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Tolstoy's 'About Mushrooms'

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Tea and coffee from 4.45

Two secondary characters, Sergei Koznyshev and Varenka (whose last name we never learn, and know only that she was the daughter of a hotel chef, and raised, as a kind of changeling, by Mme Stahl) contribute in multiple and important ways to the matrix of interconnections and doublings of theme in “Anna Karenina.” At the same time, however, their brief foray to the edge of the woods to pick mushrooms reflects a sensibility on Tolstoy’s part that seems more akin to Chekhov’s aesthetic vision than to what we tend typically to think of as Tolstoyan. Chekhov’s profound response to Tolstoy and especially to “Anna Karenina” is visible in a number of his stories such as “Anna on the Neck,” “The Lady with a Dog,” “At Home,” “About Love,” “Ariadne” and “The Nameday Party.” Tolstoy’s later deep admiration for Chekhov’s stories was, likewise, significant, as is the dialogue that developed between them both in their friendship and through subsequent stories they each wrote. But the episode of the mushroom hunt and the ensuing conversation between Koznyshev and Varenka embodies an artistic departure of sorts for Tolstoy and a surprising excursion into a pre-Chekhovian realm.

This talk is part of the CamCREES seminars (Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) series.

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