Last Steps: The Last Writings of Leo Tolstoy, trs Jay Parini

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The Independent Culture

It's either a brave man or a foolish man who describes feeling "an insuperable repulsion and tedium" on reading the plays of Shakespeare; the "vulgarity" of some characters; and the "inflated characterless style in which King Lear – like all Shakespeare's kings – talks". But by this point in his life, Tolstoy had eschewed his wilder, younger days to embrace religion and morality in his old age, and Shakespeare, he had decided, wasn't moral enough for him to appreciate. That is not to say he embraced the established Church – that gets it in the neck too, for forgetting its link to ordinary men.

Ever the novelist, though, Tolstoy's recourse to vignettes to illustrate his arguments, in these essays, does help to break up the monotony of his didactic prose. However, I would have found his explanation for his sudden conversion to religion ("'He exists,' said I to myself. And I had only for a minute to admit that, and at once life rose within me") unconvincing if it had happened in one of his novels, never mind in real life.