Odd Man Out: The Young Tolstoj and the Image of the Raznochinec

Anne Hruska, University of California, Berkeley

In this paper, I will explore the image of the raznochinets inTolstoj's work before War and Peace. Despite the young Tolstoj's frequent insistance on the importance of being an aristocrat, in his work he continually, and not always with hostility, returns to the figure of the raznochinec. I will look at raznochincy in Tolstoj's works both as examples of traditional mid-nineteenth century assumptions about razno&chachek;incy, and also as examples of how Tolstoj subverts this tradition.

In the literary tradition of the 1840s and 50s, it was a truism that raznochincy are deeply lonely, often unloved by their parents, and unable to find lasting love, because of their social ineptitude and isolation. Tolstoj adopts this tradition in the person of Ilinka Grap, a thirteen-year-old raznochinec whom Nikolenka helps his friend Seryozha torment. Il'inka has all the outward signs of a raznochinec: his clothes are dirty and ill-fitting, and he is unable to participate in gymnastics,which aristocratic children were taught. Il'inka weeps at the thought that "five boys, whom perhaps he liked, all agreed to hate and persecute him without any reason."

The narrator wonders how he could have had so little sympathy with Il'inka; but almost immediately afterwards, Nikolenka goes to a ball, where he shows a gread deal of fellow feeling with Il'inka, committing similar faux pas, and feeling equally despised and persecuted. He has the wrong sort of gloves at the dance, is told by his grandmother that he "does not even know how to enter a room," and makes a fool of himself trying to dance a mazurka without knowing the steps. In the context of the 1850s these apparently minor details -- the wrong clothes, social ineptitude, and an inability to dance, were socially marked; mentioned together, they almost inevitably recall the plight of the raznochinec in general, and Il'inka Grap in particular.

And yet, at the same time that Nikolenka identifies with the raznochinec as an expression of his feelings of isolation, he is also redeemed from this isolation by maternal love. After his embarrassing failure at the mazurka, Nikolenka is able to remember that "if Mama were here, she would not blush for her Nikolenka." Nikolenka's mother, unlike her husband, is exceedingly kind to her social inferiors; Nikolenka, in his identification with the raznochincy, moves away from his more comme il faut father, and towards his mother, who loves peasants, poor tutors, holy fools, and her son, no matter what social mistakes he makes.

In Youth, Nikolenka moves away from identification with the raznochinec, concentrating instead on conforming to his father's rule of comme il faut. But the narrator makes it clear that comme il faut implies the rejection of the mother, while the decidedly inelegant raznochincy Nikolenka meets at the university seem more closely connected to Nikolenka's emotional ideal. The image of the raznochinec has changed for Nikolenka; rather than being associated with complete isolation, the raznochinec is someone closely connected with female love, in a way that Nikolenka can only imagine.

I will end by looking at The Infected Family, in which the raznochinec anti-hero is a far cry from the appealing plebeians of Youth. Venerovskij is guilty of the usual sins of which nihilists were accused by their unsympathetic contemporaries: rudeness, ugliness, awkwardness, sexual impurity, and contempt for the sanctity of the family. Tolstoj also concentrates on Venerovskij's pride, and his assumption of moral superiority over all those around him. With the sole exception of his pernicious nihilist philosophy, Venerovskij's flaws are ones that Tolstoj hated in himself. Some of Venerovskij's lines are quite similar to sections from Tolstoj's diary -- which would have been fresh in his mind, since he had given it to his young bride to read only the year before. Even the ages of Venerovskij and his prospective wife (thiry-five and eighteen) correspond to those of Tolstoj and Sof'ja Andreevna when he began writing The Infected Family.

I will suggest that Tolstoj's ambivalent attitude towards the raznochincy arose from an odd sort of identification with them. The raznochinec seems to have been, for him, a figure on the outskirts of love: either an example of the all-redeeming power of affection (especially maternal affection), or, like Venerovskij, an outcast from emotion. To use Richard Gustafson's terms, then, the raznochinec, for Tolstoj, was an image of both Resident and Stranger.