Color, Line, and Narrative: Visual Art Techniques in Lev Tolstoy’s Fiction
Luttrell, Megan Hilliard
University of Kansas
Slavic Languages & Literatures
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This dissertation investigates Tolstoy’s anxiety over the written word and its ability to communicate truth to the reader. I examine how Tolstoy compensates for the shortcomings of language by borrowing techniques from painting, sculpture, and drawing, and how the visual nature of his work shifts in connection with his philosophy. I identify two visual extremes in Tolstoy’s art and thought, the juxtaposition of which sets up two ends of a spectrum upon which I measure the aesthetic gradations of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Confession, and The Death of Ivan Ilych. I call Tolstoy’s earlier aesthetic “painterly” in nature, drawing from the numerous qualities of spatial literature it contains as well as its inclusion of a rich color palette and various ekphrastic passages. I begin my discussion of this “painterly” aesthetic in an examination of the 1857 short story “Lucerne.” I then trace the shifts in Tolstoy’s visuality toward what I term his “draughtsmanly” aesthetic. This later visuality, which culminates in the 1899 novel Resurrection, features many aspects of temporal literature, such as increased reliance on plot progression, as well as a black-and-white color scheme and increased use of contrasts that give the work a sculptural feel. My project is the first in the field to explore visual art techniques in Tolstoy, and reevaluates the author’s later works that are often dismissed as aesthetically inferior to his earlier writing. I note how the changes in Tolstoy’s visual aesthetic relate to shifts in his moral and philosophical worldview, which changes from one open to questions and change, to an unshakeable and uniquely Tolstoyan understanding of life and the best way to live it. I argue that neither aesthetic is superior to the other and that both are equally representative of Tolstoy’s own personal reality at the time of each work’s creation.
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