"UNIVERSALLY REGARDED AS ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST WRITERS": RARE 1887 VIZETELLY EDITION OF MY HUSBAND AND I; AND OTHER STORIES, THE FIRST PUBLICATION, ENGLISH ISSUE, OF SIX TOLSTOY NOVELLAS TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME
TOLSTOI, Count Lyof [TOLSTOY, Leo]. My Husband and I; And Other Stories. London / New York: Vizetelly / Brentano's, 1887. Octavo, original blue-green cloth. $3600.
First Vizetelly edition of six powerful novellas by Tolstoy together, containing the first publications, English issue, of My Husband and I, Death of Ivan Iliitch, Polikouchka, Two Generations, Romance of a Horse, and a Snow Storm, a rare cornerstone work in the colorful London publisher Vizetelly's landmark series of Russian Novels, complete with publisher's catalog dated March 1887.
"Universally regarded as one of the world's great writers," Tolstoy is synonymous with Russia. To Stefan Zweig he "possesses the face of the Russian people, because in him the whole of Russia lives and breathes"(Bartlett, Tolstoy, 1-7). This rare 1887 volume of six Tolstoy novellas in English contains the first publications, English issue, of My Husband and I (Russian, 1859; American, 1887), The Death of Ivan Iliitch (Russian, 1886; American, 1887); Polikouchka (Russian, 1863; American, 1887), Two Generations (Russian, 1856; American, 1887), The Romance of a Horse (Russian, 1886; American, 1887) and A Snow Storm (Russian, 1856; American, 1887). The title novella (alt. Family Happiness; Katia) is based on his courtship of Valeriia Arsenieva and signals his continuing exploration of a woman's search for love and fulfillment. This interest in "a female quest that overcomes the entrenched barriers of gender conventions" propels Anna Karenina (1877), but "nowhere is this more explicitly revealed than in Tolstoy's first major work devoted to the female quest, Family Happiness" (Cambridge Companion). The volume's second novella, The Death of Ivan Iliitch (alt. Ilyitch; Ilyich), offers an unforgettable portrayal of a dying man's final months, and remains "a work of remarkable power, hard-hitting in its pathos and psychology" (Andrew Kahn). The next work, Polikouchka (alt. Polikushka), is "Tolstoy's first story to have a peasant as its central figure" (Christian, Tolstoy, 93-4). "One of Tolstoy's best stories… [it] represents the tragic death of the hero as ultimately caused by the willful interference with the lives of her peasants by the well-meaning, but vain and stupid, landowner" (Isaiah Berlin, "Tolstoy and Enlightenment").
Two Generations (alt. Two Hussars), the next tale in this important edition, is "one of his most characteristic… as well as one of the most beautiful" (Calfino, Why Read the Classics?, 154). It echoes with "a feeling akin to… War and Peace " in its dramatic and "explicit ironic contrast between two epochs" (Tolstoy and Genesis of War and Peace, 32). Romance of a Horse (alt. Kholstomir, Strider), was written in 1863 but not published in Russian until over two decades later. "The final version bore the stamp of Tolstoy's subsequent spiritual development… when he returned to the piebald gelding who tells the story of his life, Tolstoy sought and achieved a brilliant analysis of… the justice implicit in any form of ownership, and the ultimate imperatives of any form of ownership" (Troyat, Tolstoy, 263). The concluding tale is A Snow Storm (alt. Metel, Lost on the Steppe), an early story that evokes Tolstoy's fascination with journeys of discovery in its account of a landowner who is caught in a blizzard and forced to rely on the courage of his peasant drivers. Tolstoy would return to this blending of interior consciousness and the timelessness of a blinding storm nearly 40 years later in his late masterpiece, Master and Man (1895). The publisher of this rare collection, "printer, engraver and journalist Henry Vizetelly, was a lively figure on the British literary scene. In addition to co-founding the Pictorial Times and the Illustrated Times he… set up the publishing firm of Vizetelly and Co., in 1882/4 with two of his sons, and one of their specialties consisted of translations of… Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy," Emile Zola and others (Heath, Purifying Empire, 67n). The edition's unattributed translations were possibly by Clara Bell, who also translated an 1886 Vizetelly edition of War and Peace. Collections containing editions in English issued the same year in New York, many with translations by N.H. Dole: no priority established. Containing 36-page publisher's catalog at rear, dated March 1887, including four pages of "Celebrated Russian Novels" that feature this title and other works by Tolstoy, as well as translations of works by Dostoevsky, Lermontov and Gogol. Issued in bindings of blue-green cloth (this copy) and blue cloth; no priority established. Ettlinger & Gladstone 25. Faint penciled owner inscription.
Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing mainly to preliminaries, expert reinforcement to inner hinges; faint soiling, light toning to spine of original cloth.