Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Caucasus Mountains

*Caucasus Mountains. Mountain range south of Moscow between the Black and Caspian Seas that has historically been regarded as the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Now divided among several former Soviet republics, the region was under Russian domination in the nineteenth century. With its picturesque mountains and many fiercely independent tribes, the region occupies a place in Russian literary tradition similar to that of the Wild West in American literature. The various tribes of Tatars, Chechens, Circassians, Azeris, Georgians, Armenians, and others were often regarded as “noble savages” in a manner similar to the literary romanticization of Native Americans.

The Chechens in particular were renowned as fierce fighters, and the appellation dzhigit is often compared to the expression “brave” for a Native American warrior, although it is inextricably linked to expert horsemanship in a way that even the great Plains Indians never attained. The Chechens were also far more successful at resisting Russian overlordship than any Native American societies were at resisting the westward expansion of the United States. Indeed, since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, the Chechens have continued to resist Russian domination.

Although Tolstoy’s novel is to some degree the Russian equivalent of an American Western story, Tolstoy tempers the romantic imagery of the half-wild Cossacks and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bayley, John. Tolstoy and the Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. For the nonspecialist, this book is the most readable survey of Tolstoy’s long fiction in the English language. Compares The Cossacks with other examples of Tolstoy’s fiction set in the Caucasus and finds it wanting.

Kornblatt, Judith Deutsch. The Cossack Hero in Russian Literature: A Study in Cultural Mythology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Kornblatt places Tolstoy’s The Cossacks in a Russian tradition that runs from early nineteenth century writer Alexander Pushkin through twentieth century novelist Mikhail Sholokhov.

Turner, C. J. G. “Tolstoy’s The Cossacks: The Question of Genre.” Modern Language Review 73, no. 3 (July, 1978): 563-572. A detailed examination of Tolstoy’s conflicting intentions in The Cossacks, which he declares “a hybrid” of such genres as sketch, tale, novel, idyll, and autobiography. Elucidates this position by recounting the decade-long process of the novel’s composition.

Wasiolek, Edward. Tolstoy’s Major Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. Notes that The Cossacks “has some clear deficiencies,” particularly in terms of the point of view it presents, but differs with Bayley as to the nature and extent of the problem. Argues that Tolstoy needed to establish two points of view, subjective and objective, but did not handle their juxtaposition skillfully.

Wilson, A. N. Tolstoy. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. A lengthy biography in which Wilson calls The Cossacks Tolstoy’s “first masterpiece” and an example of his ability to make new, fresh use of clichéd material.