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Tolstoy L. Tales of military life (Military stories). Sankt-Petersbourg, a printing house of General Staff, 1856.

Tolstoy L. Tales of military life (Military stories). Sankt-Petersbourg, a printing house of General Staff, 1856. [4], 382, [1] p. p. the Censor V. Beketov. Contemporary half calf (slightly stained and worn, rubbed). Internally a clean and fresh copy. A.P. Petsman’s Bindery in Moscow. Format: 19х13 cm. First separately published book of great Russian writer! Extremely rare! Only five stories…





Reference literature:

1. Smirnov-Sokol’skii, Biblioteka, vol. I, №1190.

2. Kilgour (to be absent).

3. Bitowt Uyrii «A Count Leo Tolstoy in literature and art», Moscow, 1903, №399.

4. A. Mezier «Russian literature» , St. Petersbourg, 1902, №18146.

5. M.S. Lesman, №2245.

As we know, a large loss in card play in spring 1851 forced Leo Tolstoi to follow his elder brother Nikolai to the Caucasus. Soon he decided to join the army. In autumn of 1851, having passed an exam in Tiflis, Tolstoi as a cadet joined the fourth battery of the twentieth artillery brigade. This unit stayed for a long time at a remote Cossack settlement of Starogladovo on the Terek bank near Kizlyar. Shaking off the dust and soot of civilisation, Leo got the best part of himself: he started writing. Most probably that the History of My Childhood is the first work of Tolstoi; there is at least no information evidencing that he had earlier attempted to write anything in the literary form. In 1852, Tolstoi send to the editorial board of Contemporary the first part of his autobiographical trilogy. When he received the manuscript of Childhood, Nekrasov recognised at once its literary value and write a kind letter to the author, where he blessed the author to further deeds in the field of literature. Being published by Nekrasov and signed by modest initials L. N., Childhood won an extraordinary success and the author was once referred to as a great figure of the young literary school. Being soon certified as an officer, Tolstoi stayed in the Caucasus for two years and took part in numerous battles, where he was subjected to all the dangers and troubles. When the war in Crimea arose in the end of 1853, Leo Tolstoi was transferred to the Danube army, where he took part in the battle at Oltenz and in the siege of Silistria and from November 1854 to the end of August 1855 he stayed in Sevastopol in the hottest battles at the fourth bastion, Chernaya, Malakhov Hill. Here he wrote five stories, one of them (Sevastopol in December 1854) was published by «Contemporary» and read thirstily by whole Russia; it made a shocking impression with a picture of horrors experienced by defenders of Sevastopol. This story was noted by Emperor Nicholas I, who ordered to save a talented officer. There are only five of these stories, but they were very actual for that time by form and contents: the great nation felt sorry for the disgraceful loss in the Crimean war against the French, English and Turkish armies. On the other hand, they fall in the flow of quasi-stories, quasi-essays and papers, in the terms of Nekrasov, which replaced poems and novels in 1840s and 1850s. It is not by chance that Tolstoi dedicated his «Wood-felling» to Turgenev, who was then the famous author of Hunter's Notes, a typical collection of stories and essays for that time. The pathos of Military Stories is truth, severe truth of war. This is what Tolstoi wrote: «I paint the war not as a ordered, fine and shining march with music and drums, waving banners and riding generals but ... in its real expression, in blood, suffers, death...» The quiet talks among people in the war situation, in front of the mortal danger, in the last moments of decaying consciousness must be deeply sincere. But this is not enough for the author! He interferes the self-observation of his character and eliminates the last illusions and shows everything «as it is in fact». The instinct of life, vanity and self-interest, theft and treason, causal and predetermined death, animal fear and realised feat - everything is interesting for Tolstoi. «It is interesting for me to know how and under what feeling one soldier kills another».Tolstoi's tales of military life reflect his experiences in the Caucasus and the Crimea. «The Raid» (Nabeg, 1853) and «The Wood-felling» (Rubka lesa, 1855) belong superficially to the familiar Russian genre of the Caucasian military tale. They contain an indirect polemic with the romantic cliches of fearless heroism, the glory of battle, and exaggerated patriotism characteristic of such earlier practitioners of the genre as Aleksandr BESTUZHEV (Marlinsky). Tolstoi reduced the conventional exciting plots of such stories to the level of mere incidents which he used as a framework to display his true interest, a neatly categorized series of psychological portraits of the Russian soldiers and officers and their opponents, the mountain tribesmen. The stories blend the traditional Caucasian military tale of the 1820s with the strategies and devices characteristic of the NATURAL SCHOOL of the 1840s. Tolstoi's interest in the latter, be spoken by his high opinion of Grigorovich (a leading practitioner of the «PHYSIOLOGICAL SKETCH»), is also reflected in «Notes of a Billiard Marker» (Zapiski markera, 1855) with its use of skaz (i.e., the interposition of a narrative persona, usually one with a «local color» value and characterized by dialectal or subliterary speech, between author and reader), and «The Snowstorm» (Metel', 1856), a physiological sketch of the Russian coachman. The three Sevastopol Stories («Sevastopol' v dekabre mesyatse,» 1855; «Sevastopol' v mae,» 1855; «Sevastopol' v avguste 1855 goda,» 1856) are difficult to classify. They represent a blend of fiction and reportage with a startling admixture (in «Sevastopol in December») of the stylistic conventions of a tourist guidebook. They also (especially «Sevastopol in May») make extended use of the narrative device of stream of consciousness («the dialectic of the soul» as it was called by the critic N. G. CHERNYSHEVSKY) with which Tolstoi had first experimented in «The History of Yesterday.» The stories, especially the first of them, display the characteristically Tolstoian device of estrangement 'whereby familiar sights and events are made to seem new and striking by distorting or ignoring the conventions which usually govern our perception of them. This descriptive technique was to become a hallmark of Tolstoi's style. The loci classici are the account of Natasha at the opera in War and Peace, the description of the service in the prison church in Resurrection, and the ridiculing of the rehearsal of a Wagnerian opera in What Is Art? Finally, it was in «Sevastopol in May» that Tolstoi proclaimed that the «hero» of his fiction was not any of the characters who appeared in it but rather that which «I love with all the power of my soul» and which «has been, is, and will be beautiful,» namely, The Truth! That is why the fame of Tolstoi in literature started from his Military Stories. It is not by chance that N. N. Smirnov-Sokolskiy used to emphasise: «Collection of all the Tolstoi publications during his life was not included in my modest goals, but I was looking long for this first book published in his life and when I got it I put it on my shelf with a great satisfaction as one of the best decorations of my collection». One would not say better!

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