Henri Troyat V. S. Pritchett - Essay

V. S. Pritchett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One's first impression of Henri Troyat's remarkable [Tolstoy] is that we have read all this before and again and again, either in the novels or the family's inveterate diaries. So we have, but never with M. Troyat's management of all the intimacies in the wide range of Tolstoy's life….

M. Troyat has managed to make this live with the glitter of the days on it. His book is a triumph of saturation. He has wisely absorbed many of Tolstoy's small descriptions of scene and incident, many of his phrases into his own text…. [Troyat] has learned the master's use of casual detail. He has learned his sense of mood and also of 'shading' the characters. He does not lose an instance of the ironic and even the ridiculous in Tolstoy's behaviour, but—and this is of the utmost importance—he keeps in mind the tortured necessity of Tolstoy's pursuit of suffering, and his knowledge of his situation….

A test for the biographer is the exposition of Tolstoy's great quarrels. They are so absurdly jealous that the temptation must be to leave them in their absurdity. M. Troyat does better than this. The row with Turgenev, the breach and the reconciliation years later when Turgenev had become a garrulous old man, has never been so well-placed and made to live, as in this book. (p. 335)

V. S. Pritchett, "Triumph of Saturation," in New Statesman (© 1968 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 75, No. 1931, March 15, 1968, pp. 335-36.