questions • Do we derive pleasure from reading this novella? • What is aesthetically pleasing about it? • Do we find the descriptions truthful and believable? • What feelings, if any, are stirred in you by this work? For next class… • Choose one character from the text, and be prepared to describe that person and his or her role. Explain why you chose that person. • In reading Childhood, make a list of the different vices that the narrator exposes in his behaviour. • Study carefully chapters vi, vii and viii; we shall be analyzing them in class.