Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Devil by Leo Tolstoy

Writing negative reviews is one of my least favourite things and it has been ever since I started writing small book reviews in various notebooks. I'm a positive person, or at least I try to be, and I often find positive things to focus on whenever I read anything. I read the Devil by Leo Tolstoy just over a week ago and when I finished I was struggling to find anything good to say about it. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy is my favourite novel and I was really looking forward to reading Tolstoy's short stories. The Devil was such a disappointing read and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for a week. One of the pitfalls of reading multiple works by a writer you love is that there is a risk you'll find something that will turn you off or make you feel uncomfortable. Because Anna Karenina means so much to me I had high expectations for Tolstoy's other work and my one main emotion after reading the Devil was that of disappointment. I know some people won't be as disappointed as I was with this work as people have different reactions to things due to different life experiences but this work is something I honestly wish I had never picked up. I will eventually read more of Tolstoy but for now I think it's best to focus on other Russian writers. With all that said I will try and review this as objectively as I possibly can.

The Devil was written in 1889 but wasn't published until after Tolstoy's death in 1911. In 1909 Tolstoy wrote an alternative ending which is included in most modern editions. If you decide to read this novella/short story you should make sure your edition has both endings as both give an insight into the story as a whole. The Devil is about Eugene Irtenev and the consequences of his giving into sexual temptation. There are obvious parallels between Eugene and the Devil which I won't get into now because they don't need an explanation.  The Devil is supposedly Tolstoy's most autobiographical work of fiction and that knowledge makes me extremely uncomfortable. Irtenev is not a good man. He blames his mistakes on other people and he blames his sexual urges on some need for sex because he "needs" to have sex for his physical health. The Devil is well written but the content it what really matters and the content is very unsettling and startling especially when you keep in mind that it's based on Tolstoy's life. I can't go further into the plot as I don't want to give too much away but Irtenev is one of my least favourite characters I've ever come across.

I'm not sure what else I can write without being too negative or giving too much away. I'm sensitive to women in literature and how they are portrayed and that's a major reason why I didn't like this story. It left the impression that Irtenev, and by extension Tolstoy, blamed the women in his life for his affairs and sexual temptations. I haven't given up on Tolstoy completely but I think it's best if I wait awhile before I read another one of his works.

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I found out a week ago that I'll be moving to a different state in a fortnight (due to getting into an amazing program/internship) so that's why I've been quiet. I haven't even had time to read. I've read one of my Deal Me In texts and I'm currently reading another so hopefully I'll have those reviews up soon. And I plan on starting Mrs Dalloway after I've finished a play by Ben Johnson.

1 comment :

  1. I think that you gave just enough information without giving too much away. :-)

    I was having a conversation with another blogger about just how much we need to know about famous people/authors. Anything newsworthy is often negative, and it can really take away from the enjoyment of works of theirs that you've read. Their books can touch you in such a positive way, but knowing certain things about their life can take away from that. Of course, someone needs to know about their struggles in life, but does everyone? I don't think so. However, in this case it's the author (instead of some biographer or journalist) who is revealing things about himself. I think that can make it even more uncomfortable. And it doesn't sound like he came to a positive resolution in the end and left the reader with something to learn from.

    Thanks for the warning .... if I do pick this up, I'll do it tentatively and be ready to put it right back down again. :-Z

    Congratulations on your move and new program. I hope everything goes smoothly and that you settle in quickly! All the best!

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