“Masterpieces are dumb,” wrote Flaubert, “They have a tranquil aspect like the very products of nature, like large animals and mountains.” He might have been thinking of War and Peace, that vast, silent work, unfathomable and simple, provoking endless questions through the majesty of its being. Tolstoi’s simplicity is “overpowering,” says the critic Bayley, “disconcerting,” because it comes from “his casual assumption that the world is as he sees it.” Like other nineteenth-century Russian writers he is “impressive” because he “means what he says,” but he stands apart from all others and from most Western writers in his identity with life, which is so complete as to make us forget he is an artist. He is the center of his work, but his egocentricity is of a special kind. Goethe, for example, says Bayley, “cared for nothing but himself. Tolstoi was nothing but himself.”
For all his varied modes of writing and the multiplicity of characters in his fiction, Tolstoi and his work are of a piece. The famous “conversion” of his middle years, movingly recounted in his Confession, was a culmination of his early spiritual life, not a departure from it. The apparently fundamental changes that led from epic narrative to dogmatic parable, from a joyous, buoyant attitude toward life to pessimism and cynicism, from War and Peace to The Kreutzer Sonata, came from the same restless, impressionable depths of an independent spirit yearning to get at the truth of its experience. “Truth is my hero,” wrote Tolstoi in his youth, reporting the fighting in Sebastopol. Truth remained his hero—his own, not others’, truth. Others were awed by Napoleon, believed that a single man could change the destinies of nations, adhered to meaningless rituals, formed their tastes on established canons of art. Tolstoi reversed all preconceptions; and in every reversal he overthrew the “system,” the “machine,” the externally ordained belief, the conventional behavior in favor of unsystematic, impulsive life, of inward motivation and the solutions of independent thought.
In his work the artificial and the genuine are always exhibited in dramatic opposition: the supposedly great Napoleon and the truly great, unregarded little Captain Tushin, or Nicholas Rostov’s actual experience in battle and his later account of it. The simple is always pitted against the elaborate, knowledge gained from observation against assertions of borrowed faiths. Tolstoi’s magical simplicity is a product of these tensions; his work is a record of the questions he put to himself and of the answers he found in his search. The greatest characters of his fiction exemplify this search, and their happiness depends on the measure of their answers. Tolstoi wanted happiness, but only hard-won happiness, that emotional fulfillment and intellectual clarity which could come only as the prize of all-consuming effort. He scorned lesser satisfactions.
Which of the following best characterizes the author’s attitude toward Tolstoi?
- She deprecates the cynicism of his later works.
- She finds his theatricality artificial.
- She admires his wholehearted sincerity.
- She thinks his inconsistency disturbing.
- She respects his devotion to orthodoxy.
Which of the following best paraphrases Flaubert’s statement quoted in the first paragraph?
- Masterpiece seem ordinary and unremarkable from the perspective of a later age.
- Great works of art do not explain themselves to us any more than natural objects do.
- Important works of art take their place in the pageant of history because of their uniqueness.
- The most important aspects of good art are the orderliness and tranquility it reflects.
- Masterpieces which are of enduring value represent the forces of nature.
The author quotes from Bayley to show that
- although Tolstoi observes and interprets life, he maintains no self-conscious distance from his experience
- the realism of Tolstoi’s work gives the illusion that his novels are reports of actual events
- unfortunately, Tolstoi is unaware of his own limitation, though he is sincere in his attempt to describe experience
- although Tolstoi works casually and makes unwarranted assumption, his work has an inexplicable appearance of truth
- Tolstoi’s personal perspective makes his work almost unintelligible to the majority of his readers
The author states that Tolstoi’s conversion represented
- a radical renunciation of the world
- the rejection of avant-garde ideas
- the natural outcome of his earlier beliefs
- the acceptance of religion he had earlier rejected
- a fundamental change in his writing style
According to the passage, Tolstoi’s response to the accepted intellectual and artistic values of his times was to
- select the most valid from among them
- combine opposing viewpoints into a new doctrine
- reject the claims of religion in order to serve his art
- subvert them in order to defend a new political viewpoint
- upset them in order to be faithful to his experience
It can be inferred from the passage that which of the following is true of War and Peace?
- It belongs to an early period of Tolstoi’s work.
- It incorporates a polemic against the disorderliness of Russian life.
- It has a simple structural outline.
- It is a work that reflects an ironic view of life.
- It conforms to the standard of aesthetic refinement favored by Tolstoi’s contemporaries.