The lack of a question mark in the title reveals much about Steiner's mind concerning his two subjects. In one sense, the title is more in the nature of a statement than a question. For Steiner, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky represent the most sublime literature of the modern age. Again and again, Steiner's phrases contain Homer, Shakespeare, Dante...Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. Their work is ''massive,'' ''titanic,'' ''epic.'' Thus far, they are placed together, and the title implies, ''These are the two greatest novelists of all, they have no rival.'' But there is another sense in which the title implies a question. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky represent the two most fundamental and divergent outlooks possible on the world, on human nature and God. The burden of this study is to reveal the radically irreconcilable nature of their visions, and Steiner does this not just by analyzing their novels and stories, but by taking us inside them -- his readings of their texts are simply brilliant. When we finish this book, the questioning aspect of the title becomes stark: Which outlook do we share? Whose vision will we choose? Tolstoy's or Dostoevsky's? 384 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
George Steiner's Tolstoy or Dostoevsky has become a classic among scholars of Russian literature. An essay in poetic and philosophic criticism that bears mainly on the Russian masters, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky deals also with larger themes: the epic tradition extending from Homer to Tolstoy; the continuity of a "tragic world view" from Oedipus Rex to King Lear and The Brothers Karamazov; the contrasts between the epic and dramatic modes, between irreconcilably opposed views of God and of history. "A must for the teacher, student, and intellectually serious reader."-Kirkus Reviews "This is a book that provides new and stimulating insight into the literary masterpieces and thought of the great Russian novelists. Moreover, in this work Steiner shows a great depth and breadth of literary knowledge and criticism that is not limited alone to the Russian writers under discussion but to writers of all genres and all literary periods."-Journal of Religion "His is a work of personal criticism, often ingenious, always deeply felt."-The New York Times "Brilliant, provocative, full of insights, this classic study still stands alone and unchallenged in modern criticism as a lucid and erudite study of the contrasting genius of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Steiner's book is a must for the student, scholar, or general reader who wishes to approach the Russian giants in their full literary and philosophical ambience."-Robert L. Jackson