Theses Doctoral

Tolstoy and Zola: Trains and Missed Connections

Bond, Nina Lee

"Tolstoy and Zola" juxtaposes the two writers to examine the evolution of the novel during the late nineteenth century. The juxtaposition is justified by the literary critical debates that were taking place in Russian and French journals during the 1870s and 1880s, concerning Tolstoy and Zola. In both France and Russia, heated arguments arose over the future of realism, and opposing factions held up either Tolstoy's brand of realism or Zola's naturalism as more promising. This dissertation uses the differences between Tolstoy and Zola to make more prominent a commonality in their respective novels Anna Karenina (1877) and La Bête humaine (1890): the railways. But rather than interpret the railways in these two novels as a symbol of modernity or as an engine for narrative, I concentrate on one particular aspect of the railway experience, known as motion parallax, which is a depth cue that enables a person to detect depth while in motion. Stationary objects close to a travelling train appear to be moving faster than objects in the distance, such as a mountain range, and moreover they appear to be moving backward. By examining motion parallax in both novels, as well as in some of Tolstoy's other works, The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) and The Death of Ivan Il'ich (1886), this dissertation attempts to address an intriguing question: what, if any, is the relationship between the advent of trains and the evolution of the novel during the late nineteenth century? Motion parallax triggers in a traveller the sensation of going backward even though one is travelling forward. This cognitive dissonance relates to Tolstoy's and Zola's depictions of Darwinism in their works. Despite their differences, both writers subscribed to a belief in the "fallacy of progress" and thought that technology was causing man, contrary to expectations, to regress. This dissertation explores the relationships between Darwinism, trains, and nineteenth-century notions of progress and degeneration in not only Anna Karenina and La Bête humaine, but also in The Kreutzer Sonata, and Zola's Thérèse Raquin (1867) and Germinal (1885). The goal of this multi-disciplinary dissertation, which interweaves literary analysis with sociology, history of science, and visual cultural history, is to provide a new perspective on the relationship between technology and narrative.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Slavic Languages and Literatures
Thesis Advisors
Reyfman, Irina
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 28, 2011