Family Happiness is the last work in the series that might be called early Tolstoy, extending from Detstvo (1852; Childhood, 1862), his first published work, through Otrochestvo (1854; Boyhood, 1886) and Yunost (1857; Youth, 1886), and several short stories. He had dealt with a wide range of themes: the subjugation of the Caucasus, the Crimean War, agriculture, art and the artist, death. In Family Happiness, he took up the classic literary subject he had not yet treated, love. Of necessity, this change of subject put him in competition with Turgenev, whose specialty was “first love.” Tolstoy, however, had no sympathy with Turgenev’s minor-key poetry of lost loves, being skeptical in general of romantic exaggerations and idealizations and having a strong sense of biological imperatives. Nature cares nothing for lost loves,he insisted; nature wants fertilization, babies. He would therefore write a Turgenevesque idyllic love story, but unlike Turgenev, he would carry it past the altar into married life, shown with both its warts and its nightingales. Even in the courtship phase, despite the book’s genuine lyricism, Tolstoy debunked some romantic cliches.
The aftermath of Family Happiness marked a crisis in Tolstoy’s career. The enormous success of Childhood and the Sevastopol sketches had not been sustained, and his later stories attracted little attention....
(The entire section is 351 words.)
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