Rilke and Tolstoy: The Predicament of Influence

by Anna A. Tavis
Rilke and Tolstoy: The Predicament of Influence
Anna A. Tavis
The German Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License

Rilke and Tolstoy: The Predicament of Influence

As Rainer Maria Rilke approached his 50th birthday, he was frequently asked to name influences on his career and literary work. In 1924, in response to a letter from the Swiss literary historian Alfred Schaer, Rilke mentioned the Russian writers Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolai Nekrasov, Ivan Turgenev, and Afanasij Fet.l The name of Leo 'Iblstoy was conspicuously absent from his list. Several months later, in his answer to another biographical inquiry, he flatly denied that Tolstoy had had any literary effect on him whatsoever. 'Iblstoy's role was a strictly cul- tural one, Rilke explained, and it would have been false to attribute to his visits with the Russian novelist any influence on his work at that time. Tolstoy, after all, only confirmed the discovery of Russia which be- came decisive to him. Tolstoy's image cap tivated Rilke's imagination as an artist who was struggling against his own creative genius. Rilke found Tolstoy's anti-aesthetics fatal and at the same time moving because it appeared to him authentic and protected from above. Only in this way could the young writer who had made his commitment to art understand the con- tradictory Russian elder. Rilke explained in a biographical note:

Nur so konnte ein junger Mensch, dessen Entschlul3, das game Leben 1angKunst zu machen, schon gefal3t war, jenen wider- spruchsvollen Greis auffassen, der in sich an der stiindigen Unterdriickung dessen arbeitete, was ihm im gijttlichsten Sinne auferlegt worden war; der sich mit un- endlicher Miihe bis ins eigene Blut hinein widerrief und mit den ungeheueren Kriif-

ten nicht fertig wurde, die sich in seinem

unterdriickten und verleugneten Kiinst-

lertum unerschi5pflich erne~ten.~

Lou Andreas-Salom6's memoir Lebensriickblick (1931433) corroborated Rilke's assertions. She recalled that at the time of their travels in Russia, 'Iblstoy served as an archetype of the "eternal Russian" (&r ewi- ge Russe) and that his role was primarily symbolic. The image of the novelist formed for them, so to speak, a point of entry into Russia. Andreas-Salom6 remembered:

Denn wenn's auch bereits friiher Dostoy- evsG gewesen war, der Rainer die Tiefen menschlicher Seele an Russen erschlossen, so wurde es doch 'Iblstoi, der ihm gleichsam den Russen ale solchen ver- korperte-infolge der Gewalt seiner dich- terischen Eindringlichkeit in allen ~childerungen.~

Neither Rilke's answers to his biog- raphers nor Andreas-Salom6's testimony could be fully trusted. For, indeed, despite Rilke's public denials of 'Iblstoy's impor- tance for his work, he privately spoke about the Russian master in reverential tones. He was young and dadent at the time of his journeys with Andreas-Salom6 and had no access to the language in which he could convincingly explain the complex phenom- enon of 'Iblstoy's personality and its impact. Rilke's readiness to believe in the messianic Russian soul, the romantic russische Seele, as well as his refusal to recognize the un- glamorous sides of the Russian national character, puzzled his friends and ag- gravated his critics. A.s he pursued his in- terest in Russia in future years, more im-

TheGermanQuarterly 65.2 (1992) 192

mediate influences and impressions con- tributed to his characteristically private image of the russische Dinge in general and 'Iblstoy in particular.

Rilke had been familiar with Tolstoy's work since his student days in Prague.4 In a letter of 12 February 1894, he noted that 'Iblstoy, Zola, and Turgenev had been his prophets, and for a long time seemed to have promised the coming of a new and happier age. His aspirations at the time, however, were directed westwards from Prague, toward German cultural centers in Berlin and Munich, where he hoped to join small circles of like-minded artists and poets. He later remembered his decision as a turning point in his life: "Aber in einer einsamen Stunde ging eine Wandlung in mir vor . . . Ich habe es mir zur Pflicht gemacht, in un- serer alles iibertiinenden Zeit eine kleine Schaar zu werben, die wahre Lyrik schatzt und liebt."5 'Iblstoy became important for Rilke after he had met Lou Andreas-Salomk in Munich, in May 1897, and had begun to study Russian culture with her guidance. In 1898, when Rilke was preparing for his first Russianjourney, Tolstoy had just pub- lished his brochure What IsArt?,a provoca- tive denunciation of aesthetics that scan- dalized European intellectuals and the artistic community at large, issued as it was by the world's leading novelist. Both Rilke and Andreas-SalomB responded to 'Iblstoy in print: Rilke wmte an essay 'ijber Kunst" and Andreas-SalomB an article entitled "Leo 'Iblstoi: Unser Zeitgenosse."

Rilke twice met Tolstoy personally: in Moscow in 1899, and at lblstoy's country estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in the following year. He rarely recalled the first occasion but left detailed descriptions of the latter in his diaries, letters, and private notes. In 1909, Rilke gave the Yasnaya Polyana meeting its definitive narrative form. He dramatized in the drafts of his novel Die Aufieichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge, the so-called Tolstoi-Schlusse, the dilemma of Tolstoy the man, whose literary and human genius captivated the contemporary imagination, and Tolstoy the apos- tate preacher, who worshiped an intangible moral God.

In November 1910, Rilke was deeply af- fected by the news of 'Iblstoy's death at an unknown provincial train station. He im- mediatelywroteto his estranged wife, tell- ing her that the thought of the eighty-two- year-old who had fled his home and family to seek a free death made everything in his own life appear obscure and in~ignificant.~ 'Iblstoy's personality continued to occupy Rilke long after the elder's death. In 1913, he responded in a series of penetrating let- ters to the publication of Tolstoy's correspondence with his aunt, Countess Alexandrine 'Ibl~ta~a.~

In 1915, finding himself trapped in wartime Munich, Rilke once again remembered Tolstoy as a great master in the portrayals of death:

Dieser Mensch hat an sich und an anderen
viele Arten von Todesangst beobachtet,
denn auch noch seiner eigenen Furcht
Beobachter zu sein, war ihm durch seine
natiirliche Fassung gegeben, und sein
Verhiiltnis zum Tbde wird bis zuletzt eine
grol3artig durchdrungene Angst gewesen
sein, eine Fuge von Angst gleichsam, ein
riesiger Bau . . .8

In 1919, when Rilke toured Switzerland with a series of public lectures and readings, he dedicated them to important personalities in his life, including 'Iblstoy.'

For his part, 'Iblstoy paid little attention to Rilke at their first meeting and ignored his young Western visitor completely on the second occasion. After the blunt question in the first minutes of their conversation, Womit befasen Sie sich?, and the timid answer, Mit hrik, Rilke was of no further interest to the eminent novelist for the rest of their meeting.1° As Maxim Gorky suc- cinctly explained, Tolstoy acted like a "collector of rarities who only accepted those that would not spoil the harmony of his col- lection."ll When another visitor mentioned Rilke's name in 1910, Tolstoy did not remember knowing him.12

Like the majority of Western intellec- tuals, Rilke never gave up hope for 'Iblstoy'a eventual return to literature. When 'Ibl- stoy's last novel, Resurrection, appeared in the spring of 1899, shortly before Rilke's first Russian trip, Rilke received it asa sign of the writer's long-awaited compromise. Resurrection, he believed, finally brought together Tolstoy's moral goal to reform hu- manity, and his natural urge to create fic- tional lives. Rilke expressed his hope of Tolstoy's return to literature in a letter to the Russian artist and art historian Alek- sandr Benois when he wrote in 1901:

War der Tblstoi der tausend Widerspriiche nicht der grol3e unvergleichliche Kiinstler, der jetzt nur miihsam durch die organi- sche Versteinerung seiner personlichen Lebensanschauung durchbricht, wie jenea wunderbare Friihlingsgras am Anfang von Voskresenie?13

Rilke's future work with Rodin and his fascination for CBzanne in later years helped him identify 'Iblstoy's place in his life more specifically. Rudolf Kassner, the con- temporary Austrian philosopher and a per- sonal friend of his, recalled that those three artists, Rodin, CBzanne, and 'Iblstoy, repre- sented the triumvirate of Rilke's artistic "mentors.""Ja, diese AltenundVater waren die GroRen und Starkenvor 1914," Kassner remembered, "Rilke horte auf sie, erschrocken und doch auch froh dariiber, daR es das noch gab: solche schreiende, tobende Alten und GroRen wie Rodin, wie azanne, wie Tolstoi."14

Each one of the three "Homeric elders," as Rilke called his three mentors,l6 made his distinctive contribution in shaping Rilke's artistic credo. Count 'Iblstoy initially towered as a wayward iconoclast, Rilke's great antipode; the indefatigable artisan Rodin followed in his footsteps and became a much admired though contentious teach- er; and the ascetic peasant-like Paul (2.6zanne presented him, at last, with the model of total abandonment and dedication which Rilke aspired to emulate.

Rilke never wrote a monograph, or com- pleted an essay, about Tolstoy, as he did

QUARTERLY Spring1992

about Rodin; he never intended to collect and publish separately the scattered ac- counts of hi thoughts and impreseions of Tolstoy, as he did with his Briefe uber C6mne. 'Iblstoy became, instead, the only one of his three masters whom he trans- formed into a fictional hero, a character in his novel. To understand the nature of 'Iblstoy's preaence in Rillre's life and career, one should bear in mind the two writers' fundamental similarities and take into ac- count their radical differences.

As authors, Rilke and 'Iblstoy shared a basic deeire for unity between life and art. Rilke once intimated, in his early letter to Andreas-SalomB, that even he '%ill ja Kunst und Leben nicht voneinanderreil3en; ich weia, dd sie irgendwann und irgendwo eines Sinnes sind."16 'Iblstoy, in turn, pro- posed his own definition of such unity, asserting that art "is a means of union among people joining them together in the same feelings indispensable for life and prograss towards well-being of individuals and of humanity."17 Rilke and 'Iblstoy would have agreed that it was both easier to create without answering to life, and to live without reckoning with art.18 'Ibescape from this vexed homology, each offered his own solution, hence their fundamental dis- agreement. Rilke renounced earthly com- mitments, including his wife and child, in order to dedicate his life to art. Lefton his own, he often lost faith in the benevolence of the outside world, and recurrent spells of depreseion threatened him with the loss of ~reativity.~~'Iblstoy,

incontrast, was willing to compromise his art in order to make peace with life.20 Ironically, however, he found himself alone, much like Rilke, paralyzed by being toopurely,toopainfully ethical.21

The two writers were remarkably similar, nevertheless, in their views of the artist's personal responsibility for his art. The question of "how to write" they under- stoodasthe question of"how to be a writer." There were no authorless texts in Rilke's and 'Iblstoy's literary worlds: all writers were actively involved; all were in the midst of their creative projects, all were held responsible for the specific contracts they negotiated between life and art. The more engaging the texts, the more central their creators. To ask Rike about "influences"on his career meant to confront him with a question of his attitude to a particular way of authoring, to the writer's life. When he denied Tolstoy's influence on his work, he simply expressed his nonacceptance of Tolstoy's choice of being an author. When he acknowledged Tolstoy's unquestionable prasence in his life, he confirmed his strong desire to resist a powerful anti-model. At the end of his life, Rilke acknowledged that to try to locate all of what was called "in- fluencas" would have been a futile under- taking. Centripetal and centrifugal forces were at work in his rasponse to others. One thing affected him by its perfection (Vollhmmenheit), the other, bybeingrecog- nizably inappropriate, forced, and foreign to his aesthetic sensibilities, he ex~lained.~~

There was nothing mystical in Rilke's ambivalence toward Tolstoy. Rather, his negative identification with the erring Rus- sian master became one of the most effec- tive ways of constituting his artistic selfand his texts. Rilke dascribed later his fun- damental need to be in the opposition:

Was ich kiinstlerisch schreibe, wird wohl bis zuletzt irgendwo die Spuren des Widerspruchs aufweisen, mittels dessen ich mich angetreten habe. . . vor ihm nicht nach auswarts, sondern ins Tiefere aus- weichen, dem Druck der Verhaltnisse nicht so sehr widerstreben, als vielmehr ihn ausnutzen, urn durch ihn in eine dich- tere, tiefere, eigentiimlichere Schicht der eigenen Natur eingesetzt zu werden. 23

Apassage in the eighth Duim Elegy echoed this idea poetically: "Dieees heat Schicksal: gegenuber sein // und nichts als das und immer gegenuber." Rilke's relationship with Tolstoy thus became none other than an early stage in his artistic becoming, an im- portant event whose specific circumstances have to be reexaminedin their proper con- text, rather than matched with a preconceived interpretative schema.

It seems appropriate to focus our ex- amination of 'Iblstoy's role in Rilke's career on the time of hifinal reconciliation with the "mging" Russian elder. The event that marked the decisive change in Rilke's at- titude toward Tolstoy waa the publication in 1920 ofthe German translationofMaxim Gorky's Erinnerungen an l'blst~i.~~

Rilke admitted to several of his correspondents that Gorky's essay had helped him finally to identify the right language in which he could speak about Tolstoy without painful omissions, silences, and embarrassing in- hibitions. Gorky alone, as far as Rilke was concerned, had been able to articulate frankly and clearly his own feelings ex- perienced as a guest and observer at Tolstoy's house two decadas earlier. "Alsich zu 'Iblstoi reiste, war mein inneres zu-ihm- Bezogensein ebenso kontrasthaft in seinen Betonungen, ebenso unvereinlich," he remembered identifying with Gorki's difficulty in completing his memoir.26 No one before Gorky had been able to sketch a psychological portrait of the Russian writer with such a complexity, that expressed hi secret suspicions and doubts and did not require apologias or explanations. "Maxim Gorki hat as hier zustande gebracht, ein Zeugnis grijater Liebe und Bewunderung fiir den alten Tolstoi abzulegen; im Gegen- teil, er hat sich nirgends dasLeidenerspart, abtragliche Einsichten und Verdachte genau und riicksichtsloe aufzuzeichnen"26 Only a true Russian artist of Gorky's sen- sitivity, Rilke was convinced, could venture into the depths of Tolstoy's unfathomable psyche with due insight and understanding. Behind Rilke's sympathy for most of Gorky's probing into Tolstoy's character was the latter's ability to combine analmoet filial affection for the old man with a recog- nition and unflattering portrayal of the un- pleasant aspects of Tolstoy's character. Moreover, Rilke felt affinity with Gorky's hasitation before giving Tolstoy's character

its final literary shape.

For Rilke, Gorky's memoir served as an opportunity to reexamine his attitude toward Tolstoy at a time when he was suc- cessfully heading his oyn growing literary cult. The shift in perspective from an ap prentice to Tolstoy's coequal might have ac- counted for the heightened awareness, in- terest, and new understanding with which Rilke responded to Gorky's psychobio- graphical ~enture.~

"Ich sagte oben: Inter- esse," he wrote in an informal review, "aber ich habe weit mehr fir diese Aufzeichnun- gen Gorki's, ich kann es wohl Einsehennen- nen.'QB

The paradoxical effect of Gorky's presen- tation was that he, an atheist, could best identify the three fundamental concerns which had dominated Rilke's own views of Tolstoy. Those three central issues were: God, art, and the artist in their mutual responsibilities and interactions. Gorky succeeded in dramatizing these triple Tolstoyan topics in vivid episodes from the writer's life. His method of fleshing out ideas with the episodes from "real-life" ap pealed to Rilke's aesthetic sensibility; he himself kept such visualized concepts in his active repertoire of artistic devices.

Gorky opened his memoir with the an- nouncement that Tolstoy was a"Godseeker" who had lost his way. The idea of God, Gorky wrote, disturbed Tolstoy's peace of mind more frequently than any other.29 Similar- ly, Rilke was seen by his Russian friends as a German pilgrim, a Gotkrucher in their land who impressed them as a pious and sensitive young man, a visitor to Russia from the world of higher spiritual har- mony30 Rilke, indeed, came to Russia determined to replace his lost Western God by the Russian deity of the artists.31 He found in Russia an ideal Iandscape in which to locate "his unique God of the future," the God who did not lose touch with the people and still lived among them, reincarnated. Tolstoy himself could have become an em- bodiment of such a new God; not a god from Olympus or the Lord of Sabaoth but some

Spring 1992

Russian fairy-tale god "seated on a throne of maple-wood beneath a golden linden- tree.''32 Instead, Tobtoy became aomeone who betrayed Rillre's ideal of the Russian God,the God of the artiste. As Gorky put it, he was "more cunning than all the other gods together," and therefore more human, vulnerable to delusions, and open to inter- rogation. The image of the unholy elder treadingthe vast Russian fields thus took a place far from majestic in the pantheon of Rilke's artistic models. He was destined to bear an uncanny resemblance to the bearded God-muzhik, the main hero in Rilke's collection of stories Die Geschichten vom lkben Gott (1899-1900).The main hero of the Russian tale 'Wie der Verrat nach RuRland kam" lived in the world and, much like Tolstoy, occupied himself with building houses. Unlike Tolstoy, however, he turned out to be the genuine Ruseian


Another of Gorky's central imagea of Tolstoy suggested a connection with the wayward icon painter, the wandering protagonist in Rilke's early cycle Dm Stum den-Buch(1905).The Russianmonkof'Das Buch vom monckhen Leben," Part I of the cycle, addresses his God in the casual, matter-of-fact manner of an equal:

Du,Nachbar Gott, wenn ich dich


in langer Nacht mit hartem Klopfen


so ists,weil ich dich selten atmen hore

und weiB: Du bist allein irn

In Gorky's presentation, Tolstoy was an irreverent pilgrim and an iconoclast, much like Rilke's pilgrim. He paced the earth, his staff in hi hand, his whole life covering thousands of miles from monastery to monastery, hm shrine to shrine, terribly homeless, alien to everyone and everything. 'The world was not for him-nor God, either. He prayed to him from habit, but in his secret heart he hated Him. The question he asked was why did he have to drive him over

the world, to the ends of the earth-whysa Rilke's own homelessness, hiscosmopolitan wandering from country to country, from city to city, from hotel rooms and attics to castles and villas, represented the Western version of Tolstoy's spiritual pilgrimage.

After years of anxiety and resistance; after rejection and condemnation of Tolstoy's defection from literature, Rilke finally discovered in Gorky's literary portrait a sympathetic character with whom he felt affinity and compassion. Gorky's description of 'Iblstoy as a 'konder- ful one-man orchestra, endowed with the ability to play several instruments simul- taneously-+ trumpet, a drum, an accor- dion, and a flute,"36 appealed to Rilke's image ofan ultimate artist. Thus, at the end of his life, Rilke experienced a rare moment of identification and reconciliation with his lifelong opponent, and the shadow of the erring elder no longer haunted him and his art.

An examination of Tolstoy's extraordi- nary hold on Rilke's imagination would be incomplete if limited to a discussion of their two meetings alone, or merely to reviews, conversations, and publicstatements. Rilke had to rewrite the scenario of his visit to Yasnaya Polyana in his own terms in order to demystify completely for himself the enigma of 'Iblstoy's conversion. Each time he recorded the memorable event, he gave it a new stylistic form, edited and expanded its plot to accommodate his new under- standing of it. Finally, the vast grayish fields ofYasnaya Polyana were transformed into the setting for the dramatic return of the biblical Prodigal Son. Only in 1962, when the drafts of Rilke's novel were made public, did they reveal that the present end- ing of the novel Die Aufzeichnungen des Mdte Laurids Brigge (1910) concealed a virtual palimpsest. It became known that Rilke was deciding among three alternative conclusionsin the final stages of the novel's editing: the two so-called Tolstoi-Schliisse and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.36 The discovered textual connection between the real 'Iblstoy and the fictional Malte shed new light on the nature of Tolstoy's place in Rilke's career.

In his novel, Rilke describes the fate of a young Dane, Malte Laurids Brigge, who left home, family, and his country to come to Paris in order to dedicate himself to art. Malte's decision cost him his life; he was fighting a losing battle against the city and died an unknown and destitute deatha3' To contrast Malte's lot, Rilke drafted the portrait of the famous proeelyte from litera- ture, Tolstoy. Rike's allegiances in the con- frontation between two very different artis- tic destinies were not difficult to detect: he favored Malte's unconditional faith above 'Iblstoy's apostasy and desertion. At the end of the novel, Malte goes on an imaginary journey to visit Tolstoy and to confront him with the question about the nature of artis- tic commitment. The two Tolstoi-Schliisse vividly dramatize the tragedy of Tolstoy's situation as seen through Malte's eyes.

The first draft represents a meditation upon the artist's relationship to God.'Wenn Gott kt," the opening line reads, "so ist alles getan und wir sind triste, iiberzahlige hrlebende, fur die es gleichgiiltig ist, mit welcher Scheinhandlung sie sich hinbrin- gen."38 If God were indeedUdead," the artist alone would be capable of mediating the Divine and bringing its imagas to the world. Tolstoy, unlike the uncompromising Malte, struck a Faustian pact with the Tempter (Versucher) who succeeded in convincing him that inventing fictional lives was im- moral as long as real lives had to be reck- oned with. Following the Tempter's false call, Tolstoy abandoned his art and dis- sipated his talent with trifling manual trades.39 His betrayal resulted in the pain- ful struggle against the natural creative force and brought about the fear of dying an "unachieved" death. Malte found Tolstoy at the end of his life, when the old man was ready to upset the entire world to find his peace of mind.40 Tolstoy's internal turmoil contrasted with Malte's inward composure; it served as a reminder of the importance of faith in the face of the adversities of fate.

The second draft takea up where the first one leaves off; it continues to develop the theme of Malte's visit to Yasnaya Polyana while adding to it an autobiographical dimension. The ending's opening question invites further reevaluation of the past: 'Wozu Ellt mir auf einmal jener fremde Maimorgen ein? Sol1 ich ihnjetzt verstehen nach soviel Jahren?"41 A succession of descriptive details accentuates the Russian setting of the scene: a long telega ride through the nearby villages, the poor peasant huts gathered on the slopes of the hill, the blue fields of forget-me-nots, a walk to the famous white house through the old park, and then, finally, a long and patient wait for the host.

The story's allegorical center is the scene of Malte's contemplation of a forgotten an- cestral portrait hidden in the dark corners of 'Iblstoy's family gallery. As old paintings often do, the portrait contains a clue to the tragic secret of the house. It portrays a nun, a 17th-centuryabbess ofa convent ofastrict canonical order. Her disproportionately large hands capture the observer's eye; they grow out of the picture to become too real, toolive to conform to the conventions of the 17th-century portraiture. The grotesque awkwardness of those hands symbolizes for the onlooker the artist's unconscious refusal to follow canonical prescriptions. It was precisely such experiences of sudden in- spiration that have been consistently sup pressed in this house, Malte observes. There was not a single corner of the house which was not filled with spiritual suffer- ing. When the host finally appears, Malte cannot help asking himself, contemplating the elder's face:

War er nun ruhig? Wie, wenn die ungeheuer angewachsene Forderung seines Werkes sich noch einmal in ihm erhiibe? Man stand vor ihm, man zwang sich ad- zusehen, man wul3t.e es r~icht.~~

The elder's authority is beingexposed, made vulnerable, and opened to questioning.

Never again will Malte experience such a simultaneity of fear and The 'Iblstoy of the second draft thue acquires an Arietotelian tragic stature: he is guilty and at the same time innocent in his sufFering. It is precisely such an internal "overcoming" of the faltering father and the return of the filial compassion that the novel's third end- ing succeeds in projecting.

To resolve his anxiety about 'Iblstoy, Rilke omits the elder's image from his ver- sion of the Parable of the Wgal Son al- together. In his retelling, the biblical legend becomes the story of the returning son rather than of the forgiving father. Rilke's opening line reads: "Man wid mich schwer davon iiberzeugen, dal3 die Geschichte dea verlorenen Sohnes nicht die Legende des- sen ist, der nicht geliebt werden ~0llt.e.'~ The son who returns to the ancestral home is now different; he has not come to seek love or forgiveness. On the contrary, he comes to confirm his independence and to set himself free from memory, finally and irrevocably. As the son becomes more central in Rilke's story, the father (a 'Iblstoyan character) anonymously retreats into the household crowd, unmentioned, in- visible, and incon~equential.~~

The decision whether to stay or to go is no longer the father's or the family's but the son's own. The prodigal's world is now beyond their influence; and Rilke leaves his decision un- certain: 'Wir wissen nicht, ob er blieb; wir *en nur, dal3 er wiederkam."46

Rilke's preference for the legend of the Prodigal Son over the two earlier Tolstoy endings suggests an answer to his predica- ment with Tolstoy's role in his life. Tolstoy had failed him as a model on several counts. His primary transgression consisted in his refusal to take art as seriously asreligious faith. He was toovain and tooimpatient to wait for the results of the artist's "still and aimless work," and willfully destroyed in his impatience the '8lessed soil of his na- ture." Left without the difficult faith of the artist, Tolstoy blindly attached himself to those who were incapable of creating their

TAVIS:Rilkeand Tolstoy 199

own, and while desperately needing one, accepted the ready-made God of the crowd.47 Rilke, as his Malte, always believed that art was a faith in its own right, higher than religion, and the only worth- while path for humanity to follow. The sight of Tolstoy's dissipation of his genius and the personal suffering which his conversion had inflicted made Rilke even stronger and more determined in his convictions. Tolstoy's Yasnaya Polyana offered no shel- ter to a searching young artist; rather, it served as a sad monument to the tragic dis- illusionment without art. To paraphrase the present ending of Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge: to take all this once more, and this time really, upon him- self-this was the reason why Rilke, then the estranged and mature artist, returned to 'Iblstoy, the puzzling experience of his youth.48


lRilke to Alfred Schaer, 26 February 1924, in Rainer Maria Rilke, Briefe aus Muzot, 1921-1926, (Leipzig: Insel, 1937) 252-57.

2Rike to Hermann Pons, 21 Odober 1924; Briefe aus Muzot 324. 3Lou Andreas-SalomC, Lebensriickblick (Frankfurt am M.: Insel, 1968) 117.

4Carl Sieber, the biographer of Rike's early years, claims that Rike read Tolatoy's work aa a etudent at the Linz Trade Academy in 1891-1892. See Sieber, Rene' Rilke, die Jugend Rainer Maria Rilkes (Leipzig: Insel, 1932) 108.

5Rike to an unnamed correspondent, 12 Feb- ruary 1894, in Ingeborg Schnack, Rainer Maria Rilke: Chronik seines Lebens und seines Werkes (Frankfurt am M.: Insel, 1975) I: 26.

Qilke to Clara Rilke, 18 November 1910.

Quoted in Schnack I: 358-59.

'IRilke to Marie von Thurn und Taxie, 14 August 1913, Rilke-Marie won Thurn und Taxis, Briefwechsel (Frankfurt am M.: Insel, 1986) I: 309; Rilke to Eva Cassirer, 17 September 1913, Rainer Maria Rilke, Briefe aw den Jahren 1907-1914 (Leipzig: Insel, 1933) 298300; and Rilke to Eva Cassirer, 2 January 1914, Rainer Maria Rilke, Briefe aus den Jahren 1907-1914 324-28.

Qilke to Lotte Hepner, 8 November 1915, Briefe in 3Bd (Frankfurt am M.: Inael, 1987) 11: 515.

%itue,Luck(ed.),RainerMariaRilk Schwei- zer Vortragsreise, 1919 ( Frankfurt am M.: Insel, 1986) 126-32.

l%latoy's intransigence on the questions of art and aesthetics had become notorious. Peter Tchaikowky advised hia friends, for example, that it was best to "avoid meeting'blatoy on the street, lmt . . . conversation should turn to the arts." (Quoted in Rimvydan Silbajorie, Tolstoy's Aesthet- ics and his Art (Columbus Ohio: Slavica Publish- ers, 1990) 296.

1lMaxim Gorlqy, "LevTolatoy," trans, by Ivy Livinslqy, in hia Literary Portraits (Moscow: Progrms Publishers, 1982) 118.

l%Tohannes Kordes, UErinnerungen an Jaanaya Polyana," Deutsche Monatschrift fiir Ruplcmd, No. 2 (February 1912): 15741.

13Rilke to Benoie, 28 July 1901, in Konstantin Asadowski, Rilke und Rupland (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau-Verlag, 1986) 295.

IdRudolf Kassner, URike," in hie Gesammelte Erinnerungen. 1926-1956 ed. Klaus E. Bohnen- kamp (Pfullingen: Nmke, 1976) 38.

15Katharina Kippenberg, Rainer Maria Rilke: Ein Beitrag (4th ed. Zurich: Niehans and Rokitanslqy, 1948) 170.

16Rilke to Andreae-SalomB, 11August 1903;

Rainer Maria Rilke-Lou Anclreas-Salom6 Briefwechsel (Frankfurt am M.: Imel, 1975) 108. 17LeoN. Tolstoy, What Is Art?, tram. Almyer Maude (New York: Macmillan, 1986) 51.

18Mikhail Bakhtin, 'Tskueetvo i Otvetatven- nost" ('Art and Responsibility") in Estetikaslouestnogo tuorchestua (Moscow: Iskusetvo, 1979) 6.

1gAndreae-~alom6'snotee and letters provide a thorough account of Rike's peychological condi- tion. In a letter to Rilke announcing their eepara- tion and called by her 'Zetzter Zuruf," she predicted for him the fate of the Russian writer Vswolod Garshin. (Garshin took his life in a fit of insanity): '?)as waa Du und ich den 'Anderen' in Dir nannten,--dieaen bald deprimirten, bald excitirten, einst Allzufurchbamen, dam Allzuhinge- riesenen,-hs war ein ihm wohlbekannter und unheimlicher Geeell, der dae Seeliach-krankhafte fortfiihren kann zu Riickenmarkaerkrankung oder in'e Geiiteakranke. Dies brauchtjedoch nicht zu sein." Andreas-SalomB to Rilke, 26 February 1901;Briefwechsel53.

2@l'he unedifying spectacle of Toletoy's family life might have indirectly confied Rike's convic- tion that one could not have family happinms and hia art at the same time. If art was one's choice, then happiness should have been found elsewhere.

21Bakhtin, in his eeeay on the 'Author and the Hem in Aesthetic Activity," created a convincing typologv of common typw of "authorship &is." For their analysis, see Caryl Emerson, 'Tmblemn with Bakhtin'a Poetics," Slauic and East European Journal 32.4 (1988): 503-25.

2%lke to Alfred Schaer, 26 February 1924; Briefe amMuwt 253. 23Rilke to Rudof Boander, 13 March 1922; Briefe orw Muwt 129. 24Maxim Gorki, Erinnerungen an Tolstoi, (Munich: Der neue Merkur, 1920,2nd. ed. 1921).

26Rilke to Mary Dobneneky, 11March 1921; quoted in Liick, Rilke: Schweizer Vortragsreise 12!3-30; similarly, in Rilke to Lily Ziegler, 14 March 1921, and to Rudolf Zimmermann, 17 April 1921; Briefe, II: 674-75.

26Rilke to Rudolf Zimmermann, 17 April 1921, Briefe II:674.

27~haracteristically, Gorky's reflections about Tolatoy's personality interested Rilke much more than the countless review and contemporary crit- ical analyses of Tolstoy the writer.

28Rilke to Mary Dobneneky, 11March 1921, in Liick, Rilke: Schweizer Vortragsreise 129.

29Gorky, "Lev Toletoy" 92.

%ofia N. Schill, "Erinnerungen," in ha- dowaky, Rilke und Rupland 446. The Russian writer Vasily Janchevetsky entitled his reminiscences of Rilke Der Gottsucher. It was not only Rilke's Russian frienda who saw him as a "God- seeker," however, and even though Rilke was greatly irritated by such an image promoted in Denmark by his friend Ellen Key, henever objected to his reputation among the Russian friende.

31For an account of Rilke's religious quest before Russia, see Wolfram Legner, 'The Religion of Rainer Maria Rilke before HisVisits to Russia," Monatshefte 30 (1938): 440-53.

32Gorky, 'Zev Toletoy" 93.

33Rainer Maria Rilke, Shtliche Werke, (Frankfurt am M.: Insel, 1955-66) I: 255. %brky, ULev Toletof' 97. 35Gorky, "Lev Tolstoy" 130. 36~atriciaP. Brodaky gives a close textual an

alysis of the Tobtoi-Schlusse in Chapter 7, "Death and Authenticity: Malte Lauride Brigs," of her detailedstudy Russia in the Worh ofRainerMaria Rilke (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1984). Brodeky does not discuss the question of continuity between the Tolstoi-Schliisse and the legend of the Prodigal Son.

37~lthoughthe queation of Malte's end ia left open in the novel itself, Rillse indicated in his letters that its outcome was tragic. Writing to Clara Rilke on 19 October 1907, Rilke remarked: "DaR die neu ermngene Freiheit sich gegen ihn wandte und ihn, den Wehrlosen, zerril3" (Briefe I: 195). On 8 September 1908, he once again wrote: UDer ?bd Brigges: das war &annw Leben, daa Leben seiner dreiaigletzten Jahre" (Briefe I: 235). Ina letterto Andreas-Salom6 of28December 1911, Rilke called Malte der Untergegangne, someone who Umit den Krkhn und Gegenstiinden meinee Lebens den immensen Aufwand seines Unter- gangs betrieben [hat]" (Briefe I: 300). Of particular interest is Rilke's draft of the novel's beginning which wan originally meant to frame the narrative. The narrator in the draft remembers Malte as someone who wan no longer alive: Venn ich mich zwinge an diesen Menschen zu denken,--der eine Weile mit mir gelebt hat und eines Tagee mein Leben verlassen hat, leiee wie man ein Theater verliDt bei offener Biihnen (Rilke, Shtliche Werke

VI: 949). =Rilke, Shtliche Werke VI: 967. 3Q~mrding

to Ermt Zinn, Rilke gathered his information about Toletoy's life from P. Birukov's biography of the writer: Lko Iblstoi, Viet (Euvre: Mimoires, souvenirs, lettrea, extraita ahjournd intime, notes et documents biographiques (Paris: Mercure de France, 190608).

40U. . . daD er die game Welt beunruhigte um seiner Ruhe willen"; Rilke, Shtliche Werke VI:

970. 41Rilke, Shtliche Werke VI: 971. 42Rilke, Shtliche Werke VI: 975-76. 43RJke, Shtliche Werke VI: 973. 44Rilke, Shtliche Werke VI: 938. 46The disappearance of the father from Rilke's

parable may be justifiably seen as Rilke's reuponse to the "patricidal" oedipal predilection of hia age. It parallels contemporary worka of which he was unquestionably aware: Dostoyeveky's The Broth- ers Kmazov, Kafka's Das Urteil, Gide's Le Retour de l'enfoat pdgue, and Franz Werfel's Nicht der MGrder, der Emrdete ist schulclig.

4%lke, Stimtliche Werke VI: 945.

47".. . dal3er sich bangaamzu dem fertigen Gott entschloR, der gleich zu haben war, zu dem verab- redeten Gottderer, die keinen machen kiinnen und doch einen brauchen." Rilke, Shtliche Werke VI:


4%iw alles noch einmal und nun wirklich auf sich zu nehmen, war der Grund, weehalb der Ent- fremdete heimkehrte." Rilke, Shtliche Werke VI:


  • Recommend Us