Tolstoy against Shakespeare

   Monsieur, at first sight it appeared to me that your question had something diabolic about it in that it mischievously called to our attention one of the most curious heresies that could ever disturb our faith as believers in art. Our religion is not "catholic" to be sure, I tell myself, not being able to impose itself universally, if Tolstoy can deny Shakespeare. Very cruelly M. Muller has exposed here a painful struggle where we will finally be forced to choose between the genius of Shakespeare and, if not the genius of Tolstoy, at least (since he is alone in the cause, but is that not saying a great deal already?) his power to distinguish beauty and truth. Perhaps, in the end, it is less grave than that, Monsieur - or rather: less grave for Tolstoy, more grave for the critic in general, as to the possibility of forming objective judgements in matters of art...1

1. In 1906 the first French translation of Tolstoy's Shakespeare appeared, in which he was harshly critical on the point of view of art and above all of morality. The review Les Lettres immediately invited a number of French writers to declare whether or not they agreed with Tolstoy's indictment. Proust was one of those asked, but his reply was never published. The journalist who organized the enquiry was Charles Muller.
   There are two manuscripts published in Essais et articles, under the title of Tolstoi contre Shakespeare. The first is translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner in By Way of Sainte-Beuve under the title of The Creed of Art, this is the second.
   However Philip Kolb seems to suggest that this relates to Proust's response to an article in La Revue des Deux-Mondes by Théodore de Wyzewa on Tolstoy and Shakespeare which appeared on 15 August 1907. I have been unable to establish whether another text of 1907 exists, but these two surely relate to the 1906 Les Lettres article. cf. Mention of M. Muller.


Return to Front Page