For some years now I have been telling an anecdote, always prefacing it by announcing that it is my favorite literary anecdote, large parts of which, I have come to discover, I seem to have invented. I have not made the anecdote up out of whole cloth, but the dacron, the nylon, and the filaments of polyester in it are mine. In this anecdote Tolstoy and Chekhov are walking about Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s country estate. Tolstoy is in his standard rustic rig: loose tunic, baggy trousers held up by a hemp rope and tucked into boots that come up to his knees, a beard that resembles a triple serving of California sprouts, his famous potato nose (which was much like the actor Karl Maiden’s), and a floppy peasant hat. He is old and slightly crouched yet still sinewy and looking, as someone once described him, like a giant dwarf. Chekhov is in black suit and vest, a black round-brimmed hat pushed back off his forehead,...


New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now