Google Doodle celebrates Tolstoy

September 9, 2014 • 6:21 am

Today is Tolstoy’s 186th birthday (9 Sept. 1828-20 Nov. 1910), and Google has celebrated with an animated Doodle recounting his best works. You can get to it by clicking on the screenshot below, and you advance from work to work by clicking on the arrows that will appear.

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 4.42.52 AM

The Guardian took a break from its atheist-bashing to explain both the Doodle and the intentions of the artist, Roman Muradov. Be sure to click on the link to see Muradov’s piece:

Artist Roman Muradov has also picked out scenes from The Death of Ivan Ilyich for his Google doodle. In a piece written for the search engine, the illustrator, who has also recently designed and illustrated the centennial edition of James Joyce’s Dubliners for Penguin Classics, said the tribute to Tolstoy was a “daunting task”.

“No set of images can sum up a body of work so astonishing in scope, complexity, and vigour – its memorable scenes come to life with seeming effortlessness, fully realised in the immortal lines and between them,” he wrote. “Tolstoy’s lasting influence is a testament to the power of his art, which will remain relevant as long as the questions of life and death occupy our minds, which is to say – forever.”

Tolstoy wrote what I consider to be the best novel of all time, Anna Karenina, though I’ve read it only in the Constance Garnett translation and I’m told there are even better ones.  His second-best piece (though not the second best work of all time, which I consider to be The Dead) is The Death of Ivan Ilych, which is a gut-wrencher. It was such a realistic portrayal of death that it was once (and still is, I think) used in medical schools to teach students what it is like to die, and to make them more empathic.

Hail to the Lev! Here he is at age 20, looking nothing like the bearded patriarch he became later:



25 thoughts on “Google Doodle celebrates Tolstoy

  1. I very much enjoyed Anna Karenina. Our IB English class in 11th grade focused on Russian literature, and this was one of several great novels that we read. I’m sure I would enjoy it even more now if I went back and reread it just for fun (and being 15 years older).

  2. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky are the ideal translators for this novel and other works. Years ago, a friend pointed out to me the dusty style of Garnett when compared to Pevear and Volokhonsky, who bring new life and vigor to whatever they translate.

    1. Definitely agree. I’ve read their Anna Karenina and War and Peace and thought they were wonderful, much more vibrant than Garnett.

      I’ve also read their translations of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, which were also excellent.

    2. In college, I was shunted into a course in Russian Lit after the Roman Lit I originally chose was cancelled. While the experience was not very fulfilling, I did get two surprisingly satisfying reads out of it, one of which was the Pevear/Volokhonsky “Karenina.” (The other was the colorful and amusing “The Master and Margarita.” Both books are still on my bookshelf.)

      At the advice of this posting, I’m going to put “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” on my to-read list.

  3. My favorite is “War and Peace”, read it the summer after graduating from high school before entering college. I had a crush on Russian literature when I was a teen and wished to learn Russian so I could read novels and poetry directly.

    1. War and Peace is also my favorite. I love Anna Karenina too, but the scope of War and Peace is just so wonderfully broad and deep. I love how even minor characters are so fully imagined. I especially love Pierre’s transformation over the course of the novel. Probably the best character arc I’ve ever read.

    2. I wanted to take Russian when I was at University but couldn’t fit it into my schedule. I hope one day I get the chance to.

      1. I took two years of Russian in college, but I didn’t focus on it enough to approach any kind of fluency. It’s a beautiful language, though I found it much more difficult than French, which I took in grade school. Funny enough, reading War and Peace in the original requires knowledge of both, as about 2% of the novel is in French.

          1. Love those links! Like Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese) and German. All I’ve attempted. Italian’s by far the easiest. Maybe some day I’ll attempt Russian. My dad was fluent. Learned it during the war in Russian.

          2. Love those links! Reminds me of one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, Love and Death. He runs that playbook perfectly.

            I never had much aptitude with other languages, so that might have had something to do with it. I think getting used to the Cyrillic alphabet added another level to the challenge.

            1. It’s funny because when I took Ancient Greek, my fear going in was that the alphabet would make things harder but it actually was the least hard thing about learning the language. Now that I am familiar with the Greek alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet doesn’t seem too bad, except that I try to correlate everything with Greek to remember what sounds the symbols represent. 🙂

            2. Loved Love and Death. Remember Woody making eyes at the countess across his feathery fan, and then gooseing her ( or someone else) with his sword??

              Saw a fabulous film today at TIFF about Alan Turing: The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and many other excellent actors.
              I’m sure it will be released soon.

  4. I’m an eormous fan of the Count and consider Anna Karenina by far the greatest novel ever written. (I haven’t read them all so I can’t say with certainty. ) I studied Russian for a time to read his originals but his later excursions into spirituality increasing bothers me. FWIW his biography by Troyat is worth the read.

    1. I’m in the middle of TIFF ( Toronto International Film Festival) and have seen 4 wonderful films so far ( 6 to go). Yesterday afternoon we saw a delightful takeoff on Madame Bovary called Gemma Bovery( sic) based on a British graphic novel, of all things. Young married English couple move to Normandy…It is brilliantly done and has two surprising twists at the end, one involving Anna K. Keep your eyes peeled for it. Another good one is X+Y, which involves a young autistic boy who enters the Math Olympiad. Great actors and touching story. Hope it gets released. And then there was the amazing Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, about the artist J.M.W. Turner, starring the inimitable atim Spall.

        1. You could always read the book if you can’t find the movie:-). I think it would also be good. We’re seeing the actual Madame Bovary later this week with Mia Wasokowski ( sp).

  5. I heartily concur with you on “The Dead”, a story that never fails to move me deeply. I was thinking of it yesterday, as my wife learned that a young cousin of hers (in her 20s) died suddenly and unexpectedly of a blood clot. She had been married for only 2 years, and we were thinking about the imprint this tragedy would leave upon her husband. It brought to my mind Greta listening to “The Lass of Aughrim” and those unsurpassed final pages, where Gabriel learns a truth about his wife and looks out at the snow. And the last lines, which connect back to the dinner table discussion of the monks sleeping in their coffins, seems to encapsulate so much of the human condition. There is a beautiful reading of the story by Stephen Rea that is a particular favorite of mine.

  6. Tolstoy, no matter how appealing his literary works, laced these with anti-science ideology. He pushed anti-Darwinian views literally to his last breath. When 82 years old and on his deathbed, Tolstoy composed the following advice to his son:
    “I still wanted to add for you, Seryozha, some advice that you should take thought about your life, about who you are and what you are, what is the meaning of human life and how every rational man must live it. The views you have acquired about Darwinism, evolution, and the struggle for existence won’t explain to you the meaning of your life and won’t give you guidance in your actions [Seryozha later complained that he was not a Darwinian]; and a life without an explanation of its meaning and significance, and without immutable guidance that stems from that meaning, is a pathetic existence. Think about that. I say this loving you, probably on the eve of my death.” Tolstoy is arguing from a Christian stance that morality and meaning are transcendental and cannot be derived from worldly concepts.

    Near the end of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy has Alekéi Aleksandrovitch announce “Can the happy influence on the development of intelligence be denied in the study of the forms of language? Ancient literature [the Bible?] is eminently moral; while, unfortunately for us, the study of the natural sciences has been complicated with fatal and false doctrines, which are the bane of our time.”

    Hugh McLean has written an interesting essay on how Tolstoy viewed Darwinian evolution: “Claws on the behind: Tolstoy and Darwin.”

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