The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories
On comparing with the original Russian some English translations of Count Tolstoi's
works, published both in this country and in England, I concluded that they were far from
being accurate. The majority of them were retranslations from the French, and I found
that the respective transitions through which they had passed tended to obliterate many of
the beauties of the Russian language and of the peculiar characteristics of Russian life.
A satisfactory translation can be made only by one who understands the language and
SPIRIT of the Russian people. As Tolstoi's writings contain so many idioms it is not an
easy task to render them into intelligible English, and the one who successfully
accomplishes this must be a native of Russia, commanding the English and Russian
languages with equal fluency.
The story of "Ivan the Fool" portrays Tolstoi's communistic ideas, involving the abolition
of military forces, middlemen, despotism, and money. Instead of these he would establish
on earth a kingdom in which each and every person would become a worker and
producer. The author describes the various struggles through which three brothers passed,
beset as they were by devils large and small, until they reached the ideal state of
existence which he believes to be the only happy one attainable in this world.
On reading this little story one is surprised that the Russian censor passed it, as it is
devoted to a narration of ideas quite at variance with the present policy of the government
of that country.
"A Lost Opportunity" is a singularly true picture of peasant life, which evinces a deep
study of the subject on the part of the writer. Tolstoi has drawn many of the peculiar
customs of the Russian peasant in a masterly manner, and I doubt if he has given a more
comprehensive description of this feature of Russian life in any of his other works. In this
story also he has presented many traits which are common to human nature throughout
the world, and this gives an added interest to the book.
The language is simple and picturesque, and the characters are drawn with remarkable
fidelity to nature. The moral of this tale points out how the hero Ivan might have avoided
the terrible consequences of a quarrel with his neighbor (which grew out of nothing) if he
had lived in accordance with the scriptural injunction to forgive his brother's sins and
seek not for revenge.
The story of "Polikushka" is a very graphic description of the life led by a servant of the
court household of a certain nobleman, in which the author portrays the different
conditions and surroundings enjoyed by these servants from those of the ordinary or
common peasants. It is a true and powerful reproduction of an element in Russian life but
little written about heretofore.